I accidentally caused a little brouhaha last week – for which I would like to apologise.
In my blog post about BMW’s unencrypted software updates, I said:
Judging from the files, it would appear that the infotainment system is made by Magneti Marelli with components by Wind River, AutoSAR, and Nvidia Tegra. Looking at the copious mentions of systemd and freedesktop it’s a Linux system!
Hmmm… I wonder if they’re respecting the GPL…?
I want to make it clear that, at the time, I had no evidence to suggest that any Open Source Software was being used in my vehicle. It was idle speculation on my part.
Anyway, some kind Internet stranger decided to fire off an email to BMW Australia demanding access to the source code. The customer service agents refused.
…customer must provide the 7 digit VIN and accept the usage rights agreement. Part of the usage rights agreement states that the software is protected by copyright and BMW is the sole owner.
So in this case it is not subject to the requirements of a “Public” licence
It would be an exaggeration to say “at which point all hell broke loose” – but there were some sternly worded tweets and comments condemning BMW for their abuse of Free Software.
Here’s the thing – contacting customer services like that was entirely the wrong approach. Customer services aren’t trained for the 0.001% of people who might be interested in an esoteric matter of legal licensing. Crying foul because a minimum wage rep didn’t understand an obscure technical reference is counter productive.
A quick search shows a BMW Open Source site which is highly active. An email to them, or to BMW’s head office, or their legal team, would have generated a far more useful reply.
As it happens, someone within BMW contacted me to explain where the Open Source Licences are within the vehicle. I’ll be honest, they are well hidden – and not referenced in the user manual as far as I could see – but they are there.
Now, this is a somewhat of a “beware of the leopard” situation, I grant you. But, somewhere in that mass of text is the email address you need to contact if you want copies of the code.
So, I’ve dropped BMW an email and will update you if/when I hear back. They may not respond – in which case we can heap opprobrium upon them – but let’s give them a chance rather than flailing about and calling every scratch a palpable hit, eh?
I’ve received a response from BMW.
— Terence Eden (@edent) March 14, 2016
I’ve sent them my details and will report back on what they send me.