The Linux and GNU Development Communities Weigh In
We also had several e-mail discussions with kernel.org's Richard Gooch about the manner in which code gets into the kernel.org kernel -- and with GNU's Richard Stallman too.
Richard Gooch, Ph.D., currently is doing post-doctoral research on Astronomical Visualization at the University of Calgary (Canada). He also is maintainer of The linux-kernel mailing list FAQ.
The first of these e-mail discussions with Richard Gooch took place on 22 March 03.
MozillaQuest Magazine: Can you be sure that no SCO-owned Unix code has seeped into the Linux kernel and/or GNU/Linux code-base? . . . Do you test for that?
Richard Gooch: For code I maintain, yes. I expect Linus [Torvalds] and other maintainers do as well. If large chunks of code are submitted which have "Copyright XYZ Inc.", but doesn't have the GPL plastered on it, it would be rejected until the license is clarified.
MozillaQuest Magazine: But how about if some developer submitted proprietary/copyrighted code but did not include the "Copyright XYZ Inc." with the code he/she submitted, agreed to GPL that code, but is not the owner of the code copyright?
Richard Gooch: Then the submitter is at fault, the Linux developers can't be held accountable. However, it doesn't seem very likely, since proprietary code is probably incompatible, functionally and stylistically, so that it would not be integrated in some existing project (like the kernel). It would probably need to be rewritten first. (Emphasis added.)
MozillaQuest Magazine: Is the developer required to certify to the kernel maintainers that he/she owns the submitted code and has the legal authority to GPL that code?
Richard Gooch: The submitter *does* certify that the code is legally GPL'ed. If they claim (by the act of submitting code under the GPL) incorrectly, they are guilty of theft and fraud. That's not our problem.
MozillaQuest Magazine: (I have not noticed any requirement in the GNU GPL that requires the coder to represent/warrant that he/she has the legal authority to GPL the code. Have I missed something.)
Richard Gooch: The GPL doesn't need to, because it's a basic part of copyright law. You can't change the copyright without the permission of the author.
MozillaQuest Magazine: What if SCO-Caldera is correct and there is some SCO-owned Unix code in the Linux kernel and GNU/Linux code-base? What impact would that have on the Linux kernel and GNU/Linux community? How about the Linux distributions?
Richard Gooch: They are wrong. Small patches that are added to Linux are derived from Linux community IP. Major new pieces of work are donated by members of the community (which lately includes IBM and other companies), without encumbrances. They are provided under the terms of the GPL (otherwise they aren't accepted). Once someone gives us some code, they are licensing it under the GPL, which means they can never take it back.
MozillaQuest Magazine: But that is only if the contributor owns the submitted code. If the submitter does not own the copyright he/she cannot legally GPL it, can he/she?
Richard Gooch: Obviously. But that's not our problem. We accept code that is asserted to be under the GPL in good faith. If fraud is committed, we are victims just as is the true copyright holder.
Richard Gooch: . . . I don't don't believe that IBM made the mistake of donating code that they didn't own. Large corporations are paranoid about this sort of thing, obviously. Their major contributions have been JFS (which they wrote themselves), EVMS (which is fresh code designed for Linux) and employing Linux hackers.
Even if they did make the mistake, I think the balance is still on the plus side for IBM.
After Blake Stowell's correction request, we again discussed these issues with Richard Gooch on 29 April 2003.
MozillaQuest Magazine: SCO-Caldera is asking and stating, "Linus and Alan Cox and others control what gets added to the kernel, but how do they know that what is being contributed is not proprietary? SCO would still like to see this get resolved in some way at some point."
Richard Gooch: As I have said before, we take code, published under the GPL, on good faith. We are not the copyright police. If someone commits fraud and submits code claiming to be GPL'ed and isn't, both the true owners and the Linux community are the victims.
-MozillaQuest Magazine: Well, that seems to me to be a procedure that y'all do have in place to keep tainted code out of the kernel. As I understand it, when someone submits code to kernel.org under the GPL they are representing that it is clean code.
-Richard Gooch: Yep.
We also discussed these issues with GNU's Richard Stallman (rms) on 22 March 2003 via e-mail. Some of the discussion with Richard Stallman is more directed toward SCO's lawsuit allegations that IBM had contributed tainted code to the GNU/Linux code-base then it is to how the GNU project makes sure GNU code is clean code.
MozillaQuest Magazine: Do you check code for SCO-owned Unix code before you add the code into the Linux kernel and/or GNU/Linux code-base?
Richard Stallman: Of course not. It is not normal for software projects, whether free or proprietary, to check all the code that is added against some other competing product's source code. You would not consider such a burdensome task unless you have a specific credible reason to believe there is a problem. There is no allegation now that specific code was copied, and thus no reason to think of doing this.
Richard Stallman: Even if we wanted to compare our code with Unix sources, we could not. The Unix source code is not free, and is available only under conditions we consider unethical. We do not have a copy.
Richard Stallman: I can speak for the GNU Project, which maintains many of the core parts of the GNU/Linux system. I cannot speak for the developers of the other parts.
MozillaQuest Magazine: Have you or do you know if anyone has run a program such as DIFF to check for SCO-owned Unix code in the Linux kernel and/or GNU/Linux code-base?
Richard Stallman: Such a comparison would not be useful, since literal copying of code is not the allegation.
MozillaQuest Magazine: What if SCO-Caldera is correct and there is some SCO-owned Unix code in the Linux kernel and GNU/Linux code-base? What impact would that have on the Linux kernel and GNU/Linux community?
Richard Stallman: The answer would depend on details, of course. Perhaps it would make no difference at all. Perhaps we would have to remove some specialized features. But even in the improbable case that we had to remove all the code IBM contributed to Linux and GNU libc, etc., the GNU/Linux system would still work. IBM's contributions to these programs were useful, but not fundamental.