ipw(4) and iwi(4): Intel's Pro Wireless firmware licensingproblems

Matt Emmerton matt at gsicomp.on.ca
Thu Oct 5 19:56:53 PDT 2006

> On 05/10/06, Chuck Swiger <cswiger at mac.com> wrote:
> > On Oct 4, 2006, at 7:46 PM, Constantine A. Murenin wrote:
> > > Why are none of the manual pages of FreeBSD say anything about why
> > > Intel Wireless devices do not work by default?
> > >
> > > http://www.freebsd.org/cgi/man.cgi?query=ipw
> > > http://www.freebsd.org/cgi/man.cgi?query=iwi
> >
> > The manpages you've linked to explicitly state:
> >
> >       This driver requires firmware to be loaded before it will
> > work.  You need
> >       to obtain ipwcontrol(8) from the IPW web page listed below to
> > accomplish
> >       loading the firmware before ifconfig(8) will work.
> >
> > Is there some part of this which is unclear to you, Constantine?
> Yes, Chuck, some part is indeed unclear to me, precisely the part that
> explains why does one have to go into that much trouble to have a
> working system.

It's required by Intel's choice of licence for the firmware for that
wireless NIC.

> Not permitting the firmware to be redistributed has nothing to do with
> the FCC, however.

> No, firmware redistribution is ENTIRELY up to Intel. I want the
> firmware to be available under a BSD or ISC licence, just as with
> Ralink. Intel's firmware is already available, but under a different
> licence. Where does the FCC say that Intel must distribute firmware
> under a non-OSS-friendly licence?

It doesn't.  However, most licences allow derivative works to be created
outside of Intel's control.  If one of these derivative work allows the
device to be used in a manner that violates FCC rules and regulations, Intel
remains liable because they a) the provider of the hardware device in
question and b) the provider of the initial software (that spawned the
derivative work)

There is nothing stopping Intel from releasing the firmware, except for the
legal fear that the FCC will hold them accountable for illegal acts
performed with their device.

> > As to the point raised above, the firmware license actually does
> > permit an individual user, including an OS developer, to copy and
> > redistribute the software to others, so long as the recepient agrees
> > to the license terms:
> >
> > "LICENSE. You may copy and use the Software, subject to these
> > conditions:
> > 1. This Software is licensed for use only in conjunction with Intel
> > component
> >     products. Use of the Software in conjunction with non-Intel
> > component
> >     products is not licensed hereunder.
> So if I don't have an Intel Wireless in the system, is it still legal
> to have the firmware in my system files?

No.  In this case it is not being used "in conjunction with Intel component
products" as it stands alone.

> Chuck, if the licence is as good as you make it sound, would you tell
> me why FreeBSD, OpenBSD, Debian GNU/Linux and a lot of other systems
> do not include the firmware in the base system?
> If you think downloading firmwares and accepting tonnes of EUAs is
> completely normal, then why is fxp(4) firmware/microcode/whatever it's
> called in fxp(4) is included in every OpenBSD and FreeBSD release?

Because fxp is not a wireless device, and thus does not fall under the FCC's
control for RADIO devices.  (The normal Class A/B rules for device emissions
still apply, but since the device is a hardwire device, there's nary a way
to change the firmware to be in violation of these rules.)

Matt Emmerton

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