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Bruce Perens: Combining GPL and Proprietary Software

Feb 10, 2009, 13:02 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Bruce Perens)

"Linux is a natural for embedded systems. That's why it's popping up in more cell phones, often without the customer even realizing it's there. But cell phone manufacturers, and the broader sector of embedded systems, must cope with the problem of how to combine the GPL Linux kernel, and software that isn't Open Source. How does one do that legally?

"Most of the publicity over suits to enforce the GPL concerns embedded systems: set-top boxes, cable modems, the list goes on. The suits are caused by just one thing: engineers and their managers combining software from different sources, without going to their company's own lawyers for help in understanding the software licenses. They're used to just "clicking yes" with no regard to what they're committing themselves and their company to.

"The very worst offenders sell their designs to other, much larger, companies without conveying what the licenses are and what obligations the big company must fulfill -- and then the big company gets sued. This problem isn't specific to Open Source: violation of proprietary software licenses, with their higher stakes, is rife in the embedded systems industry."

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