Synaptics MIT license approved

James Cloos cloos+pdx-xorg at
Thu May 17 01:46:23 PDT 2007


That new proposed letter is still not right.

Unfortunately, this issue is a legal quagmire.

The issue here is the definition of linking.  The matter has not, as far
as I know, been decided by any court.  And at least in the States until
it is decided by an appellate court any prior judicial decisions are not
binding on other courts.  In countries which do not use common law (just
about every non-English-speaking country) no prior decision, AIUI, is
binding on future cases.

The FSF holds that linking includes loading dynamic modules, as the X
server does with drivers.  If you accept that definition, that any
vendor who ships the X server with the synaptics driver is bound by the
GPL for the server as well as the driver, by virtue of shipping the two
products linked together.  This means that no non-GPL-compatible
drivers could also be included.  Or visa-versa; if they include a
proprietary X driver they cannot also include a GPL X driver.

Here, vendor mostly means those who ship an OS preinstalled on bootable
media.  Such as a laptop with linux, bsd, opensolaris or similar
installed on the hard-drive.  Or a live cd/dvd such as knoppix.  Or a
bootable USB key.  But it may also apply to those distribution install
discs for any of the binary distributions like debian, redhat, suse,
mandriva, solaris, any of the BSDs (if the driver is pre-compiled and
not in the ports collection), etc.

Think Dell, Sun or any of the small, local whitebox vendors.

There are many who disagree with the FSF on the question of whether
run-time loading of modules is linking.  But until there is a precedent
the question remains open.

So, in fact, the MIT/X and GPL licences are incompatible, for the
purpose in question.  And your original email was essentially correct,
if perhaps a bit under-explained.  It is not so much a question of
whether may include a GPL driver, but whether vendors re-
distributing X on their product may, and's responsibilities to
those vendors.

To summarise, a GPL project can include 3rd party code distributed under
the MIT/X licence (what people typically mean when they call the two
licences compatible), but the result can only be further distributed as
permitted by the GPL.  And, according to the author's of the GPL
run-time loading of modules, as the X server does, is linking as that
term is defined in the GPL.  As such, a binary amalgamation of X and the
synaptics module as currently licenced is only legally distributable
under the terms of the GPL, and thus cannot also include any proprietary
X drivers, such as the proprietary video drivers from nvidia, ati, et al.

At least if the courts should agree with the FSF on the open question of
what constitutes linkage.

And that is what prevents from accepting GPL X modules.

-JimC  (not a lawyer; this isn't legal advice, etc.)
James Cloos <cloos at>         OpenPGP: 1024D/ED7DAEA6

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