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Mon, 27 Jun 2011
Unbelievable statements in GPL related case in the Supreme Court of Mauritius

I've recently received some documents regarding a court case at the Supreme Court of Mauritius.

The plaintiff is a company called Linux Solutions Ltd. in Mauritius. It seems to be covering an alleged breach of an NDA between a contracted freelancing developer and a company in Mauritius. That contractor (the defendant) has apparently published some of the work he had done while contracting for the plaintiff.

While none of that seems to be clearly connected with the GPL, what is extremely disturbing is the sworn affidavit / oath by one of the executives of the plaintiff. It says things like:

5. Licenses of open-source software like "Linux" and "Asterisk" have no copyright restrictions which in effect puts no restrictions on their use or distribution. As a consequence, any work which is derived from the open source software as conceptualized, created, installed and managed, by the Applicant becomes the ownership of the Applicant.

6. In the light of the above, therefore, the applications, configuration files and features so developed by the Applicant are the sole property of the Applicant, make up the knowledge base of the Applicant, make the basis of its business operations, and are highly confident in nature. The applications, configurations and features have been built and acquired by the Applicant through important capital investments and manpower over a period of time.

So let me phrase this more clearly: Somebody, under oath is stating at the Supreme Court, that GPL-Licensed software (which the Linux kernel definitely is), has no copyright restrictions? And that any derived work is the sole property of whoever created the derivative? What kind of pot are they smoking in Mauritius?

If there's anyone in the Free Software legal community interested in filing some kind of legal document to the Supreme Court of Mauritius to clarify this issue, feel free to contact me for more details on the case. No matter whether the defendant has broken some NDA, I think it's unacceptable to see such ridiculous claims being made at a Supreme Court.

In case you don't believe it, here are some scanned samples:

[ /linux/gpl-violations | permanent link ]

Fri, 24 Jun 2011
AVM trying to spread FUD about the Cybits case

Unsurprisingly, AVM is now trying to claim their legal action is not related to any GPL violation. This couldn't be further from the truth.

In both the court hearings (in two independent cases), AVM has repeatedly declined to make a clear statement that the modification and installation of modified version of the GPL-Licensed parts (like Linux) is acceptable to them.

We have raised this question in front of court and out of court, and AVM was not willing to make such a declaration. If they had, I don't think I would have had much reason to join the lawsuit on the side of the defendant.

I have no connection to Cybits (the defendant). There has never been any business or other relationship to them, and they have not been involved in funding my legal expenses. To be honest, I don't even care about child filtering software in general, no matter from which vendor.

But I do care about the GPL, and the freedoms it grants. The GPL is intended to allow any third party to modify, recompile, re-install and run modified versions of the respective GPL licensed program. Any court order / verdict / judgement that tries to undermine this freedom is a substantial danger to the Free Software movement - and as such I will do what I can to prevent it.

AVM has stated in front of the court that AVM releases the source code compliant with the GPL, anyone can download, compile and use it - just not on OUR hardware. There you can clearly see their attitude: They see the FritzBox as their hardware. Last time I checked, the unit is not rented by AVM, but is legally sold to the customer. It is his decision to do with it what he wants. Under the terms of the GPL, it is his decision to install whatever software on the hardware, including modified versions of the GPL licensed Linux kernel.

Just imagine a world, where you buy a Laptop from HP, with Windows pre-installed. Now further imagine that there is a third-party software vendor (e.g. Canonical with its Ubuntu). Now imagine that HP was suing Canonical for offering different software that runs on their hardware. This is the kind of analogy that you need to think about.

I don't think AVM is truly understanding the daemons they are calling here. If they actually manage to get a finally awarded judgement that deprives third parties of their rights under the GPL, AVM will have violated the GPL, specifically clause 6: You may not impose any further restrictions on the recipients' exercise of the rights granted herein. And what would that mean? That the GPLv2 is revoked and AVM looses the right to use the GPLv2 licensed software they use in the product.

[ /linux/gpl-violations | permanent link ]

Wed, 22 Jun 2011
First working prototypes of Osmocom SIMtrace design

Last winter I was working on some hardware and software that can be used to trace the communication between a SIM card and a phone and called it Osmocom SIMtrace. At that time, I was simply recycling an old OLIMEX development board for the AT91SAM7S micro-controller.

But since the firmware for the micro-controller, the host software as well as the wireshark plug-in has been written now, it would be a shame if I was they only user of the project. Therefore, Kevin Redon and I have spent some time in polishing and improving the design, as well as generate some actual prototypes.

Unfortunately a number of mistakes were made (both on the design side but also wrong component pin-outs) so there was a need for significant re-working.

