Tivoization: A Creeping Menace? or Not A Big Deal, Really?

Tivoization: A Creeping Menace? or Not A Big Deal, Really?

I've been doing some work lately with the third iteration of the GPL, which was released by the Free Software Foundation earlier this summer. Among other changes, Version 3 tries to prevent what's popularly known as Tivoization – after TiVo's set-top boxes that contain GPL-licensed code but use hardware to prevent users from modifying the code in the devices.

One of my coworkers pointed out that there's significant debate in the copyleft community whether this is a valid use of copyleft software (since users can modify the code in other contexts, and run their own versions in boxes they build from scratch) or whether it's a betrayal of copyleft principles that users should be free to modify the software in situ. GPLv3 didn't really address this problem, instead splitting the difference and saying that where product manufacturers abandoned their own ability to modify the code in the product (by storing it on a ROM chip, for example), they had no obligation to provide users with the ability to modify the code in situ.

Since you folks are a sophisticated and tech savvy bunch, I thought I'd ask what you think. Did the FSF punt on the issue of user-modifiability? Is the point of free software to allow others to build on your achievement and make entirely new things, or is it to allow users to tinker with the devices themselves? Or is this all purely academic, because the real free software devotees will build their own?

Thumbnail photo courtesy Flyinace2000.



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D Waterhouse

I think it is a generally accepted principle of open source that users should be free to modify software. However, Tivo should be able to stipulate in their service contract that users should not modify the box.

As long as people still have to pay monthly for the Tivo service, I don't see why Tivo cares if they mod the software to enable more hard drives or whatever.



That begs the question. If Tivo built its service on GPL-licensed software, then they are bound by the terms of the GPL license, which says users must be allowed to modify the software, full stop. The problem is Tivo found a loophole: users can modify Tivo software, just not in the Tivo box. But should Tivo be allowed to use its service contract to restrict GPL-guaranteed rights? Or does the GPL not actually reach the right to modify in situ?

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