[linux-audio-dev] Request to audio related LiveCD packagers

Andrea Glorioso andrea.glorioso at agnula.org
Wed Apr 28 18:44:53 UTC 2004

[I'm putting the   users@ and developers at lists.agnula.org  on  Cc: for
informational purposes, and the team at fsfeurope.org to hear the opinion
of the FSFE on   the matter.  If LADders  prefer  not to  continue the
discussion on linux-audio-dev, I'm sure nobody will object to removing
the latter list from the Cc:s :) ]

[For the list on  Cc: we are talking  about the redistributability and
GNU  GPL compliance  of the  alsa-firmware   package,  as well as   of
firmware in general, I'd say]

>>>>> "Thomas" == Thomas Charbonnel <thomas at undata.org> writes:

    > First of all thanks for Dyne:bolic  :) All README files from the
    > alsa-firmware  package   grant   copyright  to   the  respective
    > companies with the statement 'Redistributable under the GPL', so
    > I guess the answer is yes.  As far as  I'm concerned we received
    > several verbal and  mail  confirmations from  RME  that we could
    > redistribute  the files, and Matthias  Carstens (who  I just met
    > last week) promised me an official written statement.

I absolutely don't  want to start a  legal debate here, given that  it
would probably be off  topic and the  issue has  already been (and  is
being) widely  discussed on the debian-legal  mailing list, but please
notice   that AFAICT distributing binaries under   the GNU GPL license
means that the distributor must

(a) Accompany  [the    program]   with   the  complete   corresponding
    machine-readable source code [...]

(b) Accompany [the program]  with a written offer,  valid for at least
    three years,  to give any  third party, for a  charge no more than
    your cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete
    machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code [...]

(there is also option (c), see the GNU GPL v.2 for further details)

The point here is   understanding what the  `source'   of a piece   of
firmware is. 

The  GNU GPL defines the  `source' as the "the  preferred  form of the
work for making modifications to it".   Now the debate on debian-legal
has  been  whether the hex-expressed    firmware discovered in various
kernel  files was actually  hand-modified by  the "distributor" with a
hex editor, or  a higher-level language  was  used.  If the  latter is
true, then the GNU GPL has been breached  (because I've never seen the
source code of  the alsa-firmware  package,  please correct me if  I'm

So, saying that  the firmware is "distributable  under the GNU GPL" is
not  sufficient `per se'  to  prove that the  firmware itself  is Free

My personal  position is one  of being a  bit more pragmatic.  A large
part of the  hardware we use actually  has firmware  embedded into it,
the only  difference being that  we don't see it and  we don't need to
upload it (for example, AFAICR the Pentium IV automatically translates
standard Intel machine   code  into  an internal,  risc-like,   set of
instructions - nobody  is asking Intel  for the source code  of *that*

The issue  is thorny and I agree  that a Live CD without alsa-firmware
is not particularly efficient.  On the other hand, I  do see legal (as
well as ethical,  if  one wants to go   down that route)   problems in
distributing non-free  firmware.   I'd like to  understand the various
options   a    bit   more  before   launching     ourselves   into the
"users-need-it-so-lets-package-it"  frenzy (I'd rather tell users that
they  must bug  the  companies they  buy hardware from  to release the
`source code'  of the  firmware  needed to  operate those  cards under
GNU/Linux, if we discover that the firmware is actually non-free).

Usual caveats apply: IANAL,  YMMV, etc, etc.  If  anybody has a deeper
insight into the  matter I'd love  hearing it,  since the problem  has
been a PITA for us for a long time  (see the lists.agnula.org archives
and   devel.agnula.org `demudi'   project's   bug  lists  if you   are


Andrea Glorioso                      andrea.glorioso at agnula.org
AGNULA Technical Manager                 http://www.agnula.org/
M: +39 333 820 5723                     F: +39 (0)51 930 31 133
      "Libre Audio, Libre Video, Libre Software: AGNULA"

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