Yeelong and SiliconMotion driver: asking for developers

Bridgman, John John.Bridgman at
Tue Mar 16 14:00:17 PDT 2010

Ahh, that makes sense -- so the relicensing from X11 to GPLv2 already happened, and the proposed relicensing was going to be from GPLv2 to v3. Asking if the code can be licensed back to X11 (allowing use in the project) certainly sounds like a good next step.

I don't know if there is a formal process for determining if a proposed licensing change is "appropriate" but I imagine that would be a board decision after the request was kicked around on the xorg mailing list as it is now... so everything is probably happening as it should. 

I'm only guessing so if you get a different answer from someone else go with that ;)

-----Original Message-----
From: Brett Smith [mailto:brett at] 
Sent: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 2:49 PM
To: Bridgman, John
Cc: 'Daniel Clark'; Daniel Stone; Owain Ainsworth; Octavio Rossell; xorg at; Vladimir 'φ-coder/phcoder' Serbinenko; Bernie Innocenti
Subject: RE: Yeelong and SiliconMotion driver: asking for developers

Hi everyone,

I'm sorry for the confusion that's sprung up around this issue.  I hope I can get everything clarified -- I think we're all really on the same page here about what would be ideal.

On Tue, 2010-03-16 at 10:16 -0700, Bridgman, John wrote:
> Is there a reason that graphics code can not be included in the GRUB2 project with its current license ? 
> My recollection was that the X11 license was considered "GPL compatible" in the sense that it *could* be relicensed if necessary. Graphics driver code is included in the Linux kernel without relicensing, ie it retains its current X11 license even though it lives in an otherwise GPLv2-licensed tree. 
> Is there something about GPLv3 which prevents the same approach from being used, or are we just talking about a GRUB2 project rule which disallows "compatible" licenses and requires actual GPLv3 licensing ?

None of those is the case.  Your understanding about compatibility is correct, all the same rules apply to GPLv3, and there's no GRUB project policy that would prevent them from including X11-licensed code.

When we started looking at software for the SiliconMotion hardware (as part of evaluating how free software-friendly a particular machine was), we found a modified driver from the SiliconMotion company that seemed to have some useful changes.  The company was distributing it under GPLv2 only.

Some of the developers who were packaging software for the machine pointed out that this license was unfortunate for them, because they were interested in getting GRUB running on the box as well, and of course, GPLv2-only is not a compatible license for a GPLv3-covered project like GRUB.  With that issue in front of him, RMS asked SiliconMotion to allow the code to be used under the terms of GPLv3, one way or another, which they agreed to.

Please don't read any malice into that request, because I assure you there was none.  The FSF has consistently advocated that developers should use licenses that are consistent with the larger projects they interact with (as long as those licenses are free and GPL-compatible), and that advice definitely applies to Xorg drivers.  If we made a mistake here, it was a failure to connect the dots.  As weird as it might sound, I don't think it was clear at the time that we were talking about the licensing of an entire Xorg driver.  If we had known that, we would've asked SiliconMotion to switch to the X11 license, if possible, to stay consistent with Xorg generally.

And I'm happy to talk to SiliconMotion about that now.  I don't know if you have a usual way of handling licensing requests like this, but if you want me to keep anybody or any lists in the loop on that thread, that's no problem either; just let me know.  And either way, if you have any other questions or concerns about this, please don't hesitate to ask me.


Brett Smith
Licensing Compliance Engineer, Free Software Foundation

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