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LCA: Cooperative management of package copyright and licensing data

Jan 28, 2010, 17:34 (3 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Jonathan Corbet)

"Kate Stewart is the manager of the PowerPC team at Freescale. As such, she has a basic customer service problem to solve: people who buy a board from Freescale would like to have some sort of operating system to run on it. That system, of course, will be Linux; satisfying this requirement means that Freescale must operate as a sort of Linux distributor. At her linux.conf.au talk, Kate talked about a new initiative aimed at helping distributors to ensure that they are compliant with the licenses of the software they are shipping.

"Early GPL enforcement actions against companies like Cisco were, arguably, misplaced: Cisco was just gluing its nameplate onto hardware (and [Kate Stewart] software) supplied to it by far-eastern manufacturing operations. The original GPL violation was committed by the original manufacturers who incorporated GPL-licensed software and failed to live up to the source distribution requirements. There was a clear purpose behind targeting companies like Cisco, though: the unpleasantness of dealing with GPL compliance problems was meant to get them to require compliance from their suppliers, which were otherwise harder to reach. Companies seem to have gotten the message; Kate noted that the supply chain is now routinely requiring certification of license compliance from suppliers. So Freescale needs to stay on top of license compliance in order to be able to sell its products; your editor suspects this may be a more powerful motivation than the mere need to avoid copyright infringement.

"One common worry related to license compliance, of course, is that somebody might have somehow included proprietary code into a freely-licensed package. More common, though, are simple license compatibility issues, such as the inclusion of a GPL-licensed file in an ostensibly BSD-licensed package. Finding this kind of problem requires the examination of every file distributed with a package - and there are a lot of packages with a great many files out there. It's a lot of work."

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