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Television Media GNU is Not Unix Hardware Your Rights Online

USDTV Subscribers Gouged For Linux USB Keys 191

Posted by kdawson
from the flaunting-the-GPL dept.
Former USDTV Subscriber writes "A few weeks ago, Salt Lake City-based USDTV discontinued their service. USDTV used the Hisense DB2010 as subscriber boxes, with Linux based firmware. USDTV should have released the source and binaries as required by the GPL, in order for customers to create a USB key to convert their DB2010s to FTA HDTV boxes. Instead, they chose to hand the keys to former USDTV subcontractors. Cable Communications is coming to subscribers' houses and updating the boxes, but not leaving a USB key. ProServ is selling USB keys. But 'Due to copyright laws you are only allowed to purchase one of these keys if you have proof of being a current or previous subscriber to USDTV.' USDTV customers are being charged $30 for a service and/or files that should be freely available to anyone who has a DB2010 in their possession. There is a thread on the AVS Forum detailing the whole debacle."
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USDTV Subscribers Gouged For Linux USB Keys

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  • by MrWGW (964175) on Tuesday March 27, 2007 @05:02PM (#18508341)
    Well, this would be a great opportunity for a lawsuit, instigated by the FSF or another stakeholder in the matter. The flipside of that, however, is that proponents of proprietary OSes would then immediately cite the case as an example of the "dangers" of using Linux.
    Tough call; I'm in favor of an attempt to enforce the GPL (and potentially get validation from a US court that it is, in fact, a legally enforceable license).
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Lockejaw (955650)

      Tough call; I'm in favor of an attempt to enforce the GPL (and potentially get validation from a US court that it is, in fact, a legally enforceable license).
      Either that, or it becomes a really verbose BSD license. I personally prefer BSD, but I think this would be a Bad Thing.
    • by Qzukk (229616) on Tuesday March 27, 2007 @05:14PM (#18508517) Journal
      would then immediately cite the case as an example of the "dangers" of using Linux.

      To which you respond by asking what they would think if the company had installed windows on all of these boxes without paying for a single license.

      Same thing either way. You either pay with the code, or you pay with your cash. Or use BSD.
      • by dch24 (904899) on Tuesday March 27, 2007 @06:23PM (#18509269) Journal
        USDTV has been doing a little of both: selling and leasing boxes to customers. But at this point, they are going into their second (or, depending on how you look at it, third) bankruptcy because the CEO and the president of the company have been ... well, doing some shady things.

        Most of the (former) employees of USDTV (full disclosure: I was) were doing what it took to get a decent alternative to cable off the ground. It seemed like a good idea: send digital video over the air on unused bandwidth, capitalize on the switch to ATSC broadcasting, and earn a little revenue with some extra offerings, like PVR, pay-per-view, and some of the most popular cable channels. It was a very limited channel selection (plus all the free HDTV channels), but there were almost no infrastructure costs.

        But the company had a serious problem with "too many chiefs, not enough indians" and after the second round of VC funding, the "chiefs" couldn't drum up any more loans. So now they're shutting down. There are lots of small startups in Utah that fail. It gives Utah a bad name in VC circles.

        Tim Rikers (who does bzFlag) has been in contact with the company for some time, trying to obtain GPL compliance in the form of source code that will run on the HiSense box. If any of you out there would like to sell me your HiSense box, we can probably work out a deal. They're very capable of doing something like MythTV. As far as I know, USDTV has stalled until they're closing the doors.

        And now, they're making you pay $30 to prevent your box from going into "Please Activate" mode, since none of the boxes will receive activations anymore. (Technically, they won't go into "please activate" until the first power outage.) In my opinion, they were in violation of the GPL for selling a GNU/Linux-based system to some of their customers, and now that they're giving the rest of the boxes to the customers (sort of by default), they are still in violation of the GPL. There are no GPL notices anywhere in the system, unless you connect by a serial console (I can give you pinouts, and maybe a password or two) -- then you'll get the login: prompt.

        I don't think a lawsuit is going to do a whole lot of good. But I think if anyone tried to acquire USDTV's IP and sue someone or a website doing hacking on the box, they'd make SCO look like a profitable venture. What is it with Utah businesses?!
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by init100 (915886)

          There are lots of small startups in Utah that fail. It gives Utah a bad name in VC circles.

