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Is Tesla open source? Roadster certainly isn't...

by Denver Gingerich on December 21, 2023

There appears to be some debate over whether a certain billionaire said on November 22 that "Tesla Roadster is now fully open source", or maybe that "All design & engineering of the original @Tesla Roadster is now fully open source". In any case, as the people who work every day on whether or not what companies say is FOSS really is FOSS, we reviewed the materials Tesla provided on the Tesla Roadster Service Information page. We found no source code — and last time we reviewed the Open Source Definition, providing source code was mandatory to meet it. But this situation is worse than that. Tesla did include several copies of the Linux kernel in only binary form, with no offer for source whatsoever. That's a GPL violation. We immediately emailed Tesla to ask them where the source code was but (now 3 weeks later) we have still heard nothing back.

Tesla's violation is not surprising, given their past behavior. We've written before about Tesla's prior inabilities to provide complete source code. But now Tesla has completely backslid from incomplete source code all the way to "no source or offer". Instead of learning from its past mistakes, Tesla has increased its erratic behavior to make even more mistakes of the same type.

Now you may wonder why we care about a company that is decidedly not open source, and about code that is relatively old at this point. Well, we believe that people should have the right and ability to repair their software, no matter how old, and that this applies to everything that contains software, including TVs, wireless routers, and (in this case) cars.

The need for being able to repair here is not hypothetical. The dangers of Tesla drivers' inability to fix the software in their cars is palpable. After discussing safety concerns in the software on its cars with the NHTSA, Tesla recently did a voluntary recall on all cars it has produced in the past 10 years. This recall is *due to faulty software*, which was only discovered to be faulty after many drivers died. Neither NHTSA nor the public has the right to review Tesla's actual software for safety. If Tesla at least complied with the GPL, regulatory bodies and the public could review those portions for safety. (Of course, we think Tesla should be required to make the source for even those parts of the software not governed by GPL available to the public for security audits and review.)

Tesla has taken a strong and disturbing position: they'd rather keep their source code secret than increase safety for software in cars. Furthermore, rather than letting car owners fix their cars, they were forced to wait for Tesla to both agree that there was a problem, and then work on Tesla's own schedule to release a fix for the problem. If owners had the source code, the owners (and the press, who uncovered the systematic problems in this case) could more quickly identify that there was a problem to begin with, and then implement a fix right away, instead of waiting for Tesla to decide they wanted to do something about it.

By refusing to comply with the GPL agreements, Tesla is not only violating licenses - it is making its cars more dangerous, and removing the ability of owners to fix problems when they arise. This cannot continue, and we again call on Tesla today to give all its customers the complete source code for all copylefted software Tesla has distributed to them. This is common sense, and is merely what the agreements require.

Of course, we're just as concerned as anyone that owners might make software modifications to their car that decrease safety. We support certification requirements for any software that is installed to drive on the road. Just as it is completely legal for a consumer to build their own car from parts, and be subject to safety inspection before driving it on public roads, so too should that apply to software. Tesla, sadly, continues to maintain the fiction that they know better than everyone what's safe for software in cars to do — even after it's been shown that Tesla's software is killing people. As a for-profit automaker, in this regard Tesla is actually held to a lower burden than a hobbyist who built their own car.

We hope you will stand with us in calling on all companies to follow the terms of the copyleft agreements they are bound by. Violating the GPL and using proprietary software is not, as Tesla claims, the only way to keep drivers safe, instead it's downright dangerous.

Tags: conservancy

A Note from Our Executive Director: 2023 and my personal quest for software freedom

by Karen Sandler on December 19, 2023

Just when I think that I've really grokked the implications of the technology I have woven into my life, I find that life throws completely new challenges my way that make me realize the extent of the work that we have ahead of us for software freedom.

Front of hospital in Brussels

Front of hospital in Brussels CC-BY-SA 4.0 Karen Sandler

Early this year, in February, as I readied myself for the excitement of receiving an honorary doctorate at KU Leuven, I felt my heart beating strangely. An already scheduled visit to the cardiologist revealed that my inherited heart condition had caused an irregular rhythm. I struggled to walk up even shallow inclines.

