April 17, 2014

Controversy Haunts Linux-based DD-WRT-- GPL Violator? Betrayer of Open Source? - page 2

Letter of the GPL vs. Spirit

  • April 23, 2009
  • By Aaron Weiss

Despite DD-WRT's success, though, some now say the project is succumbing to the same temptations as its progenitor Sveasoft, again violating the spirit of the GPL and open source software.

One controversy surrounds DD-WRT's Web interface. When Brainslayer forked a copy of the Sveasoft Alchemy code, he modified the interface to reflect and re-brand it to fit the new DD-WRT project. But, because DD-WRT itself was released under the GPL, other users could do the same thing���modify, re-brand, and recompile DD-WRT���and distribute it as their own.

With V23, Brainslayer published a note on the support page about compiling DD-WRT: "WARNING: Due to abuse by those re-branding DD-WRT and selling it, or pre-flashed routers with it on eBay, builds dated later than 08/04/2006 have some protections against re-branding the web UI."

To support this change, the DD-WRT Web interface was distributed as non-GPL code, although it configures a platform based largely on GPL-code (going back through OpenWRT and the original Linksys firmware). Some say that Brainslayer encrypted the interface code to prevent further modification; Brainslayer himself denies this and says the interface code is simply distributed in compiled form.

The GPL does allow a developer to create proprietary code that operates on GPL code, but of course the GPL-covered portion of code must still be made available. Brainslayer and other DD-WRT supporters say that no GPL clause is being violated. Whether the particular method of DD-WRT distribution is in compliance with the GPL V2, some in the open source community feel that Brainslayer's action is fundamentally hypocritical���by taking and modifying the interface of someone else's project, and then implementing mechanisms to prevent others from doing the same to his.

Another controversy involves the distribution of DD-WRT source code itself. Some allege that the source code is not made available in good faith���again, in the spirit of the GPL. The available code, some say, does not or is not feasible to compile. Others argue that this is hogwash. The DD-WRT support site does provide basic instructions for compiling the source. The source itself, some say, is out-of-date compared to binary releases. This echoes some of the criticism against Sveasoft, who delayed release of source to give their binaries "preferential" treatment���a clear violation of the GPL.

Again, Brainslayer and DD-WRT supporters���who vigorously defend the project in its online forums���say that the code is available. On the surface, it does seem to be available, through DD-WRT Subversion-based code release platform. Which, it turns out, opens up a new can of worms.

As it turns out, several pieces of DD-WRT's published source code would seem to clearly include code from third parties, which is not licensed for re-distribution. This includes code from Broadcom, Atheros, Intel, and Microsoft, among others.

For example, one piece of source code 'viewable here' reads quite clearly in the header comments: "This is UNPUBLISHED PROPRIETARY SOURCE CODE of Broadcom Corporation; the contents of this file may not be disclosed to third parties, copied or duplicated in any form, in whole or in part, without the prior written permission of Broadcom Corporation."

True, it is possible that DD-WRT has received permission from Broadcom to use the above code, although no such proof has been published. The problem is, even with such permission, redistribution of this code violated the GPL license under which DD-WRT is released, because that license disallows incorporation of code, which itself is not unencumbered by redistribution limitations.

A third accusation against DD-WRT involves fee-based access to specialized versions of the software. With DD-WRT V24, Brainslayer has made available a "Special Edition" which includes some per-user bandwidth/rule features not available in the free edition. This edition costs just under 20 Euros (about US$26), and for some in the open source community, is a slap in the face. Whether it, in fact, violates the GPL remains unclear. On a similar note, DD-WRT also sells a fee-based license to is x86-based version of DD-WRT, intended to run on more powerful routers And again, accusers say that DD-WRT is effectively charging for access to GPL-based binaries. But Brainslayer defends the charge, saying that the x86 version must include proprietary code from Atheros, for which DD-WRT must pay a license fee.

Spirit and law

Unlike the Sveasoft case, DD-WRT has not been formally called out for GPL violations by any owners of its base code like OpenWRT. Still, there seems to be a growing sentiment in the open source community that Brainslayer has moved the DD-WRT away from the true "spirit" of the GPL.

It may seem ironic, then, that although DD-WRT itself was spawned in response to the decreasing openness of Sveasoft, some users and developers are now moving away from DD-WRT to more transparently open projects, like Tomato and OpenWRT, which now includes a more mature and open user interface, X-WRT.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of this whole melodrama is that it was all spawned by the humble WRT54G and its open source firmware, first released seven years ago.

Aaron Weiss is a freelance writer and Wi-Fi enthusiast based in upstate New York. He also writes our monthly Wi-Fi Guru column.

Article courtesy of Wi-Fi Planet

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