          I guess failing startups may not be the only thing giving Utah a bad reputation in VC circles. There is also a company called SCO...

        • by SeaFox (739806)

          If any of you out there would like to sell me your HiSense box, we can probably work out a deal.

          Why don't you just buy one off eBay, there are quite a few available [ebay.com].

          • by dch24 (904899)
            Thanks; I know about the eBay scene. But for those who don't want to pay the seller fee, or who aren't thinking about selling theirs on eBay for whatever reason, here's another way to make some money ( $75 of course, since that's what Cable Comm is selling them for)
    • by AP2k (991160)
      I cant see what the problem is with using other's works and having to abide by the terms set forth by the author. "If you want my help, you are going to do it this way" is what it amounts to. Linux devs dont just throw their code out under GPL for shits and giggles.

      I dont see it as a danger, but rather a very stern warning that you abide by the author's license terms if you use their work. If you have something trade secret-related that you cant just hand out to anyone that wants it, you can code it yoursel
    • by Chandon Seldon (43083) on Tuesday March 27, 2007 @06:02PM (#18509069) Homepage

      Your question: "The GPL has never been tested in court, is it really legal?" is way over-hyped. It originated as FUD from the SCO case. Legally, the GPL is on really solid ground - even moreso than EULAs for commercial software. It's a copyright license. Either the user agrees to it and gets to take actions not normally allowed by copyright law in exchange for whatever terms are in the license, or they don't and are restricted by copyright law.

      But... even if the GPL needed a test case, this wouldn't be it. This case would be about whether $30 was a "reasonable" fee to distribute source code, and given that USB keys are like $15 the judge would probably rule that it's close enough to the cost of media to be OK. Even if the judge ruled that $30 was too much, the penalty would probably only consist of a requirement to charge $25 in the future and refund $5 to anyone who payed $30 and asks for the refund.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 27, 2007 @06:13PM (#18509151)
        Why does everyone think the USB key contains the source code? It's just how you update the firmware on these boxes. You plug in a USB stick with the new firmware image, power on the receiver and wait a couple of minutes while the new firmware *binary* is written to the flash memory chip. That's just one more binary distribution that warrants a corresponding source offer, which is, in violation of the license, nowhere to be seen and neither is the source.
        • If that's true, then some contributor should threaten a copyright infringement case. But, in that case, why does the summary include the following text?

          USDTV customers are being charged $30 for a service and/or files that should be freely available to anyone who has a DB2010 in their possession.

          I mean, the GPL has no requirement for binary distribution...

          • by Dun Malg (230075)

            I mean, the GPL has no requirement for binary distribution...
            It does have a requirement that the source code to those binary distributions be made available, so yes, in that sense they should be freely available. Simply put, you shouldn't have to depend on them sending you a USB key with the binary, as you should be able to obtain the source to compile those binaries at no cost.
            • There is no requirement for them to distribute a binary. Unless they distribute a binary, there is no requirement to distribute source. Even if they are required to distribute source, they are not required to distribute it at zero cost.

              If they really did distribute binaries by sending technicians around with USB keys, they are obligated to provide source to those binaries at their cost of distribution. If they decide that they are going to distribute the source on Dual Layer DVD+Rs they got a bad deal on

    • proponents of proprietary OSes would then immediately cite the case as an example of the "dangers" of using Linux

      Actually this is already available [gpl-violations.org] as an arguement for proprietary vendors but I suppose they don't use it because they persue copyright violoations agressively to the point where customers move to open source solutions. [com.com]

    • 1) Upload a .torrent of the source code to a tracker and provide a link (Cost: ~$0, upload it once from work, host at home)
      2) Put a copy on your server (Cost: Variable and potentially expensive)
      3) Provide an offer w/the GPL to provide the source code on CD for the cost it would take you to have a secretary burn a CD and mail it via FedEx/UPS, plus a small handling fee. (Charge $25 - Profit!)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 27, 2007 @05:04PM (#18508377)
    It's plain copyright infringement. They wouldn't get away with it if they infringed on Microsoft's copyright. There's no reason to let them get away with it if they infringe on the copyright of thousands of Linux contributors.
    • by raehl (609729) <raehl311&yahoo,com> on Tuesday March 27, 2007 @05:41PM (#18508853) Homepage
      Where is the act of infringment?

