Telstra frees T-Hub open source code


The nation’s biggest telco Telstra has made the open source software components used to build its T-Hub next-generation home telephone system publicly available, after it was criticised for keeping them private by an Australian software developer last year.

In November, local software developer Angus Gratton pointed out that a number of new Telstra products introduced throughout 2010, namely the T-Hub, T-Box media centre and potentially its T-Touch Tab tablet device, were based on the Linux operating system, which has substantial portions licensed under the GNU General Public License.

A common interpretation of the GPL is that it requires companies who distribute products based on GPL-licenced software must make source code to the software available to customers — for example, include a zip file of relevant files on a documentation CD. In addition, a copy of the GPL licence should be included with licence documentation. Following Gratton’s comments, Telstra pledged to comply with applicable open source licenses.

It emerged last week that Telstra has published a statement on its BigPond site acknowledging the GPL link and making the software available for download and noting precisely which software packages were based on the GPL or Lesser GPL and which ones had been modified.

“The terms of the GPL and LGPL, as well as the additional or/and modified open source packages (500MB) used by [T-Hub manufacturer] Sagemcom to build the T-Hub software can be mailed to you by expressing your interest,” wrote Telstra. “Please provide your full name and mailing address, and a CD will be sent to you within 5 business days.”

Gratton last week said he had requested and received a copy of the CD. “It looks like a complete GPL source release, all of the GPL components I identified seem to be there and there are build tools covering the BSP (board support package) for the SoC (system-on-a-chip) in the T-Hub,” he said.

The developer said he thought it was “great” that Telstra had negotiated with its manufacturing partner and provided the software publicly. “It’s unfortunate that it’s only available now, 10 months after the T-Hub was released, but better late than never,” he said.

Gratton said he was still somewhat concerned, however, that the online manual for the T-Hub didn’t make any mention of the free and open source software (FOSS) used in its manufacture. “My Telstra contact has yet to give me an answer about whether a note containing the GPL license text and an “offer for source” (as per the license requirements) is now being included in the box with new T-Hubs, or even on the device itself,” he said. A spokesperson for Telstra has not responded to a request for comment on the issue in general.

Gratton said that overall he hoped the fact that the issue regarding Telstra made it into the public arena would educate others.

“I hope that the publicity around this affair will remind Telstra, and other companies, that they should investigate the intellectual property issues around any software they license, particularly when licensing an entire device from a third party,” he said.

“Having more devices built with FOSS available is terrific, it can be mutually beneficial for both vendors and the community. However, the mutual benefit does depend on vendors honouring the agreements that apply to the software that they use.”

Image credit: Telstra


  1. Its good to see Telstra continuing to fix their problems. And its good to see delimiter following up on the story,

    Re – “A common interpretation of the GPL is that it requires companies who distribute products based on GPL-licenced software must make source code to the software available to customers”

    I have not heard of anyone interpreting the GPL in a way that _doesn’t_ obligate the distributer to make source available, so i would say that its more than a common interpretation, its a accepted fact.

    • It likely is accepted fact, but the phrase ‘common interpretation’ is a journalistic ass-covering device to ensure that we can’t be sued by someone who says that our interpretation of the law is incorrect. Something I have learned over time is that I am not a lawyer, and commonly accepted fact \= actual legal fact ;)

  2. I wonder how Telstra’s legal team would treat me if I took 10 months to comply with the terms of a legally binding agreement that I had with them? Not so kindly, I suspect!

  3. The GPL is not a “legally binding agreement”, it’s a copyright licence. It grants permission to make copies and derivative works, providing certain conditions are met; no contract or agreement between parties is required and Telstra/Sagemcom almost certainly did not inform their software suppliers about the details of their derivative product.

    If you were selling something based on Telstra’s copyrighted material and it wasn’t really, really obvious, they might well take more than 10 months to get around to noticing, let alone bullying you into compliance.

  4. I accept it’s not a contract, but when you utilise GPL code you effectively agree to be bound by the terms of the licence.

    Let me put it another way; If I take a duplicate of the site including the source imagery, HTML and CSS and then make a few simple changes to suit my own needs, and perhaps launch a “P-life” store and a “P-hub” for good measure, how long do you think it would take for Telstra’s lawyers to come “a knockin”?

    Come on, just a humble copyright violation!

    As for your argument that Telstra/Sagemcom probably did not inform (which again I suspect is correct) – this may be right but as you would know (clearly you are knowledgable) – ignorance is no defence under the law.

    Jonathon, it’s not 1993. I think the GPL has now been around for long enough for big corporates with large legal teams to be reasonably expected to be au fait with the terms of the licence and the implications of including / using GPL-derived software in their platforms. Don’t you?

Comments are closed.