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1.6. License Terms
Linux is licensed under Version 2 of the GNU General Public License (GPL), a document devised for the GNU project by the Free Software Foundation. The GPL allows anybody to redistribute, and even sell, a product covered by the GPL, as long as the recipient has access to the source and is able to exercise the same rights. Additionally, any software product derived from a product covered by the GPL must, if it is redistributed at all, be released under the GPL.
The main goal of such a license is to allow the growth of knowledge by permitting everybody to modify programs at will; at the same time, people selling software to the public can still do their job. Despite this simple objective, there's a never-ending discussion about the GPL and its use. If you want to read the license, you can find it in several places in your system, including the top directory of your kernel source tree in the COPYING file.
Vendors often ask whether they can distribute kernel modules in binary form only. The answer to that question has been deliberately left ambiguous. Distribution of binary modules—as long as they adhere to the published kernel interface—has been tolerated so far. But the copyrights on the kernel are held by many developers, and not all of them agree that kernel modules are not derived products. If you or your employer wish to distribute kernel modules under a nonfree license, you really need to discuss the situation with your legal counsel. Please note also that the kernel developers have no qualms against breaking binary modules between kernel releases, even in the middle of a stable kernel series. If it is at all possible, both you and your users are better off if you release your module as free software.
If you want your code to go into the mainline kernel, or if your code requires patches to the kernel, you must use a GPL-compatible license as soon as you release the code. Although personal use of your changes doesn't force the GPL on you, if you distribute your code, you must include the source code in the distribution—people acquiring your package must be allowed to rebuild the binary at will.
As far as this book is concerned, most of the code is freely redistributable, either in source or binary form, and neither we nor O'Reilly retain any right on any derived works. All the programs are available at ftp://ftp.ora.com/pub/examples/linux/drivers/, and the exact license terms are stated in the LICENSE file in the same directory.
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