      The GPL requires that IF you distribute code, you also have to distribute source code, and the person you give that code to can then also redistribute it under the same terms.

      But, if I give you code, and you change it, and then you don't give it to anyone, guess what, you don't have to give the source code out at all.

      So, in this case, who owns the receivers? If the cable company owned the receivers, and were just leasing them to the customers, I don't see that there's any infringement taking place. They're not distributing the software (it's on their hardware), so they're not obligated to distribute the source either.

      Now, if they SOLD the boxes to the end consumer, then they'd be obligated to distribute the source, but is that the case here? Or did people just end up with abandoned receivers when the cable company went out of business?
      • by QuantumG (50515)
        It's an interesting argument.. but that's all it is. There's no legal precedent for what you're suggesting.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by dgatwood (11270)

          It's the same legal precedent that makes it illegal to hack your rented cable box. It's considered trespassing. If you rent a cable box, you do not have the right to open it up or modify it in any way. As the owner, they have the right to specify what can and cannot be done with their property. Therefore, they are under no legal obligation to aid and abet any action by their customers that would be in violation of their rights as the owners of the property. Indeed, by assisting you in doing so, they wo

          • by QuantumG (50515)
            Sigh. A vague analogy does not a legal precedent make.

            Think of it this way, if it had been Windows CE on that box, would you expect the company to be held to that license? Yeah, that's what I figured.
      • by cmburns69 (169686)
        I stopped subscribing a long time ago, but when I purchased my box when I signed up.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by squiggleslash (241428)

        My gut feeling says no, this wouldn't suffice. The receiver maker needs a license to put the software on the receivers, whether they intend to sell them or lease them, much as they'd need a license if they wanted to put a copy of The Matrix on every receiver and sell them or lease them. "Fair use", the usual out that allows us to talk about the GPL not applying to private modifications, does not apply in this case, fair use isn't as liberal as people here tend to think it is.

        The fact that the software ha

        • by raehl (609729)
          The fact that the software has been distributed, whether leased or sold, means it needed agreement to a license.

          But no distribution (giving a copy to another party) has taken place. Only *COPYING* has taken place.

          And it is obvious that the GPL *MUST* allow copying without distribution. If it doesn't, we're all violating the GPL any time we copy the program from one computer to another without also copying the source.

          (It would seem that at least the GPL statement If distribution of executable or object cod
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Scarblac (122480)

            Bullshit, go read the license (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.html [gnu.org]). It's not that long. It covers copying, distribution and modification.

            Without a license, you do not have the right to copy a work copyrighted by someone else. The GPL is the only thing that gives you the right to copy, modify or distribute Linux. Therefore, you need to abide by its terms, even if you only copy it.

            Saying that means you must also always copy the source is idiotic, since that's not what the license says. But since this is c

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MoralHazard (447833)
        So, in this case, who owns the receivers? If the cable company owned the receivers, and were just leasing them to the customers, I don't see that there's any infringement taking place. They're not distributing the software (it's on their hardware), so they're not obligated to distribute the source either.

        You make a very tricky argument, here, about exactly what defines "distribution". I believe (correct me if I'm wrong) that you're just drawing a distinction between distribution on machines being loaned/le
        • GPLv3 (Score:3, Informative)

          Are the judges and lawyers who eventually decide and argue these matters going to be aware of these extremely fine technical distinctions?... Lots of uncertainty, here, as far as I see it.

          Believe it or not, GPLv3 is designed to resolve exactly this kind of issue. It's designed to be much clearer about what is and isn't allowed.

          Of course, a lot of people don't like this, because they can get away with certain things that the GPLv2 allows, that it wasn't intended to. Tivo-ization is the perfect example -- t

          • Re:GPLv3 (Score:4, Insightful)

            by kscguru (551278) on Tuesday March 27, 2007 @11:31PM (#18511487)
            the GPLv2 was never meant to allow you to see source code, but not be able to produce a modified binary that works. (emphasis mine)

            GPLv2 guarantees you the right to produce a modified binary that works on some system.

