[coreboot] How to properly conform with GPLv2 for Coreboot and SeaBIOS on an embedded system

Peter Stuge peter at stuge.se
Mon Dec 25 23:32:23 CET 2017

Hi Ian,

Ian Lewis wrote:
> Thank you for your detailed reply.  Of course, I understand that you cannot
> provide legal advice.  But, for now, I need to understand the practicalities
> of how to comply, more than I need to understand the law of compliance.
> And, in any case, that will probably be someone else's problem if we reach
> that point.
> Since I wrote to this group, I found another page from SFLC
> https://www.softwarefreedom.org/resources/2014/SFLC-Guide_to_GPL_Compliance_2d_ed.html. 
> I know that Sam said that SFLC may have issues, but their write up still
> seems useful.


> On the issue of notice, I am referring to section 1. of the license.
> 1. You may copy and distribute verbatim copies of the Program's source code
> as you receive it, in any medium, provided that you conspicuously and
> appropriately publish on each copy an appropriate copyright notice and
> disclaimer of warranty; keep intact all the notices that refer to this
> License and to the absence of any warranty; and give any other recipients
> of the Program a copy of this License along with the Program.

Ah! Thanks for clarifying.

Note that this Section covers "verbatim copies of the Program's source code"
and says "on each copy" and "keep intact all the notices that refer to this

> This seems to me to require some kind of clear notice to the recipient of
> their GPL rights.  A microSD attached to our product may provide the
> necessary source and license agreements.  But, it sure does not satisfy
> "conspicuously ", at least in my opinion.

I believe that the purpose of this section is to ensure that recipients
"after" you have exactly the same freedoms and possibilities with this
program as you had.

Thus it is important to communicate to those recipients which copyright and
licensing terms apply - conspicuously and appropriately "on each copy"
"of the Program's source code."

Not on each copy in object code or executable form (that's Section 3) -
but on each verbatim copy of the Program's source code.

In my opinion, a COPYING or LICENSE file in the source code root directory
serves as such conspicuous and appropriate notice, and is one reason
why this file is sometimes required by legal departments. (See the
thread on this list by the codeaurora member, who requested that such
a file be added to the root directory of the depthcharge repo (one payload)
as the preferd method to satisfy the requirements of Qualcomm's legal

> You say that it is not possible to absolve our customer from GPL
> responsibility.

Correct. Your customers are also distributing the (coreboot) Program
(in object form, as received from you) and they must of course do so
in compliance with the licensing terms.

> But, I had the impression that they would have met their obligations if
> we can keep the source with our product (that is, physically attached to
> it) and provide each recipient with the notice (as I called it - see above)
> somehow.  Do you read this as incorrect?

I think that's correct.

Their obligations to their customers are the same as your obligations
to them. But the important point is that *they* are always responsible
for *their* obligations, just as you are responsible for yours. They
can't legally depend on you for that. (They would risk non-compliance
due to factors out of their control. Bad risk!)

If you want to (and I think you should, to maximize the value of your
offer :) you can design your compliance (as permitted by the license)
such that your customers can re-use your effort in order to themselves
achieve compliance easily, in particular if you choose the option to
deliver source code accompanied with the object code.

> That is, even if we could get our notice in front of each recipient

The notice is to be "on each copy" "of the Program's source code."

> and our product always included the full license and source on
> microSD, that would not be good enough to cover the obligations of
> our distributor/customer?

As long as your customer passes the medium along to *their* customer,
I would consider them compliant. They have to actually do that

It is helpful to state that they are non-compliant and risk a lawsuit
should they fail to accompany the object code (in your hardware, which
they ship) with the source code that they can acquire or have received
from you.

> PS. I did not get a direct copy of your message.

Sorry about that. I've Cc:ed you on this reply, I hope that helps.

It's often customary to reply only directly to lists, although some
lists (noticeably all Linux kernel-related lists) have an explicit
policy to always use reply-all.

Because many email programs group messages by using (invisible) email
threading headers regardless of how/where the message arrived, people
with such programs usually prefer not to receive two messages.  It
usually works very well to politely ask for any replies to list messages
to also be Cc:ed directly to you, if that is helpful for your workflow.
"Please Cc me on replies." is enough. Of course it's no guarantee
that people actually do so, but it tends to work well.

Because of that thread grouping it's also customary and much prefered to
reply inline with only a minimum of relevant text quoted, and to remove
all quoted text not directly replied to, since the full preceding email
with complete context is presented immediately before the reply in such
thread-grouping mailers.

Threading and list-reply are great features. Unfortunately, especially
enterprise mail clients often support neither. :\

Kind regards


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