Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce GPL expert gives Red Hat the all-clear

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Well-known free software activist and GPL expert Bradley Kuhn says Red Hat's recent change of policy with regard to provision of its kernel source appears, on the surface, to be GPL-compliant.


"The kernel change appears to be primarily a packaging decision that makes things less convenient (likely for companies such as Oracle), but Red Hat's change with kernel packaging appears on its surface to be GPL compliant," Kuhn told iTWire in response to a query.

He said that a recent blog post that he had made was in no way a comment on the change in Red Hat's policy as some have concluded. "My blog (post) wasn't a comment on that topic; it wasn't even in my mind at all when writing it. The RHEL business model plan I was talking about has been standing policy from long ago (going back to at least 2003).

Kuhn said the kernel thing could be part of Red Hat's desire to make sure its business model works as it is "supposed to". "But I am not aware of any change in official Red Hat policy on these issues since the institution of the current RHEL business model," he said.

Asked about the additional restrictions that Red Hat is now placing on its customers - anyone who redistributes its GPL-ed code will lose support from the company - Kuhn said: "To my knowledge, Red Hat is in compliance with GPLv2 and GPLv3 on all their distributions and business models. I have no evidence to the contrary; I'm sorry if you got that impression from my blog post; I did try to remain clear that it was GPL-compliant and I was commenting on whether it was good for the community or not (which is often an orthogonal issue to pure compliance)."

The GPLv2, under which the Linux kernel is licensed, says "You may not impose any further restrictions on the recipients' exercise of the rights granted herein." Red Hat's telling customers that they will lose their support if they do redistribute the source could well be interpreted as imposing additional restrictions and thus violating the licence.

But Kuhn doesn't see it this way. "The question comes down to whether or not telling someone 'your money's no good here, I don't want to provide services to you anymore' is a 'further restriction'. I'm not persuaded that it's a 'further restriction'. I agree it's an unfortunate consequence, but if we interpreted the GPL to say that you were required to keep someone as a customer no matter what they did, that would be an unreasonable
interpretation.

"As I've said recently on identi.ca to Richard Fontana of Red Hat (and he agreed): the business model that RHEL uses could have been structured in a way that was not compliant with the GPL if they failed to be careful about it. However, the Red Hat lawyers who designed the business model were extremely careful to make sure it was GPL-compliant. I'd agree it's close to the line but it's clearly on the compliant side of it.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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