Preventing the IoT Dystopia with Copyleft


Most IoT (The Internet of Things) devices remain under the control of the companies that manufacture them, yielding a plethora of security, privacy and software freedom concerns. Ironically, most such devices include Linux as their base operating system, and Linux's license, GPLv2, mandates the users' rights to modify and upgrade the software. Sadly, due to widespread violations of the GPL, such rights are rarely granted with most IoT devices on the market. This talk explains the political, social, and legal backstory that led to this abysmal situation, and proposes what we must do next to ameliorate the problem. IoT (The Internet of Things) is a marketing push by device manufacturers seeking to convince the general public to fill their home with interconnected computers embedded inside commonplace contraptions and tools. Proponents ballyhoo the IoT revolution as bringing the ultimate in convenience and informational interconnectivity for everyone. However, these embedded devices typically remain under the complete control of the manufacturer — not only for their basic functionality — but for safety and security updates as well. In many cases, these devices require Herculean efforts by the home user to modify and upgrade. Most ironically, however, nearly all these devices run Linux, which is released under a modification-respecting license, the GNU General Public License, version 2 (GPLv2). The GPLv2 uses copyright controls to mandate the users' ability to modify and upgrade the software. Yet, due to widespread GPL violations throughout the industry, rarely do IoT devices come with the freedoms and rights that GPL tries to uphold. This talk will explain the political, social, and legal ramifications of this abysmal situation. Attendees can expect a full explanation of the history of GPL enforcement, how it has historically defended the rights of hobbyist modifications to home devices, and what processes exist now to continue that fight. In particular, the talk will explain why community-oriented and led GPL compliance efforts are absolutely essential in preventing one of our greatest community-organized technological successes — namely, the development of Linux — from becoming part of a dystopia of corporate control in IoT.

Presented by

    Bradley M. Kuhn

    Bradley M. Kuhn is the Distinguished Technologist at Software Freedom Conservancy and editor-in-chief of Kuhn began his work in the software freedom movement as a volunteer in 1992, when he became an early adopter of GNU/Linux, and began contributing to various Free Software projects. He worked during the 1990s as a system administrator and software developer for various companies, and taught AP Computer Science at Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati. Kuhn's non-profit career began in 2000, when he was hired by the FSF. As FSF's Executive Director from 2001–2005, Kuhn led FSF's GPL enforcement, launched its Associate Member program, and invented the Affero GPL. Kuhn was appointed President of Software Freedom Conservancy in April 2006, was Conservancy's primary volunteer from 2006–2010, and has been a full-time staffer since early 2011. Kuhn holds a summa cum laude B.S. in Computer Science from Loyola University in Maryland, and an M.S. in Computer Science from the University of Cincinnati. Kuhn's Master's thesis discussed methods for dynamic interoperability of Free Software programming languages. Kuhn received the O'Reilly Open Source Award in 2012, in recognition for his lifelong policy work on copyleft licensing. Kuhn has a blog and co-hosts the audcast, Free as in Freedom.