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Old 08-18-2016, 03:09 PM   #1
docidocus
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GPL issues

Since Onyx published their first e-reading device using a custom system based on the Linux kernel they mostly ignored the community's attempts to take part in the development by not releasing the source code of the GPL'ed software they used. Some years ago it seemed possible that there could be a developer community for the Onyx Boox M92. Onyx released a public SDK and a compiler toolchain and accepted bug fixes and bug reports by the community. Anyway, this didn't last long and Onyx decided to move on. They released new devices and deleted the kernel code they had published again. From time to time requests were filed, asking for the source code for the GPL'ed software of the Onyx Boox M92 as well as of the Android based devices. Requesting the sources always followed the same pattern. After some emails trying to convince the people of their lack of knowledge (or how to interpret it), Onyx always decided to be deaf for further communication attempts. I don't know of any successful such request. Their German vendor ereader-store.de insisted on their position as vendor - therefore being not responsible for inquiries like this.

This thread is dedicated to coordinating further approaches. We want to be heard by Onyx and strive for a friendly agreement with them. The last thing we would want is, denouncing Onyx in any way. Quite the contrary, we just want them to respect the GPL including their rights and duties. This way, we want to save Onyx from juridical consequences following their GPL violations if they cooperate. People who just want to name and shame this company are not at the right place here. Anyway, the GPL is known to be enforced in Germany as well as the US.

If you want to take part in this race for a piece of software freedom, please join this thread.
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Old 08-18-2016, 06:16 PM   #2
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Hear hear, their modifications to the GPL-licensed code need to be released. I know that there have been some attempts to contact the developers. Could this be documented here so we know what has already been tried.

Thanks, Warren
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Old 08-19-2016, 06:05 AM   #3
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While I am OSS licenses supporter I just wonder how do they apply to China. Onyx does not sell directly in US or Germany. They modify the source code in China and they don have to pay attention to GPL as long as their product distribution is within China. They also distribute to their partners abroad. It is partners who violate law in their respective countries by selling products without fulfilling licensing requirements. They should demand from Onyx to publish the code before attempting to sell anything. Am I wrong here?
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Old 08-19-2016, 08:00 AM   #4
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@DoctorWkt: Of course this should be documented. IMHO the best would be, if anyone who tried could post in this thread or maybe on a Wiki page... All in good time.

@bulek: In my understanding of the GPL you are right. Although for example ereader-store.de is only a reseller, they are the sole contract partner for their customers. This means, they are be responsible for giving the sources to their customers and not Onyx itself. So this thread should more correctly be about Onyx' and its resellers' GPL violations.
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Old 08-19-2016, 09:41 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by bulek View Post
While I am OSS licenses supporter I just wonder how do they apply to China. Onyx does not sell directly in US or Germany. They modify the source code in China and they don have to pay attention to GPL as long as their product distribution is within China.
How do you reach that conclusion? China is a signatory to the Berne Copyright Convention, and the GPL can be enforced via the Berne Convention. What makes you believe that it doesn't apply in China?
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Old 08-19-2016, 10:24 AM   #6
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That is bizarre. I remember discussing the very same issue with Polish vendor (aka ArtaTech). Even they as a distributor were not granted access to GPL sources, only limited SDK, which funnily, was taken down from GitHub later on. The same applied to obfuscated kernel which I have managed to retrieve from one of employees account, which led to unlocking bootloader, signing updates, etc... My guessing is that they are either unwilling to share it due to fear of competition or lack of proper separation of stuff which they built on top of OSS.
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Old 08-19-2016, 12:28 PM   #7
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@HarryT: I didn't hear of any tries to enforce the GPL in China, but that does not mean it can't be done. I didn't know of that convention which should make the GPL even more likely to be enforceable there.

@seaniko7: In my understanding of the GPL, if they were not granted access to the sources, they knowingly violated the GPL by selling these devices. Anyway, fear of competition may be a problem, but bad separation shouldn't. Works based on the program have to be released under the GPL. Did I understand you correctly?
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Old 08-19-2016, 12:47 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by docidocus View Post
@HarryT: I didn't hear of any tries to enforce the GPL in China, but that does not mean it can't be done. I didn't know of that convention which should make the GPL even more likely to be enforceable there.

@seaniko7: In my understanding of the GPL, if they were not granted access to the sources, they knowingly violated the GPL by selling these devices. Anyway, fear of competition may be a problem, but bad separation shouldn't. Works based on the program have to be released under the GPL. Did I understand you correctly?
You are absolutely right. What I meant is that I have seen such practice (separation of own modifications from OSS) being done by many vendors, one of which happens to be Onyx.

