Tesla is actually doing it. The electric car maker is starting to abide by open source software licenses that it had previously ignored, and releasing the code it’s sat on for over six years, according to Electrek.
Tesla’s super smart cars, specifically the sporty Model S sedan and Model X SUV, incorporate a lot of open source software, from Linux, the open source operating system, to BusyBox, a collection of tools that are useful when working with Linux and other UNIX environments (like macOS). All open source software is released under licenses and one of the most popular licenses is the GPL, or General Public License.
A lot of cool software is released under the GPL. Not just Linux and BusyBox, but VLC, Blender, and a whole host of gaming emulator packages. It’s a very popular license that says anyone can use and modify software released under it provided they release their source code, too.
That is what Tesla failed to do. And people have been pretty annoyed about it—not enough for the offended license holders, Linux and BusyBox, to litigate a much larger, multibillion-dollar company, but at least enough for the Software Freedom Conservancy to engage with Tesla repeatedly. According to the SFC, a not-for-profit organization devoted to convincing companies to comply with software licenses (it’s a real problem), the group has engaged with Tesla about its non-compliance since at least June 2013. The Model S, Tesla’s first car model that included the software, was released in June 2012.
That means it took over six years for Tesla to go from using software acquired under an open source license, to abiding by the license. It’s not entirely Tesla’s fault that it took so long. As the SFC notes, some of the code Tesla uses came originally from Nvidia and Parrot, which made it a little harder for Tesla to get all of its code ducks in a row, and the code finally released by Tesla last week still isn’t entirely GPL-compliant.
But it’s a very good first step.
Tesla announced the software release in an email to people who had previously requested the code. There are two repositories available. They’ll be useful for security researchers as well as anyone hoping to put their own software into their own Teslas. They likely won’t be useful for is people who are looking to hack into Tesla’s AutoDrive software, as that was not developed under an open source license.