[openbeos] Re: Using GPL-ed sources as the reference

  • From: Michael Phipps <mphipps1@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: openbeos@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 13 Apr 2004 10:58:32 -0400

On 2004-04-13 at 09:28:30 [-0400], Siarzhuk Zharski wrote:
> Good afternoon, gentlemen,

What a polite beginning!
> I'm not sure, that this is a right place to ask such questions but... :-) 

Licensing questions are very on topic. :-D You may also feel free to email me 

> Well. I'm currently working on USB SCSI interface module for mass storage 
> devices. Some standard protocols are already implemented, some are partially 

That's great to hear!

> implemented. Anyway the design of this module allows to simply expand it for 
> supporting another protocols that use same commands sets and can act as SCSI 
> devices.
> I have seen in sources of the usb storage driver from Linux, that there are 
> many vendor-specific devices supported, that use non-standard protocols. One 
> from those specific devices is FREECOM external USB drive that I have and 
> going to support in my driver. I have looking for alternative sources of 
> information about FREECOM protocol but there are no ones. People say that 
> FREECOM staff is also not friendly to third-part developers. Only Linux 
> source code is available for me now.

> The Question: Can I use this source as reference information about FREECOM 
> protocol for writing my own implementation under BSD license? No, I'm not 
> going to copy-paste any info from original sources. Work with USB in Linux 
> and BeOS is different - no chance to re-use. Only ideas. I need just 
> information how to initialize device, read/write data, handle errors etc.

The advice that I have been given is that so long as no *CODE* is transferred, 
you are not infringing. That the *IDEAS* in that source code, unless trade 
secrets (can't be - they are published) or patented (not going to happen) can 
not be protected. Implementations of those ideas, however, can be protected. 
Still, as a professional courtesy, I would probably contact the author. My 
estimation is that about half of the people who write GPL'ed code are open to 
BSD licenses - they are writting for Linux and use the Linux License (which 
happens to be GPL). 
> I'm afraid that such kind of using GPL-ed information can make my work GPL-ed 
> too. I cannot accept this because I hope that my work can be useful in the 
> future for implementing such mass-storages support in OBOS and the GPL will 
> be a problem in this case.

They can not force you to release your code in any way. What they can do, 
though, is to force you not license it a certain way (ie BSD/MIT license). In 
the worst case, you could remove the infringing part and license as you choose. 
Still - if you don't have a single line of their code, I can't see how you 
could be in copyright violation (which is the issue here). They can be very 
upset that their reverse engineering is used. They can hop up and down on one 
leg and scream about your mother's origins. But I can't see where they would 
have a legal rememdy. Even if you have seen the code. If that were the case, no 
developer could ever do similar development after leaving a job. Imagine if you 
were a USB/SCSI developer for Microsoft for two years and then quit. If you 
decided the next day to repent (joke) and code for BSD, you might start with 
what you know - USB/SCSI. What you learned at MS can't be "offlimits" - it is 
inside your head. Certainly you can't use their proprietary code or anything, 
but your knowledge about USB, SCSI and how to implement "stuff" can't be taken 
away. Now in this case, you could certainly learn from the Linux code and then 
implement it your own way. The parallel works pretty well. The only difference 
is that you have the code sitting next to you. :-D
> What do you think?
> As variant I can support two versions of my module: basic with support of 
> only standard protocols under BSD license and "extended" with such 
> vendor-specific support under GPL.

This would be a good fallback position if necessary. I don't think that it 
would be.
> Thank you for your Attention.

No, thank *YOU*. This will be an FAQ for the new website. :-)

> Kind Regards,
>         S.Zharski

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