GPL will get its day in court

GPL will get its day in court

Summary: The Software Freedom Law Center says it has filed the first ever U.S.


The Software Freedom Law Center says it has filed the first ever U.S. copyright infringement lawsuit based on the GNU General Public License.

The Software Freedom Law Center (SLFC) said Thursday it is filing the lawsuit (see complaint, statement and Techmeme) against Monsoon Multimedia on behalf of the two developers behind BusyBox, described as a "lightweight set of standard Unix utilities commonly used in embedded systems and is open source software licensed under GPL version 2."

The crux of the case seems to be this:

One of the conditions of the GPL is that re-distributors of BusyBox are required to ensure that each downstream recipient is provided access to the source code of the program. On the company's own Web site, Monsoon Multimedia has publicly acknowledged that its products and firmware contain BusyBox. However, it has not provided any recipients with access to the underlying source code, as is required by the GPL.

In other words, Monsoon took the goods, but just isn't sharing.

The complaint seeks and injunction, damages and litigation costs. What'll be really interesting is watching how potential damages will be calculated given the code is supposed to be open and the software is free.

In the complaint the SLFC tried to contact Monsoon, but the company didn't reply. Usually these matters are handled with a letter.

Topics: Open Source, Legal, Software

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  • SP?

    [i]Software Freedom Law Center (SLFC)[/i]

    Shouldn't that be SFLC not SLFC. You used the latter twice.
  • I doubt they signed any contract

    Personally, I don't think ANY company should be able to publish a contract and claim that it is valid. If we don't mutually agree there is no contract. I don't think my Internet provider, phone provider, cable company, financial adviser, software vendor, etc. should be able to do this. So why should Software Freedom Law Center or BusyBox be different? You might make the case that their code is not "free" at all - they want you to jump through THEIR hoops to use it. Meet the new boss - same as the old boss.
    • The thing is...

      ...the GPL is the only thing that authorizes people to copy the software at all; if you don't accept the license then the software is "all rights reserved" and only fair use exceptions to copyright apply. Monsoon certainly didn't have to use BusyBox (there are other alternatives, after all), but if they did, then they have to follow the rules.
      John L. Ries
    • 17 USC

      [i]If we don't mutually agree there is no contract.[/i]

      Quite right. So by all means ignore Microsoft's EULA.

      In the meantime, though, that means that Monsoon is violating the copyright on BusyBox. Statutory damages and all that.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Judges take a dim view of people playing stupid. If you are going to use

      somebody else's software to build your system, you better be checking the license. You can not claim that you did not know there would be a license.

      Kind of like copying a book and claiming you did not realize it was copyrighted, and further, you never signed a contract. That would not get you very far with a judge.
      • That remains to be seen...

        Many, many people have questioned software EULAs being binding under US law. (Not just GPL, ALL EULAs) Looks like we may get to see it put to the real test.
        • EULAs don't enter into it

          It won't get into EULAs. This is about copying and distribution without a license.
          • Afraid not.

            Read the complaint, it is all based on violation of the GPL.
          • Re: Afraid not.

            [i]Read the complaint, it is all based on violation of the GPL.[/i]

            Which is not a EULA.

            none none
          • A rose by any other name

            Hey, you can call it macoroni ans stick a feather in it, what you call it doesn't matter at all.
          • But, this court case has NOTHING to do with END USERS.

            So, end user license agreement is really not appropriate. The GPL does apply to end users, but, most of the requirements do not apply to end users. In that case you are basically only granting rights. So maybe better to in that case call it an end user RIGHTS GRANT (EURG)
          • Not quite the same

            Commercial EULAs typically regulate both copying and usage. The GNU GPL regulates only copying, including distribution of derivative works, explicitly imposing no restrictions on usage. There is no question that copyright holders are allowed to govern how covered material is redistributed; it's much less clear that they are also allowed to say how covered works are used.

            I think there are a number of people who would like a ruling that if a copyright holder makes source code publicly available without charge, it's the the equivalent of releasing it into the public domain, but that's not at all likely.
            John L. Ries
          • Re: Not quite the same

            [i]I think there are a number of people who would like a ruling that if a copyright holder makes source code publicly available without charge, it's the the equivalent of releasing it into the public domain, but that's not at all likely.[/i]

            I agree it's not likely. It's not desirable, either. You couldn't say "source code," you'd have to say "work."

            There are a lot of works being given away for marketing. For example if they give away Spiderman stickers at the mall, have they released Spidey into the public domain?

            none none
          • Technically they are the same

            EULA and GPL are both licenses for copying. The fact the EULA has a ton more restrictions is the only difference.
          • But, this is nothing about END USERS. This is about a company using

            copyrighted code to build a product for use by end users. Just because you find some code on the net and use it does NOT relieve you of any responsibility. It is YOUR responsibility to check copyrights and make sure you have permission. In this case, you only get permission if you follow the GPL.
        • Re: That remains to be seen...

          [i](Not just GPL, ALL EULAs)[/i]

          The GPL isn't a EULA. I know, it's amusing to think that it is, but we're all adults here. Let's get our facts straight.

          Speaking of amusing, I was quite amused by ye's [url=]post from a while back[/url] that shows the awful lengths to which GPL-hostile zealots will go in ordor to avoid the fact.

          "It just so happens, as I said, that the license is very favorable to the end user. Perhaps if I state it like this:

          I have to agree that I don't have to agree to anything in order to use the software.

          The reality is I have to agree to those terms no matter how foolish such an agreement appears to be."

          That one killed me!

          none none
          • Sorry but you are wrong.

            Gawd I wish you folks would read the actual complaint.
          • Re: Sorry but you are wrong.

            [i]Gawd I wish you folks would read the actual complaint.[/i]

            A complaint doesn't make a duck a chicken. Nor the GPL a EULA.

            The GPL was not a EULA before the complaint was filed and it's still not a EULA.

            none none
          • If you call the GPL a leg

            Then how many legs does Ubuntu have?

            Abraham Lincoln had the answer to that.
            Yagotta B. Kidding
          • Dude, your lame argument woin't mean

            shat to the courts. If you base you complaint on it then you are basing it on the license for the end user. Hence, EULA.

            One only hopes the people bringing the suit have more on the ball than you seem to have.