I have a heart condition I was born with, called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM). It's a condition that generally causes me no discernible symptoms, but I am at much higher risk of what they call "sudden death" than people without this condition (sudden death is what they call it when your heart ceases its function, for HCM patients, it's often because your heart is beating so fast that it's just fluttering instead of efficiently pumping). This is why I've had, for many years, an implanted pacemaker/defibrillator.

Irregular heart rhythms are common for HCM patients over time but need to be either reverted or treated with medication to live a normal life. The longer one is in an irregular rhythm, the more likely that irregular rhythm will stay and be non-revertable. Facing these new symptoms in early in the year, I needed to determine what I needed to do and whether my travel was still safe. To figure out how best to proceed, my electrophysiologist wanted to know about the history of my irregular rhythms. Luckily, I have my implanted pacemaker/defibrillator — designed to record that important information. Ostensibly, this is one of the purposes of having an implanted medical device: to collect such data to inform my treatment.

Years before, I'd decided to have this device implanted with the greatest of trepidation. Many of the key and important features of this device are implemented in software, not hardware. This is my second device (the previous one eventually had battery failure), So, twice, I've had to decide to make an unfair moral choice: do I maximize my chance of surviving with my heart condition, or do I allow installation of proprietary software in my body?

After I decided to have the device installed, I made serious efforts to actually verify the safety and efficacy of the software in the device myself. I filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to review the FDA's approval process of this device. What I discovered horrified me: no one — not the FDA, not the patients, not the doctors, not the public — has ever reviewed the source code of the device, or even done direct testing of the software itself. Only the manufacturer does this, and the FDA reviews their reports.

This is a problem that will take a lifetime of many activists working for patient's rights to solve. In the meantime, I had to make the difficult moral choice whether to allow the device in my body, and ultimately I did - it was simply too dangerous to go without (doctors estimated a 25% chance of suddenly dying before I reached the age of 40). I tried to reduced the harm by choosing a device manufacturer that allowed the radio telemetry to be disabled for security reasons. This was a huge benefit, but ultimately it meant I picked a device made by a company that has a large presence in Europe, but a very small one in the United States. Little did I know that this choice would lead me to another difficult decision, which would again only be difficult because the software in the device is proprietary.

In February 2023, while I scrambled to have data in my device extracted before my trip, I discovered that due to the proprietary nature of the device, no one but a company representative could help me. The only one who worked In my city (a major city!) had gone on vacation to visit family overseas. The company had no other representatives available to help me. After much calling to different numbers of the company, I was able to get a list of hospitals and offices across the city that might have had a machine (oddly, they call them “programmers”) that could interface with (or “interrogate”) my device. Upon calling those locations, only a few actually had the programmers and none of those were able to give me an appointment before I left for Europe.

The helplessness that I felt was a powerful echo of how I felt years ago when I realized that my defibrillator was shocking me unnecessarily when I was pregnant. The only way to stop it was to take (otherwise unnecessary) medication to slow my heart rate down. Proprietary software, installed in my body, led me to no choice but to accept medical treatment that I didn't even need.

This time, even though I live in a major city, just one employee's vacation schedule meant my doctors could not diagnosis my urgent health problem. These heart devices are all locked down. Equipment between companies and also among newer models are *not* interoperable. I and my doctors could not access the critical information in my own body when I needed it most.

Ultimately, I made the difficult and potentially dangerous decision to go to KU Leuven anyway to receive the honorary doctorate. It was an incredible honor and I would have missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Outraged and frustrated again that I was forced to make a life-or-death decision that would have been much easier to evaluate were it not for proprietary software being the only option for heart devices, I nevertheless went.

Thanks to a fellow software freedom activist who helped me navigate the Belgian medical system, I was able to get my device interrogated there. I confirmed there was not immediate danger, and I used that information to come up with a plan for the rest of my trip and for my healthcare in the coming months. While the trip was a wonderful experience, I'm haunted by that helplessness that comes from having no control over technology I rely on so deeply.

