The first official public release of the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement (known universally as the TPP) on November 5, 2015 generated much heated speculation. The ideal of “open agreements, openly arrived at” remains regrettably unattainable in international affairs. “Fast track” trade negotiating authority in the US means that parties excluded from the negotiating process have a short time in which to mobilize for or against the treaty as a whole in light of their specific concerns. The premium on speed of response to a very lengthy and complex legal document—and the presence of intense public attention—guarantees that hasty judgment and occasional self-promotion will always outrun professional analysis; this is one of the inherent defects of secret legislation.
In this context, early commentary on the TPP draft included much speculation that one provision in the draft’s chapter on electronic commerce might have serious negative consequences for free software and open source licensing, distribution, or government acquisition. Some lay readers marched immediately to the conclusion that, in less than 200 words ostensibly about something else, the negotiators had (a) abolished free licensing; ( prohibited governments from acquiring, supporting or preferring free software; or (c) had interfered with the enforcement of free licenses. Other non-professional readers invented complex demonstrations that one or more of these catastrophes had not occurred.
A few months ago, the FCC proposed regulations that theoretically banned the use of open source firmware on your WiFi router. Needless to say, that rubbed a lot of enthusiasts the wrong way -- how were you supposed to improve features or security on your own terms, especially on routers that were designed to be hacked? Well, you needn't fear any longer.
Alice Corporation, a non-practice patent-holding entity, held patents on a method, system, and process for a particular type of financial risk hedging: namely, that one party to a set of financial transactions won’t pay at one or more stages in the set. This risk is known as “settlement risk”. Alice’s patents describe using a computer to keep track of the transactions between the parties. If the computer determines that a party does not have sufficient funds to pay their obligations to the other side, then the transaction is blocked. Litigation against CLS Bank International for alleged infringement of these patented ideas started in 2007, eventually winding its way up to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Writing for a unanimous court, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas begins with a brief description of what the patents claimed. There are effectively three different types of claims made: “(1) the foregoing method for exchanging obligations (the method claims), (2) a computer system configured to carry out the method for exchanging obligations (the system claims), and (3) a computer-readable medium containing program code for performing the method of exchanging obligations (the media claims)” (page 3 of the ruling).
Thomas then goes on to cite the court’s recent ruling in Mayo vs Prometheus, which established a test to determine which inventions incorporating abstract ideas are patent-eligible: “First, we determine whether the claims at issue are directed to one of those patent-ineligible concepts” (page 7). If it is so directed, then the court looks at “the elements of each claim both individually and ‘as an ordered combination’ to determine whether the additional elements ‘transform the nature of the claim’ into a patent-eligible application” (page 7). This is what Thomas refers to as “a search for an ‘inventive concept’” (page 7).
Back in March, the FCC issued a Software Security Requirements document that said manufacturers applying for equipment authorizations should "Describe in detail how the device is protected from 'flashing' and the installation of third-party firmware such as DD-WRT." Applicants also had to answer the question, "What prevents third parties from loading non-US versions of the software/firmware on the device?"
Upon receiving criticism, the FCC insisted that there was no ban on software like DD-WRT and OpenWRT, saying instead manufacturers must prevent devices from working outside their allowed frequencies, types of modulation, and power levels so as not to interfere with other systems.
The revelation of this clause has confused our community, as it appears as if this provision, once adopted, might impact or restrict the international operation of copyleft licenses. Below we explain that, while everyone should reject and oppose this provision — and the rest of TPP — this provision has no dramatic impact on copyleft licensing.
First, as others have pointed out, Party is a defined term that refers specifically to government entities that sign the treaty. As such, the provision would only constrain the behavior of governments themselves. There are some obviously bad outcomes of this provision when those governmental entities interfere with public safety and ethical distribution of software, but we believe this provision will not interfere with international enforcement of copyleft.
Copyleft licenses use copyright as a mechanism to keep software free. The central GPL mechanism that copyright holders exercise to ensure software freedom is termination of permission to copy, modify and distribute the software (per GPLv2§4 and GPLv3§8). Under GPL's termination provisions, non-compliance results in an automatic termination of all copyright permissions. In practice, distributors can chose — either they can provide the source code or cease distribution. Once permissions terminate, any distribution of the GPL'd software infringes copyrights. Accordingly, in an enforcement action, there is no need to specifically compel a government to ask for disclosure of source code.
