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Widespread Linux Practice May Violate License

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A common practice among embedded Linux developers almost certainly violates the Linux license, according to research conducted by software attorneys Jay Michaelson and Christopher Holst. Wasabi Systems Inc., a leading provider of embedded operating systems, today released a white paper entitled Closed-Source Loadable Kernel Modules Violate the GPL, which is the second in a series of white papers focusing on the myths and facts about open source licensing.

he latest white paper discusses the issue of Loadable Kernel Modules (LKMs), a method commonly used by Linux developers to circumvent the requirement that modified Linux code be shared with the public. Although Michaelson notes that there are many legitimate uses of LKMs, the code they contain would otherwise be part of the kernel and compiled along with it. In that case, the source code to these LKMs would have to be made public according to the terms of Linux's license, the GNU General Public License (GPL). By dynamically loading the code later, developers claim that it is not part of the GPL-covered kernel - a claim refuted by Michaelson and Holst.

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