Linux Kernel Monkey Log

Random bits from Greg Kroah-Hartman

Linux Kernel Community Enforcement Statement FAQ

Based on the recent Linux Kernel Community Enforcement Statement and the article describing the background and what it means , here are some Questions/Answers to help clear things up. These are based on questions that came up when the statement was discussed among the initial round of over 200 different kernel developers.

Q: Is this changing the license of the kernel?

A: No.

Q: Seriously? It really looks like a change to the license.

A: No, the license of the kernel is still GPLv2, as before. The kernel developers are providing certain additional promises that they encourage users and adopters to rely on. And by having a specific acking process it is clear that those who ack are making commitments personally (and perhaps, if authorized, on behalf of the companies that employ them). There is nothing that says those commitments are somehow binding on anyone else. This is exactly what we have done in the past when some but not all kernel developers signed off on the driver statement.

Q: Ok, but why have this “additional permissions” document?

A: In order to help address problems caused by current and potential future copyright “trolls” aka monetizers.

Q: Ok, but how will this help address the “troll” problem?

A: “Copyright trolls” use the GPL-2.0’s immediate termination and the threat of an immediate injunction to turn an alleged compliance concern into a contract claim that gives the troll an automatic claim for money damages. The article by Heather Meeker describes this quite well, please refer to that for more details. If even a short delay is inserted for coming into compliance, that delay disrupts this expedited legal process.

By simply saying, “We think you should have 30 days to come into compliance”, we undermine that “immediacy” which supports the request to the court for an immediate injunction. The threat of an immediate junction was used to get the companies to sign contracts. Then the troll goes back after the same company for another known violation shortly after and claims they’re owed the financial penalty for breaking the contract. Signing contracts to pay damages to financially enrich one individual is completely at odds with our community’s enforcement goals.

We are showing that the community is not out for financial gain when it comes to license issues – though we do care about the company coming into compliance.  All we want is the modifications to our code to be released back to the public, and for the developers who created that code to become part of our community so that we can continue to create the best software that works well for everyone.

This is all still entirely focused on bringing the users into compliance. The 30 days can be used productively to determine exactly what is wrong, and how to resolve it.

Q: Ok, but why are we referencing GPL-3.0?

A: By using the terms from the GPLv3 for this, we use a very well-vetted and understood procedure for granting the opportunity to come fix the failure and come into compliance. We benefit from many months of work to reach agreement on a termination provision that worked in legal systems all around the world and was entirely consistent with Free Software principles.

Q: But what is the point of the “non-defensive assertion of rights” disclaimer?

A: If a copyright holder is attacked, we don’t want or need to require that copyright holder to give the party suing them an opportunity to cure. The “non-defensive assertion of rights” is just a way to leave everything unchanged for a copyright holder that gets sued.  This is no different a position than what they had before this statement.

Q: So you are ok with using Linux as a defensive copyright method?

A: There is a current copyright troll problem that is undermining confidence in our community – where a “bad actor” is attacking companies in a way to achieve personal gain. We are addressing that issue. No one has asked us to make changes to address other litigation.

Q: Ok, this document sounds like it was written by a bunch of big companies, who is behind the drafting of it and how did it all happen?

A: Grant Likely, the chairman at the time of the Linux Foundation’s Technical Advisory Board (TAB), wrote the first draft of this document when the first copyright troll issue happened a few years ago. He did this as numerous companies and developers approached the TAB asking that the Linux kernel community do something about this new attack on our community. He showed the document to a lot of kernel developers and a few company representatives in order to get feedback on how it should be worded. After the troll seemed to go away, this work got put on the back-burner. When the copyright troll showed back up, along with a few other “copycat” like individuals, the work on the document was started back up by Chris Mason, the current chairman of the TAB. He worked with the TAB members, other kernel developers, lawyers who have been trying to defend these claims in Germany, and the TAB members’ Linux Foundation’s lawyers, in order to rework the document so that it would actually achieve the intended benefits and be useful in stopping these new attacks. The document was then reviewed and revised with input from Linus Torvalds and finally a document that the TAB agreed would be sufficient was finished. That document was then sent to over 200 of the most active kernel developers for the past year by Greg Kroah-Hartman to see if they, or their company, wished to support the document. That produced the initial “signatures” on the document, and the acks of the patch that added it to the Linux kernel source tree.

Q: How do I add my name to the document?

A: If you are a developer of the Linux kernel, simply send Greg a patch adding your name to the proper location in the document (sorting the names by last name), and he will be glad to accept it.

Q: How can my company show its support of this document?

A: If you are a developer working for a company that wishes to show that they also agree with this document, have the developer put the company name in ‘(’ ‘)’ after the developer’s name. This shows that both the developer, and the company behind the developer are in agreement with this statement.

Q: How can a company or individual that is not part of the Linux kernel community show its support of the document?

A: Become part of our community! Send us patches, surely there is something that you want to see changed in the kernel. If not, wonderful, post something on your company web site, or personal blog in support of this statement, we don’t mind that at all.

Q: I’ve been approached by a copyright troll for Netfilter. What should I do?

A: Please see the Netfilter FAQ here for how to handle this

Q: I have another question, how do I ask it?

A: Email Greg or the TAB, and they will be glad to help answer them.