For example, imagine if a non-US entity ships a GPL-violating, Linux-based product into the USA, and after many friendly attempts to achieve compliance, the violating company refuses to comply. Conservancy can sue the company in US federal court, and seek injunction for distribution of the foreign product in the USA, since the product infringes copyright by violating the license. The detailed reasons for that infringement (i.e., failure to disclose source code) is somewhat irrelevant to the central issue; the Court can grant injunction (i.e., an order to prevent the company from distributing the infringing product) based simply on the violator's lost permissions under the existing copyright license. The Court could even order the cease of import of the infringing products.
In our view, the violator would be unaffected under the above TPP provision, since the Court did not specifically compel release of the source code, but rather simply ruled that the product generally infringed copyrights, and their distribution rights had fully terminated upon infringement. In other words, the fact that the violator lost copyright permissions and can seek to restore them via source code disclosure is not dispositive to the underlying infringement claim.
While TPP thus does not impact copyright holders' ability to enforce the GPL, there are nevertheless plenty of reasons to oppose TPP. Conservancy therefore joins the FSF, EFF, and other organizations in encouraging everyone to oppose TPP.
The signers respectfully request that the commission carefully balance the important work of protecting the radio spectrum with the immeasurable value in experimentation, innovation, and freedom for law-abiding users. Additionally, the signers invite the commission and other regulatory agencies to collaborate with industry; free, open source, and proprietary software developers; and device users on developing wireless device policies and recommendations that meet the needs of regulatory agencies and protect the ability of users to inspect, modify and improve their devices.
The lawsuit continues to progress. VMware has filed a statement of defense, in which they assert arguments for the dismissal of the action. Christoph, with the assistance of his lawyer Till Jaeger, has filed his response to these arguments. Unfortunately, VMware has explicitly asked for the filings not to be published and, accordingly, Conservancy has not been able to review either document. With the guidance of counsel, Christoph was able to provide Conservancy with a high-level summary of the filings from which we are able to provide this update. VMware's statement of defense primarily focuses on two issues. First, VMware questions Christoph's copyright interest in the Linux kernel and his right to bring this action. Second, VMware claims vmklinux is an “interoperability module” which communicates through a stable interface called VMK API.
16 new GNU releases in the last month (as of September 24, 2015):
[FSFE PR][EN] FSFE convinces 1125 public administrations to remove proprietary software advertisements
The campaign began in 2009 with the intent of removing advertisements for proprietary PDF reader software from public institutions' websites. To start it all off, volunteers submitted 2104 "bugs", or instances of proprietary PDF software being directly promoted by public authorities, and the FSFE listed them online. Since then, hundreds of Free Software activists took action by writing to the relevant public institutions and calling for changes to their websites. We received a lot of positive feedback from the institutions thanking us for our letters, and to date, 1125 out of the 2104 websites (53%) edited their websites by removing links to proprietary PDF readers, or adding links to Free Software PDF readers.
For those who like their I/O packetised, GLib now has a companion for its GIOStream class — the GDatagramBased interface, which we’ve implemented as part of R&D work at Collabora. This is designed to be implemented by any class which does datagram-based I/O. GSocket implements it, essentially as an interface to recvmmsg() and sendmmsg(). The upcoming DTLS support in glib-networking will use it.
SFLC Files Comment with FCC Arguing Against Overbroad Rules Prohibiting User Modification of Software on Wireless Devices
On Friday, October 9th, 2015 the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) submitted a comment with the United States Federal Communications Commission, which has proposed a number of revisions to its rules and regulations concerning approval of wireless devices. Notice of Proposed Rule Making, ET Docket No. 15-170. SFLC takes the position that the Commission does not possess the legal authority to adopt a rule that regulates the software running in devices that does not affect the operation of RF transmitters or create interference. SFLC further argues that, even within the scope of the Commission's regulatory jurisdiction, the Commission must tread carefully to avoid over-regulating radio frequency device software to the detriment of user innovation and after-market software modification. SFLC also urges the Commission to issue a policy statement (1) supporting the use of community developed or free software in networking devices; (2) recognizing the overwhelming social benefits generated from the high-quality software produced by non-profit communities; and (3) stating that preferring proprietary software over software whose source code is publicly available does not meaningfully enhance the security of software.
The Free Software Foundation and Software Freedom Conservancy have released a statement of principles on how GPL enforcement work can and should be done in a community-oriented fashion. The president of the Open Source Initiative, Allison Randal, participated as a co-author in the drafting of the principles, together with the leadership of FSF and Conservancy.
The Open Source Initiative's mission centers on advocating for and supporting efforts to improve community best practices, in order to promote and protect open source (founded on the principles of free software). While the OSI's work doesn't include legal enforcement actions for the GPL or any of the family of licenses that conform to the Open Source Definition, we applaud these principles set forth by the FSF and Conservancy, clearly defining community best practices around GPL enforcement.