GPL Compliance Engineering Delves Into the Inner Life of Embedded Devices

Oct 20, 2008

Dutch Linux consultant Armijn Hemel clarifies in his recently issued GPL Compliance Engineering Guide how to check for GPL breaches of electronic devices.

Hemel works for Loohuis Consulting, a company that focuses primarily on licensing violations. The company targets vendors that want to ensure their products' compliance. Hemel is also an honorary participant in the GPL Violations project that represents the rights of software authors in respect to their device vendors. The project has already successfully represented clients in suits against router vendors that violated Linux Kernel licensing provisions.

In the 26-page PDF document Hemel describes the technical part of GPL Compliance Engineering, from portscanning with nmap, bootloader analysis, data systems and firmware, to getting physical access to the device’s serial console. A small section of the document covers devices with a Windows inner life often involving the GPL-licensed Cygwin program.

Hemel includes short words of warning at the outset: "Some things described in this guide might not be legal due to DMCA(like) legislation in your country." Developers in the U.S., for example, might run into conflict with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Hemel also contemplates the reasons behind some of these Open Source licensing violations. He cites the fiercely competitive consumer electronics business, where companies can become lax in checking for, and keeping to, license provisions, with many preferring to risk a lawsuit than miss a sale.

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  • A very levelheaded down-to-earth report

    First of all, I was agreeably surprised by the levelheadedness and the level of professionalism displayed by mr. Hemel in his report.

    His testing recommendations, while certainly not shocking or surprising, are irrefutable, show strong commonsense, and absolutely the first steps one should take.

    Good work!
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