Software Freedom Law Center Completes Review of Linux Wireless Code

Nonprofit Legal Services Organization Also Releases Guidelines for Developers

September 27, 2007

The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC), provider of pro-bono legal services to protect and advance Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), today announced that it has carefully reviewed the lineage of the open source Atheros wireless driver for Linux and determined which portions can be distributed under the ISC license (also known as the 2-clause BSD license).

The licensing situation for the Atheros driver is complex because much of it was originally derived from an OpenBSD project called ar5k. This original code is licensed under the ISC license, but Linux code is typically licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL). The GPL places specific additional requirements on distributors of software to ensure that its users are able to obtain the software’s source code, and freely to copy, modify, and redistribute all subsequent modified versions.

Ultimately, all the copyright holders of the Linux ath5k-driver code, derived from ar5k, have been contacted and have agreed to license their changes under the ISC license, thus allowing improvements to be re-incorporated into OpenBSD. One of the three historical branches of the code reviewed by SFLC, however, included portions that are only licensed under the GPL, and SFLC has determined that it would be very difficult to re-incorporate that code into OpenBSD.

To share its knowledge with the FOSS and legal communities and to share background regarding its analysis, SFLC today has also released two documents of general interest. One document is a set of guidelines for developers who wish to incorporate code with a permissive license, such as ISC, into a GPL-licensed project. The other paper discusses the legal standards of originality with regard to computer programs under U.S. and international copyright law.

The two general papers, as well as a detailed document explaining SFLC’s review of the Linux Wireless team’s ath5k driver, are available at

“We’re pleased to help bring clarity to the Linux Wireless Developers as they work towards inclusion of their code in the Linux kernel,” said Karen Sandler, SFLC Counsel.

This is not the first time that SFLC has worked with the Linux Wireless developers. In July, SFLC announced that it had performed a confidential audit of the open source Atheros driver and determined that no portion of it was illegally copied from Atheros’ proprietary code.

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