            GPLv3, with the TIVO-ization clauses, guarantees you the right to produce a modifed binary that works on the original system.

            The difference between those is huge! TIVO complies with GPLv2 (you could build your own TIVO box and install your modified source on it). USDTV seemed to comply with neither of these.

            And this new GPLv3 doesn't clear up the GP's points about what is "distribution" (the 2nd GPLv3 draft only adds confusion, defining "distribution" as "conveying" without defining "conveying") - so that definition will still have to evolve via case law in the courts. Sorry FSF, y'all got too focused on fixing TIVO-ization and didn't actually clear up the ambiguities...

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by raehl (609729)
          I don't think that adds up.

          You kind of touched on the problem with your argument, but then went past it.

          The receiver is a self-contained unit that runs it's own software. The live CD does not run anything. In order to use the software on the live CD, you have to put it in some other device. And when you do that, you copy the software.

          So, if I 'lease' to you a CD with software on it, and then you run the software on the CD, one of two things is true:

          - My lease to you of my property with the copyrighted so
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by MoralHazard (447833)
            My lease to you of my property with the copyrighted software on it either allows you to copy that software, or it does not. If it does, then I have infringed the copyright as I have no license which allows me to allow you to copy the software onto whatever machine you're going to ultimately run it on.

            This may be a misunderstanding. My point was that the GPL forbids you from making a lease agreement in the fashion you describe. IF the act of handing over the CD qualifies as distribution, you're breakin
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Chandon Seldon (43083)

      This isn't accurate. I'm not a lawyer, but I have actually read the GPL and payed attention to legal discussions related to the GPL.

      First, only the copyright holder can sue for copyright infringement. Unless that's you, you have no standing for a copyright infringement claim. There are some other marginal ins you might have, but they don't really apply to this case.

      Second, they aren't obviously violating the GPL. The GPL says they need to offer source code to anyone with binaries for the cost of distribut

      • They only have to distribute the source to those they distributed the binaries to, NOT anyone with binaries.

        I don't think $30 for a USB key with the source code counts as 'a medium customarily used for software distribution'. You can't just pick an arbitrary means of distributing the source, otherwise someone could claim they've satisfied the GPL by offering the source code on platinum CDs in platinum-CD reader drives for $10,000,000, because that's what it costs to make one.
  • Correct me if I'm wrong....but isn't this less of a license issue and more of an issue of a company having financial difficulties?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MrWGW (964175)
      Specifically its an issue of a service provider exiting a business, after having distributed Linux to people, and the new service providers failing to provide the source code as required by the GPL.
    • by spun (1352)
      A little of column A, a little of column B, at least by my reading. They were called out on the lack of source over a year ago, claimed they were having technical difficulties and would release the source post-haste. They never did. Now, they were probably in some financial trouble even then, but how hard is it to tar up a source tree and throw it on the web?
      • by dch24 (904899)
        What they actually said:

        As you have requested, we will make available for Internet file transfer copies of the software used in the USDTV receiver that is covered by these licenses. Unfortunately, your request has caught us at a bad time. The USDTV development offices are currently in the process of moving to a new location, so we do not at this time have a server to host copies of the software to download. Once our move is completed and our full Internet service is restored, we will set up a site with t

  • I don't know anything about this company but I have a general GPL question that this may serve as a good example of...

    What if they had licensed lots of other code and disobeyed the GPL by merging from them both? They couldn't release the code and they couldn't not release the code either. I suppose that the other license (the restrictive one) would win out. They could be sued for breaking the GPL but the result of the lawsuit couldn't be opening the code so what would you get from a defunct company?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      The GPL is voluntary. You do not have to accept the license. However, if you don't or can't accept the license, you can't distribute the code. If you distribute the code even though you have not accepted the license or don't comply with its terms, you're committing copyright infringement, which is punishable by a bazillion dollars per illicit copy. Alternatively you can settle with the copyright owners who most likely want you to open the code and call it a day. But if you don't want to or can't open the so
      • by dch24 (904899)
        Exactly right. The licensed code on the set top box is removed when you re-flash the firmware using the Free-To-Air update on the USB key.

