Wednesday, September 13, 2006

GPLv3, DRM, and Han Solo

Jonathan Zuck at CNET has published an astonishing article of misinformation regarding GPLv3 and its proposed DRM provisions.

Jonathan states -
"With TiVo in mind, the [DRM] provision includes language that prevents hardware companies from controlling the final implementation of their devices."
This is not true. GPLv3 allows the owner of a device running GPLv3 software to decide how their device and their software operates. If GPLv3 did what Jonathan claims, it would be against the spirit of free software. If what Jonathan had actually said here was the truth, I would tell Stallman myself what I thought of his lunacy. Jonathan continues -
"If you have a cell phone running Linux, for example, it requires that the user of that phone must be able to modify and run all the code on that specific phone."
Again, not true. The only instance where this would be true is when the user of the phone is also the owner of the phone. In any other case, GPLv3 would not require this at all. To claim this as a general truth is disingenuous. Jonathan then spreads a little FUD -
"While this sounds like a good thing, the regulators that approve new [cell phone] designs for use in each country would be extremely wary of devices that can be modified at will."
Depending on the motive of the regulator, this may be true. But Jonathan makes me feel uneasy in that he actually perceives this as a strike against GPLv3. Jonathan's statement brings China's "regulators" to mind. If my desire was to censor and spy upon the communication systems of a given populace, I'd be wary of the citizenry having personal freedom as well. After all, free software = free speech. Mr. Zuck continues -
"Perhaps most ignored, however, is the effect this policy would have on software where privacy protection is important. [...] Think of it this way: If you can create a GPL DVD player that can play any GPL-created DVD, you can create a document reader that would read any document."
A private document - whether personal, government, or corporate - is not in any more danger of being accessed through modified GPLv3 software than GPLv2 software. Why? GPLv3 does not require the owner of locked-down machines (aka "trusted") to give the keys to a user. Jonathan then tries to stretch his FUD to the world of medicine -
"In addition, GPLv3-based software will be completely off the table for medical devices."
"Government safety and efficacy testing is rigorous and very specific."
Good. As it ought to be.
"A device must be tested in the exact configuration it will operate in, and regulators won't take, "Well, we hope it will be this one" as an answer."
Nor should they. A hash function will tell you if the software driving the device is authentic or not. This could even be done before each use. Jonathan fails to explain himself. He goes on -
"More importantly, the lawyers would have a field day with "open" devices."
Why would they? The only way someone could tamper with such a medical device would be if they got the keys to make authorized changes. GPLv3 does not require the owner of the medical device to give up the keys. Jonathan has lost me here. If keys are leaked, then that's an altogether different problem and irrelevant to any software license.

In the end, I suppose free software supporters should actually thank Mr. Zuck. Articles like his simply expose the irrationality behind opposition to GPLv3. The opposition is FUD - glibly stated to fool us into OK-ing Hollywood's attempt to get the keys to our computers. Those with any common sense will see right through this tripe.

As for Linus Torvalds, those who are even faintly aware of his motives realize he does not speak for the entire Open Source movement. It's one thing to believe we should keep quiet regarding talk of freedom, but quite another to blatantly sell it out. It should come as no surpise that "Han Solo" is willing to say or do virtually anything to increase the popularity of the Linux kernel. In the movies, Han Solo eventually finds his true self. Let's hope Stallman's analogy has future - not just present - accuracy.