Legal vetting clears open-source project--again

The Software Freedom Law Center declares the OpenHAL wireless network driver doesn't infringe copyright of Atheros' proprietary software.

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Update: I updated this posting to correct my misunderstanding of an ambiguous point in the news release--the ar5k-based OpenBSD driver isn't proprietary.

The Software Freedom Law Center, which provides free legal advice to free and open-source software projects, has declared an open-source project to support Atheros Communications wireless network devices to be free of copyright infringement.

The group--which employs notable attorney and former Free Software Foundation counsel Eben Moglen--performed a confidential comparison of the OpenHAL project and the Atheros HAL software whose functions it attempts to duplicate, the center said Tuesday. The audit was a response to allegations of HAL copyright infringement, the center said.

"After performing the audit, SFLC concluded that OpenHAL does not infringe copyrights held by Atheros. As a result, OpenHAL development can now continue safely, unencumbered by legal uncertainty so long as the OpenHAL developers continue their work in isolation from Atheros' proprietary code," the center said in a statement.

OpenHAL was based initially on an open-source project called ar5k that was used in an Atheros driver for the the open-source OpenBSD variant of Unix, the center said. However, Atheros cards aren't supported in Linux with an open-source driver.

"We believe that this outcome will clear the way for eventual acceptance of a new wireless driver into the Linux kernel," said John Linville, who maintains wireless networking software in the Linux kernel, in the center's statement.

But this isn't the first time the center got involved in trying to clear the software. In November, Linville said in a 2006 mailing list posting that the center already made inquiries about the source of the ar5k software.

"The responses received provide a reasonable basis for SFLC to believe that the OpenBSD developers who worked on ar5k did not misappropriate code, and that the ar5k implementation is OpenBSD's original copyrighted work," Linville said in the message. "This announcement should serve to remove the cloud which has prevented progress towards an in-kernel driver for Atheros hardware," he added, overoptimistically as it turned out.