        What if they had licensed lots of other code and disobeyed the GPL by merging from them both?

        The only for-sure GPL violation was the Linux kernel, although I'm fairly certain they have GNU bash in the firmware as well. The programs which are not open source -- well, they won't have to release source for those. But they must release the code for the kernel and any includ

    • by AJWM (19027) on Tuesday March 27, 2007 @05:21PM (#18508599) Homepage
      They couldn't release the code and they couldn't not release the code either.

      The solution to that is to stop distributing anything. If you end up with a warehouse full of settop boxes you can't legally (because of copyright) distribute/sell, that's your tough luck for not doing due diligence on your business plan.

      Same goes for any successors in interest to the defunct company.

  • Gouged? (Score:4, Informative)

    by ClamIAm (926466) on Tuesday March 27, 2007 @05:12PM (#18508501)
    Perhaps the submitter has never read the GPL, but the license does, in fact, allow you to charge money when people request copies of the code. In fact, for a while Stallman made a living selling copies of Emacs by mail-order; there are plenty of sites that sell CDs of Linux distributions as well.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by UbuntuDupe (970646) *
      Yes, but:

      1) The code must be *somewhere* freely available. Profiting off people's ignorance of where to get it for free, is fine. For example, selling Firefox in a regular software box at Best Buy for $35 + sales tax would be within the GPL, as long as you can download it somewhere for free.

      2) If you're charging for the source code you have to provide, it has to be somewhere close to distribution costs.
      • Re:Gouged? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by RealSurreal (620564) * on Tuesday March 27, 2007 @05:26PM (#18508647)
        Close but no cigar. 1) There's no requirement to make the source freely available anywhere. You can release software under the GPL and charge whatever you like for a copy. The requirement is that whoever buys a copy from you with a GPL license receives the rights to redistribute it under a GPL license - which means they can then give it away for free (as long as the recipient is bound by the GPL too) 2) Nope. http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#DoesTheGP LAllowDownloadFee [gnu.org] Oh and Firefox is distributed under the Mozilla Public License not the GPL.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jrockway (229604)
          > Oh and Firefox is distributed under the Mozilla Public License not the GPL.

          That's incorrect. Firefox is tri-licensed -- LGPL, GPL, and MPL. You get to pick which one you want.
        • Re:Gouged? (Score:4, Informative)

          by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 27, 2007 @05:40PM (#18508833) Homepage Journal

          Apparently you didn't read the link you made, and neither did anyone else. Try actually reading the following:

          [...] "You can charge any fee you wish for distributing a copy of the program. If you distribute binaries by download, you must provide "equivalent access" to download the source--therefore, the fee to download source may not be greater than the fee to download the binary."

          IF you distribute binaries by download, which they did not, you may charge a fee as much as the fee to download the binary.

          Since the binaries were distributed physically, with the product, or physically again, when the people come to your house to do the upgrade, you may not charge more than a nominal amount to cover copying for the source code.

          Nice try, though.

          • by dgatwood (11270)

            The GPL does not say "a nominal amount". It says "the cost of distribution". There's a difference. "A nominal amount" is vague. "The cost of distribution" is very well defined. If the cost of that USB key plus the cost for somebody to copy the data to it plus the cost of shipping comes out to $30 or whatever, then that's well within the bounds of even a strict interpretation of the GPL. However, it is also within the rights of anyone who pays for that $30 key to make it available to anyone else at no

        • by Danse (1026)

          1) There's no requirement to make the source freely available anywhere. You can release software under the GPL and charge whatever you like for a copy. The requirement is that whoever buys a copy from you with a GPL license receives the rights to redistribute it under a GPL license - which means they can then give it away for free (as long as the recipient is bound by the GPL too)

          Ok, this isn't clear to me from reading the FAQ. The GPL states that they must provide equivalent access [gnu.org] to the source that they

      • The code must be *somewhere* freely available.

        Absolutely false. The GPL source code obligation can be met by providing an offer to deliver source code on physical media, and the distributor is allowed to charge reasonable distribution costs.

