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#1 screamer

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Posted 03 May 2003 - 02:26 PM

I've never really gotten into the legalities surrounding copyrights and copylefts, especially how they relate to store bought versions of Linux such as Red Hat, Mandrake, etc. But recently my teacher mentioned something about these distributions having code that you're forbidden to touch, because it's copyrighted by those particular companies exclusively. He basically said you can modify Linux, but you can't modify the Red Hat code...ya follow? I was wondering if anyone had anymore information about this...he's not exactly the brightest when it comes to Linux, but I can't say he's wrong either.

And if he's right, what does that mean? What exactly can't you modify?

#2 ntheory

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Posted 03 May 2003 - 02:57 PM

Red Hat might have some utilities in their distro that they either don't distribute the source to or which use a non-GPL license.

They can do this because most of the libraries in Linux use the LGPL (the "lesser" GPL) which allows non-free software to be dynamically linked to it (possibly statically linked as well, I don't know about that though).

Any source code you find in the distro should have it clearly marked that it either is or isn't GPL. Until you run across something like that I wouldn't worry about it. They however cannot take the Linux kernel and make it non-GPL. Just because it's in the distro doesn't mean they control it.

In short you might not be able to modify utilities developed by RedHat but RedHat can't make Linux unmodifyable.

#3 screamer

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Posted 03 May 2003 - 03:11 PM

Any idea as to what exactly would happen if you modified the wrong piece of code? This is Linux after all, I thought it was "modify as you please", the thought of getting in trouble for that scares me a little bit...as though it cuts down on the whole open source side of Linux.

And to make things especially complex, here's another question if you don't mind. The Linux kernel is GPL, meaning it's open and available to be modified as long as the source is dispensed...but doesn't Linus Torvalds have some say in what goes into the kernel? And if so, doesn't that make it more of an artistic license (where the original creator has the final say in modifications)? Or can you just modify it for your own personal use, and whoever else you want to give it to, while the "official" releases are approved of by Torvalds?

#4 ntheory

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Posted 03 May 2003 - 04:04 PM

If the code wasn't marked with its license I don't think they can do anything to you. There should be at least an obvious license in the directory somewhere, if not in each file.

I think if you change a GPL project and want to rerelease it you should rename it (fork the projects) or give your changes to the real author and see if they accept it. It's probably written in the GPL somewhere, I've just never really paid that much attention to those areas. I think rereleasing something called "the Linux kernel" that is just a modified kernel without approval by Linus is probably a violation of the GPL. Just call it "the Screamix kernel" or something and all is well. :P

You should be in the clear more than 99% of the time. If you're thinking of modifying something like the RedHat installer then I'd probably look around for the license and see if RedHat can legally snipe you for ripping them off.

#5 feend

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Posted 03 May 2003 - 04:21 PM

screamer: Hmm...that's a good question. If you look at a RedHat9 iso mirror you will see something like this:

shrike-SRPMS-disc1.iso 622816 KB 3/13/03 10:39:00 PM
shrike-SRPMS-disc2.iso 660832 KB 3/13/03 10:43:00 PM
shrike-SRPMS-disc3.iso 434720 KB 3/13/03 10:46:00 PM
shrike-i386-disc1.iso 653312 KB 3/13/03 10:26:00 PM
shrike-i386-disc2.iso 661632 KB 3/13/03 10:30:00 PM
shrike-i386-disc3.iso 496672 KB 3/13/03 10:35:00 PM

which leads me to believe that the source rpms are "pristine" and that you could build an exact redhat9 distribution from them. If people didn't have COMPLETE access to all the source I would think that Richard Stallman would have a "Just say no to RedHat" banner slapped on gnu.org. I'm also assuming that this is true for Mandrake and SuSE as well.

After hearing some of the things that you mentioned your teacher saying...It would be hard to believe that this person was spouting anything but complete bullshit which doesn't seem fair to the students.

As for the "official" linux releases. I don't think that they are approved by any one person. I think there are a central team of committers (Linus being one of them) but anyone can hack away at the kernel source and submit patches. Anyone else have any more solid information on this?

#6 screamer

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Posted 03 May 2003 - 06:33 PM

As far as anyone being able to submit patches, I kinda doubt that. Hell, it's difficult enough to get member access to the hackbot CVS tree, and that's just some tiny little program! Imagine what you would have to go through to be a kernel hacker for an actual Linux release...

#7 feend

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Posted 03 May 2003 - 06:38 PM

Hmm I'll e-mail the the local LUG here and see what they have to say about it.

#8 StankDawg

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Posted 03 May 2003 - 08:48 PM

screamer: I think you are right when you said that anyone can change it for personal use. If you want to change and make it official, then you may be concerned, but kernel hacks go on all the time.

I think the grey area comess with distribution. Maybe a good place to look are those distros which have kernels that are compiled with lots of ham radio stuff built in. Those are obviously altered, yet still distributed. wassupwitdat?

#9 JHVH-1

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Posted 03 May 2003 - 09:18 PM

screamer: I think you are right when you said that anyone can change it for personal use. If you want to change and make it official, then you may be concerned, but kernel hacks go on all the time.

I think the grey area comess with distribution. Maybe a good place to look are those distros which have kernels that are compiled with lots of ham radio stuff built in. Those are obviously altered, yet still distributed. wassupwitdat?

Sometimes kernel patches are applied or things that come with the kernel are modules. Modules don't have to be GPL or LGPL. You could use the Nvidia drivers for example. The kernel even pops up a stallman error telling you that your kernel is now tainted with non Free code.

Anyone is free to submit patches for open source projects, BUT it doesn't mean they are gonna use them! If the code is GPL or LGPL though, you could always modify the source yourself as long as you provide the source to anyone who asks for it.

Redhat makes most of its money these days off of selling the boxed versions which come with extra software which is sometimes not Free and by providing technical support. This is a different economic model then the closed source software so you can't always compare them. If you want to read more up on all that you can head over to gnu.org or the fsf page, and also find yourself a copy of the Cathedral and the Bazaar (online or in written form from O'Reilly)

#10 screamer

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Posted 04 May 2003 - 01:15 PM

So in essence, I could modify one line of code in a program under GPL and redistribute it under a different name as long as I give credit to the original author. But if I want it to still be known as the same thing it was before I modified it, I have to submit my changes to the original owner. Basically the owner has both a GPL as well as an artistic license then...




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