On the GnuPG -devel and -users mailing lists there is again a vigorous discussion on Werner's decision not to support PKCS#11 in GnuPG. One of the major arguments is again the licensing issue.
It seems that the problem is linking of the (proprietary) PKCS#11 shared library in the same address space with the GnuPG binary. E.g. executing a GPL'd binary that uses Win32 API does not violate GPL when calling kernel because:
- They are not linked together in the same address space but communicate by well-defined messages.
- There is also an exception in the GPL for the software delivered as a "part of the operating system".
I maintain that, in many cases, these two things are the same. Consider two possible implementations of PKCS#11:
- As a shared library, and
- as a daemon listening on a local ("UNIX") socket.
But for some strange reason, using the first implementation of PKCS#11 would make the whole program, under GPL interpretation, a "derivative work". User is (legally) not allowed even to dynamically link a proprietary PKCS#11 DLL with a GPL incompatible license.
However, the second case is perfectly OK use-case: GPL application communicates with proprietary daemon using a pre-established "protocol" and everything is fine. Legally, what happens if UNIX sockets are implemented by shared memory? What does GPL say in that case?
I maintain that in both cases, the amount of sharing and coupling between the application and PKCS#11 module is in both cases the same. The only difference is in mechanism used to accomplish this sharing. In both cases the application shares only data with the service provider (PKCS#11 - in either form).
In my opinion, data sharing does not and cannot (in any common-sense interpretation) constitute a "derivative work". Furthermore, GPL is only about code sharing. Then again, I'm not a lawyer - comments are welcome.
Then again, you can register callback functions with PKCS#11 driver, creating an even more interesting situation. These functions can be translated into asynchronous messages from some daemon back to the application. So in my view, even in this case there is no code sharing. There is as much code sharing as with registering a ubiquitous
WindowProccallback with Win32 API.
Paradoxically, it seems that GnuPG would be allowed to use closed-source MS CAPI because it is delivered as a "part of the operating system". The way CAPI works is:
your application -> CAPI -> back-end driver
So your application interacts with CAPI (delivered as a part of the operating system - an exception permitted by the GPL), and CAPI interacts with the back-end driver for the particular hardware device.
More interested readers can look into the gnupg-users and gnupg-devel archives for the thread named "OpenPGP card". (For the future record: around 6th Sep, 2005.)
Based on these things (also read my previous posts on GPG and Bitlbee), I personally find the GPL license flawed in many respects. A good open-source license should not allow for "paradoxes" (like the above example) and it also should not prohibit mixing the code (in any way - source form, static or dynamic linking) with another, essentialy "free" or standards-conforming code, like OpenSSL or PKCS#11 drivers.
 free as in both open-source and no charge
 free as in no charge
During these discussions on the list I had a most interesting idea. Read about it soon in the next blog entry.