In a perfectly orchestrated marketing campaign for a 100% free-libre tablet called Spark that will run KDE Plasma Active, Aaron Seigo writes today about the problems they are facing with GPL-violations.

Apparently, every Chinese manufacturer is breaking the GPLv2 by not releasing the sources for their modified Linux kernel. Conversations and conversations with Zenithink (designers of the Spark), Sygic (designers of the Dreambook W7), etc have arrived nowhere. To the point that CordiaTab, another similar effort using Gnome instead of KDE, has been cancelled.

I have to say I am very surprised at the lack of the kernel sources. What is the Free Software Foundation doing? Why don’t we seek ban of all imports of tablets whose manufacturers don’t release the full GPL source?

Apple got the Samsung GalaxyTab imports blocked in Germany and Australia for something as ethereal as patents covering the external frame design. We are talking about license infringement, which is easier to demonstrate in court.

China may ignore intellectual property but they cannot ignore business, and no imports means no business. Let’s get all GPL-infringing tablet imports banned and we will get more source in two weeks than we can digest in two years. Heck, I’m surprised Apple is not trying this in court to block Android!

27 Thoughts on “LibreTab… not?

  1. Because FSF does not have copyrights in the Linux kernel so they cannot start a lawsuit. There, doesn’t get simpler than that.

    • Really?

      How long would it take for the FSF to find someone who has copyrights in the Linux kernel and wants to be represented by the FSF in such a lawsuit? 10 minutes?

      • They can’t just get anyone with a copyright on some part of the Linux codebase. It has to be someone who holds a copyright on a part of the Linux code that can be proven to be built in to the kernel as used on the device in question. And that someone has to be willing to take the time to enforce their rights through litigation. Not as easy to find as you might think.

        • There are many unavoidable parts of the Linux codebase, parts you can be sure will be run. It’s a matter of pinging kernel developers.

        • Quoting Alan Cox from :

          “For a Linux kernel containing any code I own the code is under the GNU
          public license v2 (in some cases or later), I have never given permission
          for that code to be used as part of a combined or derivative work which
          contains binary chunks. I have never said that modules are somehow
          magically outside the GPL and I am doubtful that in most cases a work
          containing binary modules for a Linux kernel is compatible with the
          licensing, although I accept there may be some cases that it is.”

          Seems like a good person to start with. Trust me when I say that you can’t build a Linux kernel without Alan Cox’s code in it.

          • Yes, but who has the actual *copyright* on that code? Alan himself, or his employer/former employers? I wouldn’t be surprised if it is not Alan himself at all and then it is up to Red Hat or Intel, who might not want to take any action at all because it is not in their best interest to sue. Look at Intel: they provide lots of chips for many products, so why would they sue for something like a license violation?

            Seriously, this is not as easy as it may sound.

  2. Jaroslav "Rezza" Reznik on Wednesday 01st February 2012 at 10:42:14 said:

    That’s why I pointed it out in Aaron’s post – coordinate at least on hardware platform. There are several projects that needs hw (PA, Cordian, Gnome guys have a dream of Gnome OS + own HW) and give them business reasons to comply with GPL – we will order 1 million of your devices, that will be spread around all open source communities. I know, that would be big effort and nobody has a resources to do it 🙁

    But I agree – with the point everyone is just selling GPL violating hardware, when FOSS community uses something from proprietary word – you see lawyers everywhere.

  3. Maybe it is worth to note, that chinese also do not care at all about patents, be it German patents, European or US patents. So it does not only “hit” the free and open source software, but the commercial world as well.

  4. “For every n developers that builds, there is someone seeking to turn it down”.

    Just making ballant statements about “Lets get all GPL-infringing tablet imports banned and we will get more source in two weeks than we can digest in two years.” is not getting nowhere. Nor would I be so interested in getting the same kernel sources 20 times.

    It’s good to raise some points about this subject, and clearing up some ill formed situations in the world. However I’m not sure what you’re suggesting here is necessary in the general interest of Open Source / FLOSS.

    Since we can agree a violation going on, the question is what to do about it:
    – angry bitching?
    – sueing?
    – cooperating / educating?
    – sueing if truely needed.
    – find which fights you want to win, or walk away from.

    The Free Software foundation first approaches companies explaining the situation. This is an easy way to educate the uninformed people, and avoids making enemies straight away.*
    Some companies already understand that and start to cooperate.

    * As you’ve seen, the busybox situation is getting out of control because of fair for lawsuits – while the case could be explained to simple and clear. A general impression of “stay away from that Linux ***” is also not something we want.