        If you're charging for the source code you have to provide, it has to be somewhere close to distribution costs.

        Sure. A USB key costs $15 and shipping costs $6. If you challenge them, they'll claim that a USB key costs "over $20". In the end, the point's really not wor

        • by AvitarX (172628)
          Is the source on the key?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Romancer (19668)
          From the article: "Cable Communications is coming to subscribers' houses and updating the boxes, but not leaving a USB key" that's a problem right there as they are not getting any copies of the code.

          and second: "ProServ is selling USB keys." are they selling the key with the code on it, or are they selling just a USB drive that stores a key that has been created by the code. As in a compiled file? If it's just a standard USB key, then it only has a file on it that gets verified. not the code or utility to
      • by ivan256 (17499)

        The code must be *somewhere* freely available.


        Can you quote us the line of the GPL which specifies that?

        (No, you can't, because it doesn't exist.)

        Besides, even if they gave you the code for free, it doesn't mean that they aren't running some non-GPLed code to lock down the box. Thus having the GPLed code wouldn't negate their ability to charge you to unlock the system.
        • by ArsonSmith (13997)
          I don't dissagree with you, but here is the relevent section of the GPL and they seem to be well within their rights:

          1. You may copy and distribute verbatim copies of the Program's source code as you receive it, in any medium, provided that you conspicuously and appropriately publish on each copy an appropriate copyright notice and disclaimer of warranty; keep intact all the notices that refer to this License and to the absence of any warranty; and give any other recipients of the Program a copy of this Li
      • by pavon (30274)

        1) The code must be *somewhere* freely available. Profiting off people's ignorance of where to get it for free, is fine. For example, selling Firefox in a regular software box at Best Buy for $35 + sales tax would be within the GPL, as long as you can download it somewhere for free.

        No it doesn't. It is perfectly legitimate for someone to distribute source by mail order only, as long as the price is reasonable as you mentioned. You could make a modified version of firefox, say iceweasel, and sell it at for

        • by GryMor (88799)
          This is incorrect and insufficient, you can not restrict it to 'your customers'

          3. You may copy and distribute the Program (or a work based on it,
          under Section 2) in object code or executable form under the terms of
          Sections 1 and 2 above provided that you also do one of the following:

          a) Accompany it with the complete corresponding machine-readable
          source code, which must be distributed under the terms of Sections
          1 and 2 abo

          • by init100 (915886)

            So they better bloody well have done b), which means the offer can be used by anyone and is transferrable (and for that matter, duplicatable).

            Not absolutely anyone, but anyone who have received binaries from you, even indirectly. From the GPL FAQ:

            What does this "written offer valid for any third party" mean? Does that mean everyone in the world can get the source to any GPL'ed program no matter what?

            "Valid for any third party" means that anyone who has the offer is entitled to take you up on it.

            If you commercially distribute binaries not accompanied with source code, the GPL says you must provide a written offer to distribute the source code later. When users non-commercially redistribute the binaries they received from you, they must pass along a copy of this written offer. This means that people who did not get the binaries directly from you can still receive copies of the source code, along with the written offer.

            The reason we require the offer to be valid for any third party is so that people who receive the binaries indirectly in that way can order the source code from you.

      • I'm amazed to be reading stuff like tha parent post on /. Just amazed.
      • by ArsonSmith (13997)

        1. You may copy and distribute verbatim copies of the Program's source code as you receive it, in any medium, provided that you conspicuously and appropriately publish on each copy an appropriate copyright notice and disclaimer of warranty; keep intact all the notices that refer to this License and to the absence of any warranty; and give any other recipients of the Program a copy of this License along with the Program.

        You may charge a fee for the physical act of transferring a copy, and you may at your op
  • This article is clearly spam for that proserv link in the writeup.

    Don't editors check out the links before stories get posted? Oh, wait, this is slashdot, of course they don't.
  • by Edward Kmett (123105) on Tuesday March 27, 2007 @05:39PM (#18508805) Homepage
    Ok. I'm as much of an open source advocate as anyone, but I'm not sure I see what all of the hubbub is about or believe the proposition that this upgrade should be free.

