Broadcom wifi drivers in F-14?

David Woodhouse dwmw2 at
Wed Sep 15 10:05:43 UTC 2010

On Wed, 2010-09-15 at 08:31 +0200, Hans de Goede wrote:
> Hi,
> On 09/14/2010 01:31 PM, David Woodhouse wrote:
> > On Tue, 2010-09-14 at 00:40 -0700, Jesse Keating wrote:
> >> IIRC they require a firmware blob that has a license that we cannot distribute
> >> unlike say the Intel firmwares. I could be wrong though.
> >
> > That's still true of the b43 firmware for older (pre-802.11n) devices,
> > but the firmware to go with their new driver is now in
> > linux-firmware.git.
> >
> Hmm, now that they are trying to be opensource friendly, can't we get them
> to license the old firmware under the same license as the new one? It would
> be great to be able to ship the old firmware and haver older broadcom cards
> work out of the box.
> David do you have a contact inside Broadcom to talk to about this, and could
> you ask?

I've asked, but they're scared of it.

They seem to think that they could be prosecuted even for *enabling*
people to use the open source b43 driver, because you have the
possibility of hacking that driver not to conform to the regulatory

Shipping the binary-only firmware with a licence which permits us to
distribute it as part of a Linux distribution could be seen as
'enabling' the use of the b43 driver, so they're reluctant to do so.
Even if their licence doesn't mention Linux at all, but just allows you
to distribute it for use with their hardware in general.

The whole thing seems completely nonsensical to me -- it's well known
that people reverse-engineer and hack up binary drivers too, so there's
nothing stopping those users from breaking the regulations either. There
are hacks out there which let you boost the TX power with the binary
drivers, for example.

If the Broadcom lawyers really do suffer from such paranoid delusions,
they should never have shipped hardware which requires *any* software
assistance to conform to the law.

In the meantime, people are quite happily shipping the 'offending' b43
driver in all parts of the world without hearing *anything* from the
authorities. And yet the Broadcom lawyers still seem to cling to their
fantasy that a hackable Open Source driver somehow puts them at more
risk than a just-as-hackable closed-source driver.

Fixing bugs and making other improvements in the closed source driver is
much harder than it is in the open driver, of course -- but if all you
want to do is remove restrictions on available channels and tweak things
like TX power, that's actually fairly easy with the binary drivers.
That's why I say 'just as hackable'.

It's also much *easier* to distribute such hacks for the binary drivers;
it's often just a case of 'zero the byte at 0x5d3 with a hex editor',
which is easier for most users than actually patching source code and
rebuilding a driver properly.

The Broadcom position seems to be entirely crack-inspired, if it's based
on the notion that a binary driver cannot be modified to break the
regulations. That assumption is demonstrably false.


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