When I returned my cardiologist insisted that I get a wearable device to monitor my heart rate. Knowing my feelings about proprietary software (from all of the times I advocated for software freedom in the doctors office!), he told me “you're not going to like the recommendation I have”: the doctor suggested I get an Apple Watch. As soon as I got home I researched all of the alternatives. I found an FDA approved device that has reliable heart rate monitoring but does not require constant contact with a proprietary mobile device or continuous connection to a centralized, proprietary service. The device is unfortunately proprietary itself, but fortunately has no GPS or other similar tracking, and doesn't mandate additional use of third-party proprietary software. This was still a painful compromise for me. I wish every day that I had access to its source code and the ability to modify its software to better suit my unique heart-monitoring needs. But this is my life and my health, and I'm grateful that I found a solution that I can use while I wait for (and advocate for and support) free solutions to catch up so I can use them instead.

Karen finally getting her device 'interrogated' in Brussels by various medical equipment

Karen finally getting her device "interrogated" in Brussels. Note the various "programmers" in the background for each different manufacturer's devices. CC-BY-SA 4.0 Bert Van de Poel

Happily, since that happened, surgery has returned my heart to a normal heart rhythm, but my cardiologists have said that my need for the tracking device remains. I hate that I've had to incorporate more proprietary software into my life, but I'm so grateful for the treatment I receive and the years of life I am hopefully gaining.

The ways we rely on our software are not theoretical. They pervade every aspect of our lives, and we must make our decisions carefully — knowing that there will be immediate and long term consequences of those choices.

We should stand strongly for our principles but we must also live. At Software Freedom Conservancy we have the philosophy that it's not enough to just talk about our values, it's all about actually doing work that will move the needle towards achieving software freedom for everyone.

There is at least one, and perhaps a few, rather famous FOSS activists who are fond of declaring that they live their life without using any proprietary software. I am in awe of the luck that their privilege affords them. I had to make a really tough choice: put myself at risk of an untimely death, or put proprietary software in my body. I chose to live — and continue my work advocating against proprietary software.

This year, at SFC, we focused on our partnerships with right to repair organizations to ensure that the software right to repair (which could have helped me to get the information off of my proprietary device) is an important part of the previously hardware-focused conversations. We raised the alarm about John Deere's GPL violations after years of work on the matter. We stayed in regular contact with other organizations to support them and we worked on concrete action items, like the amicus brief we recently co-signed.

Picture of a waffle in a case from a Belgian hospital

Waffles for sale in a Belgian hospital CC-BY-SA 4.0 Karen Sandler

We stood up for the consumer and user rights that are baked into the GPLs and continued to push forward our lawsuit against Vizio — to make sure that everyone must be taken seriously when they ask for source code they are entitled to by the GPLs.

We know that users face real difficulty and often feel like they have few choices. We don't blame anyone who uses proprietary software; instead, we empathize with you because we live in the real world too and face difficult choices. We have campaigns such as Exit Zoom and Give Up GitHub to help you find alternatives to the proprietary software that you're using every day that you'd rather liberate yourselves from.

I do hope that (after you donate to SFC, of course!) each of you will do something to help improve the state of software freedom for yourself or someone you know, even if the solutions aren't 100% perfect, because they make a real difference in people's lives and demonstrate that we can do things differently. Help someone flash their phone with a free build, even though it has some proprietary components to remain functional (keeping it out of the landfill). Introduce someone to a free software app. Put Debian (or another free distro) on some old equipment to give it new life, even though it may remain a secondary device. Start collaborating with someone using a pad instead of centralized cloud services. I for one am looking forward to rooting a robot vacuum this holiday season to be able to control it with a free app that removes the need for centralized connectivity in order to operate at all. Maybe you'll do the same with a garage door opener? Sky's the limit when we work on it together. Let's keep it going bit by bit until all of our software is free.

Happy holidays.

Tags: conservancy

Sourceware thanks Conservancy for their support and urges the community to support Conservancy

by Sourceware PLC on November 27, 2023

Sourceware is maintained by volunteers, but hardware, bandwidth and servers are provided by sponsors. It is our goal to offer a worry-free, friendly home for Free Software projects. Because Free Software needs Free Infrastructure.

We have only been a Conservancy member project for 6 months, but we started the search for a fiscal sponsor about two years ago. Although we probably didn't really know or understand why we needed one at first or the services they provide.

