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."
Why?
"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.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I am a Linux fan, but I can't figure out why your post is so off - you really need to read the discussions around GPLv3, because the bit about cellphones and other embedded devices (like TiVo) isn't off at all. In fact, this has been the focus of much of the dissagreement around GPLv3.

You say:
(re: cellphones) The only instance where this would be true is when the user of the phone is also the owner of the phone

Yeah, like if you go to your local DT or Orange and buy a phone. You may own that particular handset, but Orange doesn't want to allow you to uninstall all the crap on there they have placed to lower to cost of the handset to the consumer. So Mr. Zuck is entirely right. You are parsing his words in a most peculiar manner.

no desire to create another account, so sign me

-Anymouse

20:26  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a good question: when you buy a locked GSM phone from Orange, for "$0", do you really own it? Do you own the GSM SIM card? I think if push came to shove, you'd discover that you do *NOT* own it.
That's one of the outs of the GPLv3 --- it's the owner.

I have this dispute with my satellite company (StarChoice). They keep breaking into my receiver and changing the software. They do not permit me to restrict downloads of the "updates", nor do they even do me the courtesy of letting me know, nor do they even accept bug reports. Who owns my receiver? I have this receipt that says I paid $199 for it.

I wish that my receiver was open source --- whatever co-op student they hired to do the on-screen display clearly never learnt anything other than linear linked lists. You can tell, because it shows O(n^3) behaviour when you enable filters.

03:28  
Blogger Gnuosphere said...

1st Anonymous said:

"like if you go to your local DT or Orange and buy a phone. You may own that particular handset, but Orange doesn't want to allow you to uninstall all the crap on there"

That's the point. If you owned it, you would be able to modify your phone to suit your needs. But if you sign some sort of "rental" agreement stating that the phone company is the actual owner of the phone, then the owner is not distributing - just using - embedded GPLv3 software. In that case, they would not have to give you the keys that would allow you to change the software.

"So Mr. Zuck is entirely right. You are parsing his words in a most peculiar manner."

I don't understand. Please clarify. I wish not to spread misinformation nor twist anyone's words. It is entirely possible I have made a mistake and if I have, please explain clearly where I've misunderstood something and I will make appropriate changes to the post.

08:00  
Anonymous Ciaran O'Riordan said...

The questions of ownership are interesting, but they don't actually make GPLv3 good or bad. GPLv3 say "in the case of ownership, your freedom is protected". We can argue whether it is good/bad to also protect the user's freedoms in cases of non-ownership, but that isn't in GPLv3, so it's an off topic debate.

We have to work hard to spread clear information while FUD like this is flying around.

There are 8 transcripts online, mostly from the 4 international GPLv3 conferences. These contain good explanations of the changes:
http://www.fsfeurope.org/projects/gplv3/#transcripts

16:37  
Blogger Gnuosphere said...

Ciaran says:

"We can argue whether it is good/bad to also protect the user's freedoms in cases of non-ownership, but that isn't in GPLv3, so it's an off topic debate."

Yes. It would appear that there exists some confusion. Those opposed to GPLv3's DRM provisions are either purposefully spreading confusion or are confused themselves. Given the organization Jonathan Zuck represents, I would be surprised if it were the latter. The FSF has been very clear that their intent is not to create a situation where *all* users of any instance of a GPL3 program have unencumbered freedom.

Thank you for the link Ciaran.

10:39  

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