    Please reconsider what you said, and plan accordingly 🙂

    • The Free Software foundation first approaches companies explaining the situation. This is an easy way to educate the uninformed people, and avoids making enemies straight away.*
      Some companies already understand that and start to cooperate.

      It’s more than clear Zenithink, Synrgic and others are not willing to cooperate. They have been asked for the source code countless times, they keep ignoring requests.

      Nor would I be so interested in getting the same kernel sources 20 times.

      I’m not interested in getting the same kernel source 20 times, but I am interested in receiving the 20 diff’s that make the kernel run on 20 different tables.

      If a lawsuit is what it takes, so be it.

      The result of not acting against these GPL-infringing companies is we do not have any tablet running KDE, Gnome, XFCE, etc. The closest we have is Spark, it’s not there yet, and it won’t have 100% of the source, which may compromise its future.

      Do we want a tablet where we can run any FLOSS we want or not? If the answer is ‘yes’, then an import ban seems to be the only solution.

      • pgquiles. The device in question contains a allwinner A10 chip. Of course I would not expect people here to know what this means.

        Allwinner chips are some of the few you cannot lock the boot loader from being replaced or downloaded out the device. There are no efuses. Only way to prevent firmware replacement on a Allwinner is use a external rom chip. Problem is the device will still fully boot from USB with what ever is on the USB even if you use the rom chip option. Running third party is alway a option on a Allwinner chip. They cannot be bricked and they cannot be fully locked down. They are more open than most x86 desktop motherboards.

        Yes you can always back up the contained firmware from these. Due to design also alway restore that to the device as well.

        Allwinner the company behind the A10 is working on getting the kernel sorted so it can be upstreamed.

        So this is a balancing act. You get a A10 you might not get the firmware source from the company that made it but you can replace the firmware with your own.

        Zenithink, Synrgic… Most of them are just sales fronts. They are not the maker of the device motherboard. The board most likely landed at them pre programmed.

        Most of them turn out to be allwinner proto board chipset cut back no extras. So drive like a allwinner proto board and the thing works.

        Allwinner the company behind the A10 themselves was kinda caught on the hop. Cheep proto board followed by millions of chip orders. So before they had the kernel source in order the devices due to price were flying off the shelf.

        So leading to the current mess we have got. In fact older devices from Zenithink and Synrgic are the Allwinner made kernel for the proto board. They did not have the source to make there own kernel so they don’t have the source to give to you either.

        Yes the issue or make something good and it sells like the bat out of hell then all the required paper work is not in order.

        This case punishing Zenithink and Synrgic and other makers using the A10 is most likely wrong. Working with Allwinner to get the kernel source in order is most likely the correct action at this time then asking Zenithink and Synrgic to update.

        Do we want more devices with unbrickable chips in them hell yes. Do we want devices that no matter what we can backup and restore their firmware again hell yes. To get devices with unbrickable chips I am willing to tollerate a little bit of GPL infraction in the process as long as it gets solved.

        Allwinner never thought there chip would sell so like mad due to the fact it cannot be bricked. Yes a EFI secure boot anti Linux on a A10 really would not be a problem. You would just delete the boot loader and put in a Linux friendly one.

        What ever we do we must not stop makers using the A10. We would be better to spend resources reject devices using other chips that are not like the A10 on the means to replace the boot loader and firmware.

        A10 devices since the core chip is not lockable. To make the device fully work you just have to solve the extra chips connected on to the A10 and possible take binary drivers out the firmware until replacements can be made.

        • This is not an A10-specific problem. This is a general, problem with the complete lack of morals concerning any kind of copyright which is the basic, widespread norm in the Chinese producers of consumer devices.

          Do you seriously think it is a lack of education and knowledge that floods the market with GPS-devices with pirated Win CE-version, pirated navigation software and pirated maps?

          I do not believe that.

          Neither do I believe that Ainols lack of kernel source for all their amlogic-based tablets are caused by suh a lack of awareness – God knows they have received requests for source code and explanations of the GPL.

          Even Amlogic themselves has made it a habit of no longer publishing the newer kernel sources for the boards they provide the manufacturers using them.

          While your argument certainly can be valid for Allwinner, *that is not the problem here*.

          The problem is the manufacturers – or brands if you wish.

          At the same time, Ingenic claims their new JZ4770 SoC is “closed source” if you contact them about the source for any of the new ICS MIPS tablets flooding the gates containing this exact SoC, whilethey have (as far as I know) a pretty decent track record on releasing source code.