Sourceware has been a Free Software hosting platform since 1998. As a developer platform for developers getting consensus on technical roadmaps has always been easy. But the discussion on governance took some time. In particular how much influence corporations should get was at times contentious. Sourceware may be volunteer managed, but wouldn't be possible without the hardware, network resources and services provided by some corporate sponsors. The Sourceware community values their independence and the strong community which it manages.

After nine months of discussion we finally settled on joining the Software Freedom Conservancy with a Project Leadership Committee of eight members (Frank Ch. Eigler, Christopher Faylor, Ian Kelling, Ian Lance Taylor, Tom Tromey, Jon Turney, Mark J. Wielaard and Elena Zannoni). Our Fiscal Sponsorship Agreement with the Conservancy states that there cannot be a majority of people affiliated with the same organization (max two members can be employed by the same entity at once). The agreement also states that for projects Sourceware hosts everything will be distributed solely as Free Software and that we will publish all services as Free Software. There is also a conflict of interest policy for the PLC.

Joining the Software Freedom Conservancy as a member project made Sourceware more structured. We have monthly Open Office hours now to learn from the community about any infrastructure issues and then the Sourceware Project Leadership Committee meets to discuss these, set priorities and decide how to spend any funds and/or negotiate with hardware and service partners together with the Software Freedom Conservancy staff.

Projects hosted by Sourceware are part of the core toolchain for GNU/Linux distros, embedded systems, the cloud and, through Cygwin, Windows. Years ago Ken Thompson laid out the roadmap for attacking an operating system via the compiler and other code generation tools. These days these are known as supply chain attacks. The Free Software community should reasonably insist that they be defended against these kinds of attacks with mechanisms for prevention, detection and restoration. We have been encouraging hosted project to write up a security policy which we support with technical infrastructure. Sourceware now offers different ways to attest a patch or email is valid. Using the Sourceware public-inbox instance you can use b4 for patch attestation using dkim, gpg-signed emails or patatt. Projects concerned with source code integrity now have various options to use signed git commits, signed git pushes, or use gitsigur for protecting git repo integrity. And new services, like our snapshots server https://snapshots.sourceware.org/ are run in containers, on separate VMs or servers (thanks to our hardware partners). Sourceware also leverages Conservancy's advisory role in how community projects are impacted by and can comply with recent regulations like the USA Cyber Security Directives and the EU Cyber Resilience Act.

Conservancy staff has been attending conferences to discuss with the Sourceware community, first virtual, then in person. Without having a formal fundraising program we already collected more than $6000 in just 6 months for Sourceware. We got even more support from hardware partners, who provided us with extra servers for our buildbot and to setup new services. We wrote up a Roadmap looking backwards to the last 25 years and looking forwards to the next 25 years. All this resulted in more volunteers showing up helping out.

Having been part of Conservancy for just 6 months has given the community and volunteers running the Sourceware infrastructure confidence in the future. We hope the community will support the Software Freedom Conservancy 2023 Fundraiser and become a Conservancy Sustainer so Conservancy can support more Software Freedom communities like Sourceware.

Tags: conservancy, sourceware, fundraiser

How I watched a Motion for Summary Judgment hearing

by Denver Gingerich on October 12, 2023

In SFC's ongoing lawsuit against Vizio asking to receive the source code for the copylefted components on their TVs, last week we had a hearing with the judge to discuss the Motion for Summary Judgment that Vizio filed (requesting that the court reject our case before it even went to trial). A couple of our staff attended in-person (in an Orange County courthouse in Southern California) while others, like myself, watched remotely.

I was hoping to be able to use a standard interface to view the proceedings (such as streaming video provided to a <video/> element on a webpage), but unfortunately that was not available. The only way to view hearings in this court remotely is via Zoom, which SFC has talked about recently. This presented me with a conundrum - do I join via Zoom to see what was said? Or am I prevented from accessing this civic discourse because the court chooses not to use a standard video sharing method, preventing a large segment of society from taking part? As part of their normal practice, the court does not record (nor allow recording except through an official court reporter that can be hired by the parties to take a textual transcript) of proceedings, so I needed to decide with some urgency how to proceed, as failing to join now would mean I couldn't see the hearing at all, neither now nor in the future.