    Company makes a box that happens to run linux as the base OS. They should therefore redistribute any changes they make to the GPL'ed code they run. That I get.

    What I don't see is how the GPL being involved in some of the software on the firmware entitles the people who bought the hardware to anything involving software that they used for the TV tuner portion of the box.

    In one of the links they mention that they used the following bits of GPL'ed software:

          Linux kernel version 2.4.18
          glibc version 2.2.4
          libpthread version 0.9
          busybox version 0.60.0
          GNU tar 1.13.19
          gzip version 1.3

    None of those, with the possible exception of the kernel would they have needed to modify to do what they were doing.

    They went out of business, and they let people who were former subcontractors give away/sell the information needed to update the system so the end user can continue to use the hardware in some fashion.

    I just don't see the relevance of the fact that some of the software is GPL'ed to the discussion at hand. You could argue that they need to make available a disk with the code for the GPL'ed stuff that they ran, but they are out of business, so good luck with getting them to honor that.

    However, what is at stake is the ability to use their box to receive OTA signals. None of those packages deal with that. You can make a case that since they closed down they might want to try to give away their service to soften the blow, but the GPL issue is unrelated.

    If I ran a computer company and sold computers preloaded with Linux that happened to come with some fancy proprietary biometric thumb scanner and I went out of business, I wouldn't spontaneously owe every one the source for some user-space application that controlled the thumbscanner.

    If they modified the kernel, then sure the kernel mods are probably owed to the community. I'll bet that they aren't sufficient to perform all of the box's functions unaided however.

    Without the service provided by this third party you are in possession of your very own Linux box running on funny hardware. The joke is on you. Good luck getting your money back.
    • Ok. I'm as much of an open source advocate as anyone, but I'm not sure I see what all of the hubbub is about or believe the proposition that this upgrade should be free.

      Company makes a box that happens to run linux as the base OS. They should therefore redistribute any changes they make to the GPL'ed code they run. That I get.


      Not changes.

      They must redistribute THE FULL SOURCE, even if it's NOT changed, of whatever they're loading.

      For (essentially) free.

      Otherwise they have no right to do the copying involved
      • The issue that I raised was that the post in question seemed to implicate that the OTA functionality enabled by the firmware patch is something that should be thrown in for free and for which customers shouldn't be charged.

        > USDTV customers are being charged $30 for a service and/or files that should be freely available to anyone who has a DB2010 in their possession.

        The USB dongle appears to be being offered as a sop to a disaffected public to enable OTA, not to address source redistribution concerns.

        The
  • Not sure, but.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jim Hall (2985) on Tuesday March 27, 2007 @05:40PM (#18508825) Homepage

    Looking at the links provided in TFA, it's hard to find the real violation here. For example, the link to HiSense [elinux.org] quotes an email (March 2006) from the technical lead at USDTV, responding to a user request for copies of the source per the GNU GPL. He states that he would be happy to put up the files for download via a (web?) server, but they were moving offices and didn't have a box to use. Lame, but looks to be in good faith. Until they could put up a server, the technical lead listed the (unmodified?) software components covered by the GNU GPL:

    • Linux kernel version 2.4.18
    • glibc version 2.2.4
    • libpthread version 0.9
    • busybox version 0.60.0
    • GNU tar 1.13.19
    • gzip version 1.3

    There is then a mention on the site (not part of the email) that the company has since hit financial problems, possibly implying they are going out of business. In fact, USDTV did go under. Technically, a violation of the GNU GPL for not providing the source on demand, but would be hard to bring to court. Especially since USDTV is out of business now. :-P

    Under the GNU GPL, a developer who modifies or distributes code under the GNU GPL is required [fsf.org] to redistribute the source code, "for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution". However, a program that is separate from the GNU GPL code (for example, a program that runs on top of the Linux kernel) is not bound by the GNU GPL. So they company isn't bound by anything to release code or binaries to their subscriber box software. And in any case, $30 could be a reasonable fee for physical distribution, since they are sending a field rep to your home - if they were distributing source code to the GNU GPL components (which doesn't appear to be the case.)