          What you see is manufacturers, both of the devices and the SoCs, use the free GPLv2 code from the linux kernel, changes and tweaks it a bit, and treats it like a company secret. They do it for increased profit, whether the benefit is real or imagined (considering the quality of much of what they produce software-wise.) That, at least, is what I believe.

          What I can tell you with CERTAINTY is that this widespread problem is not caused primarily by not knowing. It is caused primarily by manufacturers not giving a fuck.

          As a last side note about your comment about manufacturers themselves nor having the source code, and it therefore being wring to “punish” them: How many SoCs do you think the SoC producers who gives the manufacturers source code would sell to the manufacturers vs. the SoC producers who doesn’t, if the manufacturer knows they can’t sell products with latter companies SoCs outside China?

  5. Because there are people in the world working to make it easier for these companies to on infringe Free Software.

    Thank Toybox and Sony for that.

    But also thank all the people that think binary drivers are good enough, and that we don’t have any right to any else and shouldn’t expect anything else. Thank Google.

    From Jean-Baptiste Queru post on Google+ . See how he first defend the right for those companies to protect their property and then say that we don’t have the same right with our property. Read (in comment to someone) and weep:

    “Also, using those companies’ property without having a license or working around the restrictions set by those companies isn’t seen with a good eye: if you show that you’re not willing to play by the rules, they won’t want to play at all.

    Every time a company hears demands that all their code should be released under the GPL, or reads bad press about alleged GPL violations, or sees people bypassing locked bootloaders, distributing unlicensed proprietary files, RMA-ing overclocked phones that overheated, it gets that much harder to convince that company to do the right thing”.

    They are moving us all to a world of permissive licensing where you then beg (not sue) the manufactures for something so that products you bought can work.

    Is all for the better they say (permissive licensing fomenters).

    Imagine an all permissively licensed software stack on these devices. You wouldn’t get any source at all. Forget about customized ROMs for your Smartphone or Tablet.

    There’s a lot of prejudice against GPL-type licenses in some parts of the Open Source world and for them Freedom or the availability of the source code, open source drivers or anything that fosters a more balanced distribution of power between manufactures and end users and consumers is WRONG.

    They are more than glad to help big corporations increased their power and deny any power to those that need it the most: the individuals.

    If we have no power, WE HAVE NO RIGHTS!

    • “RMA-ing overclocked phones that overheated,”

      If you can do this to your phone without opening case the maker should be shot for not using quality parts. Allwinner A10 chips you cannot pull this off at all. In chip themal protection same with many other quality chips. Its also possible to fit themoal sensors inside the device to cut power in case of overheat. This done right is hard wired. Not adjustable by software because it a safe guard.

      The phones that blow up from overclocking are also the ones that fry because you left them on the dash of your car for a little bit running. What temp can a inside of car get to over 120 C +. This should be way worse than overclocked device is generating. So the process of overclocking should be triggering the device to shutdown.

      Yes I would love to see reviewers who are reviewing phones turn them on and place them in a oven that goes to 120 C. If they don’t live they are not safe to be left in car. Basically some point before getting to 120 C they should shutdown. Lot of phones don’t.

      Yes RMA the company should not be complaining about when they do please tell them off for a poor quality device lacking proper thermal sensors.

  6. Pingback: Links 1/2/2012: Red Hat’s Realtime Linux, ACTA Lies | Techrights

  7. Or we’ll see more BSD/MIT, etc, code running on these devices.

  8. Would this not be counter-productive and harm Free Software?

    Look at it from this way:

    There are a number of tablet projects using Free Software and the hardware is being sourced from China. Some of these manufacturers are violating the licences. These tablets are offering the opportunity for Free Software to get out into the mainstream and to compete with dominant proprietary products by offering cheaper alternatives. If imports are banned, then no tablets with Free Software will be available for that duration and there is the risk that the manufacturers will not release their sources and may switch to other software thus defeating the original goals and knocking out any chances for Free Software to gain any share.

    The alternative is diplomacy. Cheaper tablets are sold with Free Software and the manufacturers get money from the sales. Open up dialogue with the manufacturers and show them that they have nothing to loose by adhering to the terms of the licences and that it is pointless to withhold their sources. If only a fraction of these manufacturers follow through, then it is a start.

    This is a golden opportunity to being Free Software to the masses. In all seriousness, you have to loose some to win some. Pragmatism needs to be exercised.

    By introducing cheap Chinese tablets with Free Software to other markets with a much wider audience, then Free Software has a chance to permeate. Even if they are violating licences, they should still be sold while the problems can be remedied. If some manufacturers don’t budge, then they should be dropped and not be able to sell their hardware.

