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Western Digital to fix Licensing?

Over the last few months months I've been corresponding with Dennis Ulrich of Western Digital (WDC) about my concerns with the EULA for the My Book World Edition (MBWE) and their obligations under the GPL. To say it has been a drawn out process is an understatement.

It has taken some time to get WDC to understand the situation. There has been confusing messages about what the situation is with the EULA, the GPL and what license covers what pieces of code. The bottom line is that currently users must check the header of each file to ascertain which license applies to it, even though the downloads are marked as GPL.

Although WDC is moving slowly, they do seem to be commited to making the situation clearer in the next iteration of their MBWE product line. Based on a recent phone call with Dennis, the legal and engineering teams are working together to ensure various licenses complied with and their software engineers are aware of their obligations.

The next version of the MBWE is likely to ship with a revised EULA and properly inform the users of their rights under the GPL. This text is still being developed. At the same time it is still unclear if WDC will backport their changes to their existing NAS products. As it is a simple string change it shouldn't be too hard for them to dedicate a few resources to audit the code and update the strings.

It is unfortunate that WDC appears to have little interest in developing their MBWE product range as a hacker friendly FOSS product. It appears the licensing fix that will be implemented by WDC will more clearly delinate the FOSS and non free components of the MBWE firmware. Clarity is always an important legal consideration, but doesn't help foster a community. WDC seem to have little interest in fostering a hacker community around their products. This is an unfortunate decision by the company.

Many manufacturers of embedded devices only start releasing source for their firmware after being caught out for violating the GPL. WDC is to be commended for complying with the requirements of the GPL from the start. Altough there is no legal requirement for them to make the web gui code and other non free components available, WDC already does. It would be disappointing if they chose to take a backward step and stopped distributing parts of the firmware.

It is possible, and perfectly legal, for WDC to stop distributing the source for the proprietary components. At the same time it would not take much effort for them to release the whole platform as GPL or another FOSS friendly license. WDC is already required to do a code drop every time they release a new version of their hardware or firmware. I suspect it would be faster and easier to push all code to a public git repository than pick through and dump selected components as tarballs on a website.

WDC already have their support team dealing with customer bug reports. Maintaining a mailing list, a bug tracker, a wiki and maybe a public source code repository on somewhere like gitorious is likely to take less than 1 full time employee. The benefit for WDC would be great.

Not only is the hacker community likely to contribute bugs fixes and propose or even develop new features, they can help increase sales. I'm sure the good will generated by the switch to truly open approach to the MBWE product line would outweigh the cost of the additional resources required.

Let's hope Western Digital's fix is a FOSS friendly one. I will post more news as things progress.