I am not sure how other countries approach this problem, and maybe it is no different elsewhere, but it did concern me deeply how this technical decision to demand the use of proprietary software could leave so many people disenfranchised, both with respect to their legal system, and other public services as well.

As part of SFC's policy to allow the use proprietary software if it is critical to our mission, I decided that it was more important for me to be able to view the proceedings (and avoid charging many hundreds of dollars to SFC for an international flight and hotel). Note that SFC would never require this of me, and would gladly pay for me to attend in-person to avoid the proprietary software, but I felt personally it was the right decision for me to make in this context.

Once this dilemma was resolved (for better or worse), I went through the technical steps required to join the Zoom call for the court hearing, where I was presented with this text:

By clicking "Join", you agree to our {0} and {1}.

Now there were no links to {0} or {1}, so I made some guesses as to what I was agreeing to. In the best case, I was agreeing to nothing, and in the worst case I was agreeing that 0 and 1 provided the foundation for all humanity which, while potentially troubling, did have a certain appeal as a technologist. In any case, I clicked Join (possibly leaving an indelible mark on the future of the universe) and was at last able to observe the hearing, after dialing in by (SIP) phone for the audio, to reduce the amount of proprietary code being run for me to view the hearing.

The hearing event itself was familiar to those who have attended such court proceedings - there were many other cases heard that day, that touched on issues such as whether you could get a DUI while riding a horse (answer: yes), to much more serious and unfortunate clear instances of DARVO tactics in domestic disputes (which we hope will not ultimately sway the judge). It appeared the judge wanted to save our hearing for last, possibly due to its complexity or novelty. The lawyers in most of the other matters appeared remotely.

Once the other cases were heard, the judge turned to us, with both our lawyers and Vizio's lawyer physically present in the courtroom. She asked Vizio to go first (since it was Vizio's motion), and their lawyer went over the points from their Motion for Summary Judgment, eventually clarifying seven specific objections Vizio had made to our case in its motion - the judge had clearly read our brief and wanted to know more on these seven topics given how we addressed them.

It was a bit jarring to hear my own name mentioned in court, as one of the objections was to an email I had sent to Vizio when we informed them they were violating the GPL. While not a problem for our case, it reminded me of the need to be extra careful, since anything we say to a company who violates the GPL can end up in court. But it also reminded me of why it is important we do this: if people feel scared to file lawsuits when companies fail to comply with the software freedom licenses they choose to use, then we at SFC must step up and use our resources and substantial experience to make sure the unfounded claims by companies of how they should be able to get away with violating are firmly rebuffed.

After Vizio's lawyer had finished, the judge turned to our lawyers for a response. Our lawyers presented an excellent litany of reasons why SFC's case is not preempted by copyright (for example, there is an extra element, provision of source code, that copyright remedies do not provide), and why we have rights as a third-party to the GPL contract between Vizio and the developers of the software that Vizio chose to use (as an example, the GPL itself clearly states, "You [Vizio] must make sure that they [third-party recipients such as SFC], too, receive or can get the source code").

Our lawyers finished with some examples of how contract law works, where if you agree to make some copies, but don't pay the money required in the contract, then that's a contract claim, not a copyright claim. In that case, a party has stiffed the beneficiary on the money. And in our case, as our lawyer so eloquently ended the hearing: "Vizio has stiffed us on the code".

We are extremely proud of our lawyers in this case, especially the two lawyers who argued in-person for us on Thursday: Naomi Jane Gray and Don Thompson, as well our General Counsel Rick Sanders. Whether companies are held accountable for following the software right to repair licenses they choose to use is immensely important - they need to give us the same rights they have, and we're incredibly happy that our legal team are so laser-focused on this.

We look forward to hearing the judge's decision on this motion when it comes out (in the meantime, you can read the hearing transcript if you like). Whatever the result, we will keep fighting for your software rights, everywhere software is used, using the legal mechanisms available (when required), to make sure everyone can control their technology.

Tags: conservancy, GPL, law, licensing

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