    Currently, Free Software is limited to the server market, enthusiasts and a small number of governments. It has very little relevance outside of these niches. Until there is cheap hardware widely available with Free Software, then Free Software will remain in obscurity.

    For Free Software, outside of its niches, it lacks relevancy. Without a wide availability of cheap hardware, it lacks relevancy. With no competing products, it lacks relevancy. Without being more widely known, it lacks relevancy. Without gaining ground, it lacks relevancy. Free Software needs to get a foothold.

    I can understand for some projects, licence violations can mean a lot of money. But for tablets, some room should be made until significant money is made and then start pursuing licence offenders. Take note from all those patent suits which happen years after the fact.

    • Mention ONE project that are close to be worldwide super-popular consumer product that only lacks hardware manufacturers willingness to sell them hardware, please.

      Also, mention on single free software product that other Chinese manufacturers wouldn’t just rip off – just like they do with everything else software based today.

      If you wants a free software tablet with friendly hardware, the choice i easy. You use Tegra3 as a base. Nvidia has a track record with willingness to co-operate wit FOSS-projecst, compiling the binary blob drivers to spec if you have a different/newer environment.

      The way to promote FOSS friendly behavior is to REWARD FOSS firendly behavior. Running to the the pirated software-spewing, GPL-violating unfriendly ones and buying from them, claiming that they might behave better in the future is not.

  9. In China, IP is non-existent, copyright is nonexistent. They steal without caring. The Chinese government is happy to allow this: China profits from thieving our hard work.

    We have no legal recourse, but we do have a financial recourse: never buy Chinese equipment. Hit them in the wallet.

  10. Mikael Hermansson on Thursday 02nd February 2012 at 19:36:55 said:

    If you think this is a China only problem then your’e wrong. There is also American/European companys who break it.

    Btw. IMHO! GPL is totally crap in bussiness perspective and I am sure this is the reason we dont see so much HW based on “Linux”.

    I dont expect everything will be open source. It will NEVER happen.

    Only fanatic Stallman fanboys may think so…

    IMHO. BSD is better license both for the FOSS community and in bussines perspective in the long run.

    • “GPL is totally crap in bussiness perspective and I am sure this is the reason we dont see so much HW based on Linux.”

      If we can’t run our free softwares on them, what’s the point of having those HWs? Why not just buy an iPad?

      “IMHO. BSD is better license both for the FOSS community and in bussines perspective in the long run”

      If those manufacturers got BSD-licensed to use Linux, they would release source code of their bootloader and kernel, so that we can run our own free software on those HWs. Is that your point?

  11. Lets get all GPL-infringing tablet imports banned and we will get more source in two weeks than we can digest in two years.

    …Or, what is more probable, we’ll totally kill the tablet production in China. They are as stubborn as they come.

  12. UNfortunate truth on Thursday 02nd February 2012 at 20:52:43 said:

    The problem is that no owners of the various copyrights in the Linux kernel appear to be willing to step up and make this happen. Neither you (unless you own copyrights to some part of the Linux kernel) nor I can do anything about it. Only the copyright owners can do anything legally about violations of their copyrights. That is the reason that Apple could not do the same thing to Samsung, because Apple does not own any copyrights to the Linux kernel.

  13. The source code of tablets which base on Chinese SoC is list below:
    Ainol Novo7 Advance which is base on AllWinner A10:
    Vericool AndyPad which is base on RockChip rk2918:
    AMLogic SoCs:
    Ingenic SoCs:

    Ingenic and AMLogic are opensource friendly. AllWinner is considering to join the opensource party. I don’t know the policy of RockChip, I don’t think they will follow.

    In my opinion, the other Chinese SoC companies will not comply with the license agreement to open their Linux kernel source code. In China, power is everything, not the law. So do not waste energy with them about the law. If you want to get the GPLed source code of Chinese SoC, start a lawsuit to the western manufacturers which sell product base on Chinese SoC. This is a better way.

  14. OK, AllWinner has been a member of opensource party. The story is probably like this:

    In Oct. 2011, someone found a low-cost SoC which from a Chinese company, and post this information to debian-arm mailing list.
    In Nov. 2011, Luke Kenneth Casson Leighton contacted AllWinner and obtained the kernel patch of the A10 Soc. He published the patch and establish a opensource project later. You can get more information about this project from here:
    In Dec. 2011, AllWinner joint with Ainol to publish the source code of Novo7 Advanced tablet.
    In Jan. 2012, AllWinner create a repository in github for their kernel source code:

    If you want to know the detail of this story, you can read the archives of arm-netbook mailing list:

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