Nonetheless, we now have some 5 functional prototypes, a picture can be seen in the Osmocom Wiki, where you can also find the schematics

We're now having a second version of the PCB built, this time hopefully with correct footprints for all parts. Once that is verified at the end of next week, we will give "go" for the production of a small batch (100 units).

Interested developers will be able to obtain the resulting hardware from mid-August onwards. We also expect to be offering them at the Radio Village of the 2011 CCC Camp.

Tracing the SIM<->Phone protocol can be useful in a variety of cases:

  • Observing the behavior of operator-issued SIM cards in terms of which SIM Application Toolkit or Proactive SIM features they use.
  • Debugging aid while developing and interoperability testing of your own SIM toolkit applets
  • Prototyping and development of SAT blocker or other SIM card firewalls which restrict the security or privacy threats originating from untrusted operator SIMs or potentially compromised SIM cards.

[ /gsm | permanent link ]

Tue, 21 Jun 2011
Court hearing in the AVM / Cybits / GPL case

Today was the court hearing at the Berlin district court in the case that I blogged about yesterday.

Nothing really new happened there. AVM still has a number of claims that I consider extremely dangerous to Free Software in the embedded market:

  • collective/aggregate work
    They claim to have some rights on the collective work of their own proprietary components and the GPL licensed components. While that may or may not be true, they also argue that based on such rights, they can legally prevent anyone from installing modified versions of those GPL licensed components onto the device. To me, that would clearly be a further restriction under the GPL, and thus violate the terns of the License.
  • using rmmod on proprietary kernel module is a modification under copyright law
    This is where it starts to get really ridiculous. Both the module unload feature inside the kernel as well as the rmmod command itself are licensed under GPL. Their sole intended purpose is to unload modules from the Linux kernel. AVM now claims that the defendant is violating AVMs copyright because he unloads a proprietary AVM kernel module. Not only is it legally extremely questionable to have binary-only kernel modules at all... but then trying to tell other people they cannot unload such code is outrageous. AVM seems to not understand that they have _sold_ the device to the user. He can stop and unload any program on the device. The device is not owned by or rented by AVM.
  • copying code from NAND flash to RAM requires explicit permission from the copyright holder
    Once again, we have a situation where the user has bought the AVM product. He has obtained a license to the software programs. Under German copyright law there is even no requirement to have a license for 'normal use of the program' as long as the program was obtained lawfully. The CPU on the AVM device (like any CPU in any computer) can only execute code that's accessible to the memory/data bus. Code in NAND flash can never be executed directly, it always has to be copied into RAM before it can be executed. The claim that this operation requires separate permission by the copyright holder is wrong. The copying happens as part of the 'normal use of the program'.

AVM has filed several other claims against Cybits based on trademark and competition law. They go as far as to debating whether a certain LED on the product malfunctions after the user has installed the Cybits software on the product ;). I don't really want to go into details here, but I think it's mainly arguing for the sake of the argument. AVM wants to keep and extend its monopolistic power over those devices, even after they have been sold. That's where the real anti-competitiveness here is... If you look at popular alternative firmware projects like OpenWRT, you will find many vendors and literally hundreds of supported devices. None of them is from AVM. Isn't that striking, considering that AVM is told to have > 60% market share in Germany?

The court has heard arguments from all sides and is now adjourned. All parties are now again going to submit lengthy piles of paper to the court. Within those originating from my lawyers and myself, we will definitely once again outline our position. AVM can do whatever it wants, but it cannot use legal means to disallow the legitimate and intended modification + use of modified versions of GPL licensed code on their devices.

The implications of such a legal win for AVM go way beyond AVM or the DSL router business. They go all over the embedded market, and include NAS devices, Android smartphones, e-book readers, etc. Just think about the implications for OpenWRT, Cyanogenmod, Openinkpot and all the other firmware modification and 'homebrew' projects out there.

[ /linux/gpl-violations | permanent link ]

Mon, 20 Jun 2011
German dsl-router vendor AVM seeks to remove the GPLs freedoms

Today, there has been a joint press release of gpl-violations.org and the Free Software Foundation Europe on a legal battle that has been ongoing for quite some time:

The German maker of popular dsl-routers (AVM) is using legal means to try to halt a third party company (Cybits) from modifying the GPL licensed components (like the Linux kernel) of AVM-branded routers. Furthermore, it seeks to ask courts to halt Cybits from distributing software by which end users can modify that GPL licensed software.

This is outrageous! AVM does not own the copyright to that GPL-licensed software. How can they seek to prevent anyone from exercising their right to modify the code and run modified versions of it? This is one of the most fundamental freedoms that Free Software grants its users.