All in all, it can be hard to prove whether a vendor has provided one with modified sources or only OSS part which he based on. Verification of such sources would require compilation and verification against binaries installed on a device and extracting these is a clear violation of license agreement in most cases.

Another issue is deliberate obfuscation of GPL code just to make it unusable (Onyx did that by stripping all assembly code, including OSS).
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Old 08-20-2016, 10:25 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by seaniko7 View Post
You are absolutely right. What I meant is that I have seen such practice (separation of own modifications from OSS) being done by many vendors, one of which happens to be Onyx.
This is a huge issue in the licensing world. GPL itself is great, but seldom enforced. The big companies selling all around the world directly (read - all international phone/tablet/pc manufacturers) are of course afraid, because a swift court decision can easily force their products off the shelves.

However a small, chinese company with a relatively small level of penetration can do as they please. By the time the court enforcement comes (because in a case such as ours, all parties, including vendors, etc. must be included), the product is already discontinued, and the loss is mainly at the vendors.

Quote:
Originally Posted by seaniko7 View Post
All in all, it can be hard to prove whether a vendor has provided one with modified sources or only OSS part which he based on. Verification of such sources would require compilation and verification against binaries installed on a device and extracting these is a clear violation of license agreement in most cases.
Except Onyx released firmware update images that can be downloaded directly from their websites - and that includes the Android kernel image too.

Also, I believe such verification cannot be a license violation - GPL by its nature should allow it. Of course it's a different question if a product license goes against the license of a part (in our case, the GPL covered kernel), which one is the one to take into account.

Quote:
Originally Posted by seaniko7 View Post
Another issue is deliberate obfuscation of GPL code just to make it unusable (Onyx did that by stripping all assembly code, including OSS).
That is okay - however by GPLv2, Onyx must provide everything to anyone - in possession of the binary version - to be able to recreate the binary version. This includes sources, tools, documentations.
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Old 08-20-2016, 03:25 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by docidocus View Post
@bulek: In my understanding of the GPL you are right. Although for example ereader-store.de is only a reseller, they are the sole contract partner for their customers. This means, they are be responsible for giving the sources to their customers and not Onyx itself. So this thread should more correctly be about Onyx' and its resellers' GPL violations.
Quote:
Originally Posted by docidocus View Post
@seaniko7: In my understanding of the GPL, if they were not granted access to the sources, they knowingly violated the GPL by selling these devices. Anyway, fear of competition may be a problem, but bad separation shouldn't. Works based on the program have to be released under the GPL. Did I understand you correctly?
Indeed:

" 5. You are not required to accept this License, since you have not
signed it. However, nothing else grants you permission to modify or
distribute the Program or its derivative works. These actions are
prohibited by law if you do not accept this License. Therefore, by
modifying or distributing the Program (or any work based on the
Program), you indicate your acceptance of this License to do so, and
all its terms and conditions for copying, distributing or modifying
the Program or works based on it."

(emphasis mine)

Quote:
Originally Posted by seaniko7 View Post
Another issue is deliberate obfuscation of GPL code just to make it unusable (Onyx did that by stripping all assembly code, including OSS).
That is a blatant violation of the spirit of the GPL, and as it happens of the letter too:

"The source code for a work means the preferred form of the work for
making modifications to it. For an executable work, complete source
code means all the source code for all modules it contains, plus any
associated interface definition files, plus the scripts used to
control compilation and installation of the executable."

https://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/gpl-2.0.txt

Note that I am not a lawyer, but the license is clear.


Quote:
Originally Posted by docidocus View Post
We want to be heard by Onyx and strive for a friendly agreement with them. The last thing we would want is, denouncing Onyx in any way. Quite the contrary, we just want them to respect the GPL including their rights and duties. This way, we want to save Onyx from juridical consequences following their GPL violations if they cooperate.
I personally think enough has been done to try to get their attention, repeatedly throughout the years, and their attitude is obvious. I suggest we gather all needed information for reporting them, and leave this to the professionals (i.e.: the lawyers). See here why: http://gpl-violations.org/faq/legal-faq/ -- everything so far got settled at the 'cease-and-desist' level, so no juridical consequences, and their experience is that until the lawyers get involved they simply get ignored, like we did.


For background, I purchased a Boox Max in April and received it in May, and I wrote to Onyx at the end of June asking for a bug tracker and for the source code. Their answer:
"Thanks for your email and support of ONYX BOOX. Now we still have no bug tracker, but we open SDK, if you have Github account, please inform us, TKS"

They later answered by creating a read-only public trello board (...), and never replied to my telling them there's nothing related to the Max on their github.

So in early July I sent them a formal request for the source code of the kernel and U-Boot source code. They never replied.

