Several Linux kernel developers have suggested that the time has
come to set a definitive boundary for what kind of modules should
be allowed within the Linux kernel. By January 2008, they maintain,
all non-GPL kernel modules will not be allowed.
The move would ban all binary modules in the kernel, a long
sticking point for many in the Linux community. The discussion has
not clarified whether open source modules that might exist under
other licenses would also be banned, but based on the wording thus
far, it appears that the GPL is the criteria, not a module's binary
The discussion, which sprang up in a thread on the Linux Kernel
Mailing List (LKML) that originally debated driver core patches for
Linux 2.6.19, led to a statement from Linux kernel developer Martin
Bligh, who wrote: "So let's come out and ban binary modules, rather
than pussyfooting around, if that's what we actually want to
The response from Linux kernel maintainer Andrew Morton was
supportive and outlined the framework for the plan.
"Give people 12 months warning (time to work out what they're
going to do, talk with the legal dept, etc) then make the kernel
load only GPL-tagged modules," Morton wrote.
Developer Greg Kroah-Hartman then chimed in, indicating that he
would be willing to build a patch that would warn developers and
users of modules not licensed under the GNU General Public License
that such modules would be banned beginning in January 2008. The
reasoning for this suggestion was summed up by Kroah-Hartman in the
"Numerous kernel developers feel that loading non-GPL drivers
into the kernel violates the license of the kernel and their
copyright," he wrote.
The eventual response from kernel founder Linus Torvalds,
however, was decidedly not in favor of the plan.
"Btw, I really think this is shortsighted," Torvalds wrote. "It
will only result in exactly the crap we
were just trying to avoid, namely stupid 'shell game' drivers that
don't actually help anything at all, and move code into user space
Torvalds contends that such a move on the Linux kernel would be
comparable to what the RIAA is doing in the music industry.
"The silly thing is, the people who tend to push most for this
are the exact same people who say that the RIAA etc should
not be able to tell people what to do with the music copyrights
that they own, and that the DMCA is bad because it puts technical
limits over the rights expressly granted by copyright law,"
Torvalds wrote in his lengthy initial reply. "Doesn't anybody else
see that as being hypocritical?"
"If a module arguably isn't a derived work, we simply shouldn't
try to say that its authors have to conform to our world view," he
added. "We should make decisions on technical merit. And
this one is clearly being pushed on anything but."
In essence, Torvalds argued that to unilaterally enforce one set
of rules for the Linux kernel is no different that what the MPAA
does with DVD encryptions and does not allow Linux users to watch
legally watch DVDs on their PCs.
"I happen to believe that there shouldn't be technical measures
that keep me from watching my DVD or listening to my music on
whatever device I damn well please. Fair use, man. But it should go
the other way too: we should not try to assert our copyright rules on other peoples code that wasn't
derived from ours, or assert our technical
measures that keep people from combining things their way," he
Torvalds recognized that the majority opinion would likely win
out in this discussion, but was adamant regarding his own
"I'll not fight the combined opinion of other kernel developers,
but I sure as hell won't be the first to merge this, and I sure as
hell won't have my tree be the one that
causes this to happen," Torvalds indicated, "So go get it merged in
the Ubuntu, (Open)SuSE and RHEL and Fedora trees first. This is not
something where we use my tree as a way to get it to other trees.
This is something where the push had better come from the other
"Because I think it's stupid. So use somebody else than me to
push your political agendas, please," he concluded.
The entire ongoing thread, with responses to Torvalds'
statements, can be found on the Gmane
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