In the last lawsuits (preliminary proceedings) that AVM has brought about, I have intervened on behalf of Cybits. At that time, the court was impressed and has restricted a previously-granted preliminary injunction against Cybits to not include any claims regarding the Free Software portions of the product.

But meanwhile, AVM has filed for the main/regular proceedings. Tomorrow (June 21st, 11am), there will be the first hearing at the district court (Landgericht Berlin, Room 2709, Littenstr. 12-17, Berlin).

I have applied to be a side intervener in those main proceedings, too. Given that the previous court accepted this, I assume it will be accepted in the district court, too.

Normally I wouldn't care much if two companies are taking it to court. But this case is not about Cybits or AVM. This case is about the fundamental question of whether a device maker using Linux and other GPL licensed software has the right to use legal means to prevent third parties from exercising their fundamental rights granted under the GPL.

For more information about the case and background information, please check out this background page at FSFE.

[ /linux/gpl-violations | permanent link ]

Sat, 18 Jun 2011
Exploring the Motorola Horizon macro BTS

Some days ago, my new 100kg toys have arrived: The Motorola horizonmacro indoor cabinets, populated with 3 GSM 1800 TRX each. Pictures are at the openbsc.osmocom.org wiki

It took some time to manufacture the power cable, and specifically the E1 cable (where I had to reverse engineer the pin-out of a 37pin sub-d connector that the so-called BIB (balanced interface boards) use.

The next biggest time consumer was the fact that the command line based user interface (MMI) has three modes; MMI-ROM, MMI-RAM and emon. Figuring out which commands to use to switch modes isn't really something that you can easily find. Especially the fact that the MMI-ROM to MMI-RAM switching command has a parameter that needs to be identical with one stored on the PCMCIA flash card (number "18" in my case), didn't make things any easier.

So as an intermediate summary, I can make the following comments about the Motorola BTS and specifically A-bis architecture:

  • Motorola seems more proprietary and less specification oriented than what I've seen so far (Ericsson, ip.access, Siemens, Nokia).
  • They do not seem to implement a SAPI=62 OML link on A-bis at all
  • Thus, there is no GSM TS 12.21 compatible OML protocol at all
  • Instead of using individual OML messages and/or attributes to set things like ARFCN, BSIC and the like, the Motorola BSC seems to generate one big database blob containing all parameters. This blob is downloaded into the BTS RAM (optionally its PCMCIA Series2 flash card).

Particularly the latter part is causing quite some problems for me. As I don't have a Motorola BSC, I cannot generate those database files. My BTS units come with databases on their PCMCIA flash cards. I can view their contents on the MMI. However, their config (EGSM) doesn't match the actual radio hardware that's installed. Even after hours spent with the MMI, there seems absolutely no way how those parameters can be altered locally

I also have not found any hint / documentation at all about something like a LMT (local maintenance terminal) like other BTS vendor. Using such a software on a PC, you can typically configure the BTS via a RS232 line.

So most of my hope now lies in being able to analyze dumps of those old Series2 flash cards in order to get some hints on that database format.

If anyone has any of the following information, it would make my day:

  • Motorola A-bis / Mo-bis protocol traces
  • Any Motorola BTS config databases (independent of BTS model/version)
  • The sample database files that come with a Racal 6113 Option 225
  • Any information on the database format
But to be honest, I don't have much hope. The equipment is old (about 1999), and only very few operators have been using it, as it seems.

[ /gsm | permanent link ]

Sat, 11 Jun 2011
Why do self-respecting hackers use Gmail & Co?

Yesterday morning I was reading through the logs of my exim-based mailserver and noticed _how_ many messages were delivered to Google/Gmail. This is mostly related to the various mailing lists that I'm hosting at lists.{gnumonks,osmocom}.org.

Now if those lists were general-purpose mailing lists for let's say a group of environmentalists or a local model train club, I wouldn't be surprised. But almost all of those lists are about very technical projects, where the only subscriber base should be people from either the IT security community, or the Free Software community. The former is typically extremely security and privacy aware, whereas the latter is at least to some extent in favor of what I would describe as 'being a producer rather than just a consumer of technology.

So why is there such a high degree of Gmail usage among those groups? I really don't get it. Let me illustrate why this is a surprise:

  • you give away control over your personal data

    Control over your own data means you own it, you have it on your hard disk, it is not on somebody else's storage medium. Control over your data also means that somebody needs a search warrant to your home in order to get to it. It also means that you decide when or how to shut it down, not a large corporation in a foreign country.

  • you put your personal data within the U.S. jurisdiction

    Depending on where you are, this may or may not be an improvement. I don't want to start a political debate here, but you have to be aware what this means specifically, especially in terms of government authorities or private companies getting access to your mails. I myself would not even say that I understand enough about the US legal system to determine the full outcome of this. Also, in case there was a subpoena or other legal action in the US, how would I defend myself? That's so much easier in my home country, where I know the laws and regulations.