    Reading through the (long!) forum, the company appears to be distributing an updated kernel and their own subscriber box software updates - from a USB "key" (I assume a USB fob or somesuch.) Forum members report they haven't been able to read the USB key on a PC. I didn't go through all 19 web pages of comments, but I didn't see anyone complaining about trying to get the source code.

    So after much searching, it appears the submitted article is someone complaining they aren't getting upgraded TV software for free, and using the GNU GPL as leverage in their argument. Am I missing something???

    • Re:Not sure, but.. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7&cornell,edu> on Tuesday March 27, 2007 @06:09PM (#18509113) Homepage
      Also, while the above components may be GPL, there are two other issues:

      a) Nothing requires you to provide binaries on demand. Still, any time binaries ARE provided, source for those components must be provided, and there HAS been a violation here.

      b) Just because the kernel and glibc are GPL doesn't mean that there aren't any closed-source applications. HiSense could comply with the GPL and release source code for all GPL components and anyone wanting to update their system would likely still be SOL because the update is for a closed-source application that runs on the box.
  • by Simon80 (874052) on Tuesday March 27, 2007 @05:41PM (#18508839)
    flouting the GPL! FLOUTING!
  • by Secret Rabbit (914973) on Tuesday March 27, 2007 @05:41PM (#18508847) Journal
    ... but isn't the key NOT source code.

    I mean sure, if the firmware is GPL'd then according to the GPL we have to have access to it. But, if a key is required (as in a crypto type key) then that would NOT exactly be covered under the GPL. Thus NO violation.
  • Stop right there (Score:3, Insightful)

    by westlake (615356) on Tuesday March 27, 2007 @05:44PM (#18508885)
    Salt Lake City-based USDTV discontinued their service. USDTV used the Hisense DB2010 as subscriber boxes, with Linux based firmware [CC]. USDTV should have released the source and binaries as required by the GPL, in order for customers to create a USB key to convert their DB2010s to FTA HDTV boxes. Instead, they chose to hand the keys to former USDTV subcontractors. Cable Communications [CC] is coming to subscribers' houses and updating the boxes, but not leaving a USB key. ProServ [CC] is selling USB keys. But 'Due to copyright laws you are only allowed to purchase one of these keys if you have proof of being a current or previous subscriber to USDTV.

    First question that comes to mind:

    How many subscribers would be able to flash the firmware without bricking their box even if they had the source code and binaries?

    [it happens, sometimes, even to the geek who is sure he knows what he is doing]

    Second question:

    Where in the contract does it say that these set top boxes are user-serviceable? If they are not, then the code becomes of intellectual interest only.

    Third question:

    What makes paying for a USB key differet from paying for a CableCard to access and unlock subscription content and services?

    • by dch24 (904899)
      I'll bite.

      How many subscribers would be able to flash the firmware without bricking their box even if they had the source code and binaries? [it happens, sometimes, even to the geek who is sure he knows what he is doing]

      If by some mishap you have bricked your box, connect the appropriate Flash programmer to the JTAG port on the mainboard, and reprogram the flash. Repeat as necessary until the machine boots again.

      I think it's necessary to have the source code so you could test an install of MythTV, for

      • by westlake (615356)
        If by some mishap you have bricked your box, connect the appropriate Flash programmer to the JTAG port on the mainboard, and reprogram the flash. Repeat as necessary until the machine boots again.

        You have got to be kidding.

        I have a Phillips head screwdriver in the kitchen. Will that be any help?

        I think it's necessary to have the source code so you could test an install of MythTV.

        I think Microsoft may be on to something here, pushing the OEM system install in the home PC market.

    • by init100 (915886)

      If they are not, then the code becomes of intellectual interest only.

      Are youy trying to imply that this would make source distribution for the GPL:ed components unnecessary?

      • by westlake (615356)
        Are you trying to imply that this would make source distribution for the GPL:ed components unnecessary?

        I'll hazard a guess here and say that the GPL'd components of the USDTV firmware are the least interesting to the hacker and the most useless now---nothing more than the standard libraries he's seen and used a hundred times before.

        If you are going to fight the good fight, make your battles count. The company has gone belly-up, and the code, more likely than not, is going to disappear into the void no ma

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