[sane-devel] Please give me some help to solve the license issues in using sane

Johannes Meixner jsmeix at suse.de
Thu Jun 5 07:49:11 UTC 2008


On Jun 4 21:02 m. allan noah wrote (shortened):
> SANE is GPL, with an added exception to allow proprietary front-end
> programs to link against it. What you are suggesting is the opposite-
> you wish to have a free 'middleware' layer, which loads closed
> backends to do that actual work? I think this is in violation of the
> spirit of the license exception, though perhaps not the letter. Please
> read the file LICENSE in the sane-backends source, it attempts to
> clarify the situation, by specifically referring to the 'licensing
> status of the _program_ that uses the libraries', not the status of a
> library.

The issue was also mentioned in the "SANE2, what do we want ?"
mail thread, see for example

Could you explain what the reason behind is that proprietary
frontends are allowed but no proprietary plugins/modules
for free backends?

I.e. why are proprietary frontends considered to be acceptable
while "dlopening" proprietary plugins/modules by free backends
during runtime is considered to be evil?

Is it because a proprietary frontend does not reduce the freedom
of the user because there are also free frontends available
while a backend which needs proprietary stuff for certain scanners
reduces the freedom of the user when there is no free alternative
backend available?

I have another question:

Assume because of whatever reason a scanner manufacturer
cannot make a free backend (e.g. because of third-party
license stuff, or just because the upper management at the
manufacturer is full of fear that another manufacturer might
"steal" their one-and-only-best-way-to-drive-a-scanner)
but nevertheless wants to provide a SANE compatible driver.

How could he do it?

Would it be in compliance with the SANE license to do it
like HP does it for their proprietary ZJStream printers
(because of a third-party JBIG license issue):

HP's HPLIP sources are perfectly free and therefore we
take only the perfectly free upstream HPLIP sources,
compile them, and distribute a perfectly free hplip package.

We do not download and/or distribute any proprietray stuff
from HP.

But the perfectly free hplip package contains a perfectly
free hp-setup tool which takes care of everything regarding
their proprietray stuff, for example:
- display the EULA,
- download the right proprietray stuff from the right server,
- install the proprietary stuff at the right place
   with the right permissions
- set up the device accordingly,
- whatever else...

In case of HPLIP any proprietary stuff happens only between
the end-user and HP.

Therefore - at least from my point of view - the proprietary
stuff form HP is ideal because there is nothing a distributor
or re-distributor has to care about.

We provide only a free tool (hp-setup) so that the end-user
has an easy out-of-the-box experience to set up even hardware
which requires proprietary software.

As far as I know the GPL does not forbid that an end-user
installs and runs whatever proprietary stuff on his machine.

Therefore I think that it is in compliance with the GPL
to have a GPL installation tool which installs proprietary

As far as I know the GPL cares only about the licensing
of source code and therefore it is very important to
be aware of the strict distinction between source code
and whatever binary stuff.

For example - as far as I know - it is a GPL license violation
to have whatever binary stuff in a GPL source code package.

As far as I know any tiny bit of whatever proprietary stuff
(regardless if it is binary stuff or proprietary source code)
in a source code package makes the whole source code package
a proprietary package.

But I am neither a lawyer nor a GPL expert!

You may like to have a look e.g. at

Kind Regards
Johannes Meixner
SUSE LINUX Products GmbH, Maxfeldstrasse 5, 90409 Nuernberg, Germany
AG Nuernberg, HRB 16746, GF: Markus Rex

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