  • you give Google not only the social web information who mails whom, but also the full content of that communication

    Now Google may have privacy policies and other rules that this data is not to be mined for whatever purposes they deem fit. But first of all, what guarantees do you have on it? Definitely less than if you ran your own mail server on your own hardware. Secondly, whatever Google promises is always within the scope of the US jurisdiction. In the 10-year aftermath of 9/11 there have been a number of alarming developments including wiretaps to phone lines without court review/order, etc.

Now I don't want this to be a bashing of Google. The same applies more or less to any email hosting company. I also don't want it to be a bashing about the US. The above is meant as an example only. In Europe we have our own problems with regard to data retention of e-mail related data (who is mailing whom). But those only apply to companies that offer telecommunications services. If you host your own mail server, you are not providing services to anyone else and thus are not required to retain any data.

There's also what I would call the combination effect, i.e. millions of millions of people all using the same service. This leads to a large concentration of information. Such concentrations are ideal for data mining and to get a global 'who is who'. This information is much more interesting to e.g. intelligence communities than the actual content, as it is much easier analyzed automatically. It also doesn't help to encrypt your messages, as the headers (From, To, ...) are still unencrypted.

Furthermore, this concentration leads to single points of failure. I'm not speaking physically, as Google and other web-hosters of course know how to replicate their services using a large-scale distributed system. But all is under control by the same company, maintained by the same staff, subject to the same jurisdiction/laws, etc.

There was a time when the Internet was about a heterogeneous network, de-centralized, without a single point of failure. Why are all people running to a very few number of companies? The same question goes for sites like sourceforge. All the code hosted there subject to the good will of the hosting company. Subject to their financial stability, their intentions and their admin staff. They've had security breaches, as did apparently Google. Sure, self-hosted machines also have security breaches, but only the breakage of a very small set of accounts, not the breakage of thousands, hundred thousands or millions of users simultaneously.

Now hosting your own mailserver on your own machine might be a bit too much effort in terms of money or work for some people. I understand that. But then, there are several other options:

  • You team up with some friends, people you know and trust, and you share the administrative and financial effort
  • You look out for NGOs, societies, cooperatives or other non-for-profit groups that offer email and other services to their members. At least in Germany we traditionally have many of these.
  • You use a local, small Internet service company rather than one of the big entities.
While you still give up some control with those alternatives, you keep your data within your jurisdiction, and you still keep the spirit of de-centralization rather than those large concentrated single point of failures.

[ /misc | permanent link ]

Tue, 07 Jun 2011
ETSI and its ridiculous fees for old archived documents

I am currently looking for some old meeting minutes in order to understand who was the driving force behind certain features in GSM.

Ever since the GSM standardization had been handed over to 3GPP, all meeting minutes are freely accessible and downloadable for everyone. But what about the 15-20 years before that? They remain in the ETSI archive.

So from April 2011, the ETSI has started to offer an archive DVD, containing all the early CEPT and ETSI documents such as draft standards and meeting minutes. What a great idea. This DVD set is titled A Technical History of GSM Standards

But then, when you look at the price tag, you can only think "Seriously? They must be kidding!!". They are selling it for 6,000 EUR. Yes, this is not 60 EUR, not 600 but 6,000!. Go and see with your own eyes at the ETSI web-shop or this flyer.

But if that hefty price was not enough, they add an additional burden: You have to be an ETSI member to even buy it. And what is the cheapest option? Well, as an individual/small business you can join for a reduced price of EUR 3,000 per year. So in order to get access to some old meeting minutes from the 1980ies or 1990ies, I have to pay a total of EUR 9,000? They must be out of their freaking minds. Sorry, but I am simply lacking any other words how I could put it.

I think ETSI and the entire telecomms industry can be happy if anyone shows an archaeological interest into ancient specification texts at all. Scaring them away with a more than ridiculous price tag is certainly not going to encourage students or researchers to understand who, how and why GSM has ended up what it is today.

[ /gsm | permanent link ]

Wed, 01 Jun 2011
Looking for documentation and/or protocol traces for Motorola Horizon BTS

It seems like I'll be getting my hands on some Motorola Horizon 1 BTS soon. Of course it would be great to add OpenBSC support for yet another vendor / model.

So if anyone out there has any information on Motorola Horizon, I would be more than happy. Information includes:

  • Motorola A-bis (Mo-bis) protocol traces
  • Motorola A-bis (Mo-bis) protocol specs
  • Installation manuals
  • Configuration manuals
  • Service manuals

Thanks in advance!

[ /gsm | permanent link ]