Saturday, April 7, 2007

The bcm copyright violation

I've read the whole thread on the bcm driver in OpenBSD violating GPL code. It was educational. And sad. For those who haven't heard about the issue, here is the executive summary:

A team of Linux developers began a clean-room implementation of a wireless network device driver for a Broadcom chipset. Their effort produced a chipset specification and a GPL-licensed Linux driver. An OpenBSD developer started implementing a BSD-licensed driver for OpenBSD based on their work. He apparently started with some code of his own and some from the GPL code base and kept rewriting function after function in his own way. Unfortunately, he started committing his work on the OpenBSD CVS tree before replacing every piece of the original code. This constitutes a copyright violation as the Linux developers recently pointed out. The driver was removed from the OpenBSD tree in the midst of accusations among the two camps about proper community behavior.

This is not an unusual thing to happen. What was unusual indeed, is the lack of cooperation between the two parties. Even though the core matter was quickly resolved (in an abrupt way, nevertheless), the accusations regarding the motives and the behavior of the other side went on for quite some time. This is the sort of thing we get to enjoy in the open-source ecosystem. If you are the kind of pervert that I am, of course. It's like a TV show where everyone keeps shouting, without actually hearing what the others are saying. Ah, the joy of mobs! And once again it comes down to the personalities of the people involved. Intolerance, stubbornness, old wounds, all contribute to a fire that keeps growing, burning down the bridges that people had built between their communities.

I can remember other cases where things were handled more professionally. A high-profile one was the JBoss and Geronimo clash. Fortunately, there were people with diplomacy skills on that one. Lawyers even. Hey, don't get me wrong, I know all the jokes about lawyers, but when you are talking about lawyeresque things, like copyright violations, it helps to actually know what you are talking about. Apparently, not many software developers do. Me neither. So, I'd suggest that in such circumstances the best strategy would be to listen first. Be condescending. Assure the other party that you are taking the issue seriously. Avoid any inflammatory vocabulary. Don't bend over, but don't counter-strike either. Remember, you are trying to uphold peace here, not win a war.

That is actually one of the things I like the most about the Apache and FreeBSD communities. The gentleness and the professionalism. There are always the bad apples, no doubt, but the overall impression is wildly positive. No drama queens. Not in the high ranks at least. The sad thing is that you don't get on the front page without some drama. You are instead painted as a 'nice guy'. Dependable but boring. The one that everyone wants to marry, but nobody wants to date. That's pretty much why I replaced my FreeBSD desktop with a Linux box at work. And why I develop on JBoss instead of Geronimo. It's a fame thing. Go with the flow.

However, at home, when no one is watching, I use a Mac. In case you didn't know, Macs are FreeBSD inside with the sexiest graphical interface on top. Which means, dependable and slutty. My kind of girl. I mean system. What's not to like?

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