At the end of July I sent a formal request to ereader-store.de, and after a to-and-fro between email and their tickets system they replied on August 2nd by telling me they forwarded my request to Onyx, along with a promise to push them for an answer. They also stated their position that they are only a reseller and not developers, to which I replied it's their responsibility to provide the code nevertheless (without quoting the GPL though). No news since then.
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Old 08-20-2016, 03:34 PM   #11
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For the record, my e-mail to <sales@onyx-international.com> dated July 6th:
Quote:
Hello,

I will cover multiple items with this email:


1. This is a formal request for the source code you need to make available to your customers, including but not limited to:

- the Linux kernel source code, including the kernel configuration, and the board file / device tree file(s), as provided by
https://www.kernel.org/pub/linux/kernel/COPYING

- the U-Boot source code, configuration, and device tree file(s), as provided by
http://git.denx.de/?p=u-boot.git;a=b...README;hb=HEAD

I have attached proof of my purchase of the ONYX BOOX Max along with this request: the invoice and the warranty card.


2. The trello board you have created is not publicly editable. As such, it is useless for submitting bugs.


3. I would like to use this opportunity to urge you to consider an open-source development model. This means:
- making as much of the source code available as possible without disclosing what you consider your proprietary "secret sauce",
- a proper bug-reporting system, that allows for conversation between you and your customers,
- and just as important, instructions for building and modifying the platform.

It is obvious from your github account that some form of open source development was your intention in the beginning. So it would be great if you continued that policy with your new generation of android devices and improved on it.

Consider the fact that there are more people like myself that would like to do more with these devices than using them as simple e-readears, and some of them are developers. So I think this is a great opportunity for your company to allow them and stimulate them to engage with your development.


Thank you, and regards,
And to <service@ereader-store.de>, on July 21st:
Quote:
Thank you for your reply,

I won't be using your Contact tickets system, because I want to have an official proof of our conversation in my inbox.

This is related to my order #40xxxx, the purchase of an ONYX BOOX Max which I succesfully received in May this year.

The BOOX Max includes software licensed under the GPL, and this is an official request for access to that code, specifically to the Linux kernel and the U-Boot source code.

According to the GPL:
https://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/gpl-2.0.txt
"The source code for a work means the preferred form of the work for
making modifications to it. For an executable work, complete source
code means all the source code for all modules it contains, plus any
associated interface definition files, plus the scripts used to
control compilation and installation of the executable."

Note that although I am immediately interested only in the Linux kernel and the U-Boot source code, you still need to make available the source code of any other GPL-licensed components (e.g. busybox, FBReader and possibly others).

I have sent the same request to ONYX but they went silent on the matter - I have attached my conversation with them for reference.

However, since you are the vendor, it is ultimately your responsability to provide the code according to the license of the software used in the product you sold.


Thank you,
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Old 08-22-2016, 05:15 AM   #12
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How do you reach that conclusion? China is a signatory to the Berne Copyright Convention, and the GPL can be enforced via the Berne Convention. What makes you believe that it doesn't apply in China?
I am definitely not an expert. Berne however seems to be less related to licensing. It is more about moral authorship, ownership, authenticity. You could sue someone based on Berne if that person claims the authorship to the work you did. Onyx does not claim anything. They simply reuse a work covered by GPL and not claiming anything.

Imho this is very difficult area. Even big fish companies have problems to enforce their licensing in China. Some decided it's better to sell their business to China than fighting never ending license violations. Generalizing it's a culture thing to great extent. The sharing spirit of OSS where there are givers and consumers does not work that well in that part of the world. There it is more an approach of "use whatever is there and make business of it without sharing". I don't want to discourage anyone... you know... just saying .

I found quite a nice example of what is happening there: http://www.chinaiplawyer.com/china-c...nse-agreement/ . The lawyer comment at the bottom seems to be a nice summary of whole OSS in China topic.
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Old 08-22-2016, 06:40 AM   #13
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Imho this is very difficult area. Even big fish companies have problems to enforce their licensing in China.
There is no need for a Chinese court order. An injunction against the sale of their devices in the EU and the US would surely work wonders.
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Old 08-22-2016, 04:27 PM   #14
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I'm really sorry to admit I unexpectedly got so much to do that I will not be able to follow this for the next few days (to weeks, but hopefully shorter). If I find a free minute I will add my conversation with Onyx for the records. If we have enough material we really should report them at gpl-violations.org. Anyway, I'm so glad this whole discussion came back alive!
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Old 08-25-2016, 06:11 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by jlark View Post
There is no need for a Chinese court order. An injunction against the sale of their devices in the EU and the US would surely work wonders.
It could be the better approach, but a way to stop their activities maybe. Yes, "They must" but if the Chinese don't give the sources, what's they can make ? I'm not sure that Onyx support the European vendors.
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