Just don't call it trolling, Verizon

Just don't call it trolling, Verizon

Summary: Once it has reduced its liability to the minimum its lawyers are comfortable with, Verizon will settle. Expect that to happen long before this hits a courtroom.

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TOPICS: Networking, Verizon
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ActionTec router used by VerizonThe Software Freedom Law Center has sued Verizon on behalf of Busybox.

Busybox wrote a Linux application, under the GPL, which Verizon used in a wireless router it provides users of its FIOS service, which promises faster speed in exchange for cutting users' copper and tieing them to Verizon forever.

This is the fourth such suit by the SFLC this year. I wrote about the first, against Monsoon Multimedia, and as predicted that suit was settled quickly. Two others, against Xterasys and High-Gain Antennas, remain pending.

The relief being sought is that buyers of the router be given the source code for the software inside them. The GPL requires this.

Were I to guess here, Verizon will try first to get taken out of the case, saying it should have only been filed against ActionTec, which supplied the routers. 

Meanwhile, it will likely replace those routers with Linksys gear -- they make several non-Linux routers.  This will not be trivial as the editors of Fibercrap, from whom the above picture of an ActionTec router is taken, explain here.

But non-trivial and impossible are two entirely different concepts, as any engineer worth their pocket protector (and secret stash of Dexter's Lab cartoons) will tell you.

Once it has reduced its liability to the minimum its lawyers are comfortable with, Verizon will settle. Expect that to happen long before this hits a courtroom.

Getting back to the headline, this is not trolling. Trolling involves buying patent rights and suing the market. The SPLC is enforcing license terms on copyright agreements. The first is a patent case from someone not testing their claims in the market, the second is a contract case brought by a successful market participant.

Besides, copyrights last longer.

Topics: Networking, Verizon

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28 comments
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  • Hmm..

    So that's why Verizon support technicians clam up the second you mention you use Linux.
    kozmcrae
  • It's quite possible...

    ...that Verizon is right on this and that the Busybox developers and SFLC have overreached. I'm not at all sure I'd like a precedent that holds the unwitting purchasers of illegally copied material liable for copyright infringement.
    John L. Ries
    • OK. I'm now given to understand...

      ...that the FSLC considers Actiontec to now be in compliance, but alleges that Verizon has not followed suit (as quoted by Groklaw).
      If that's the case, then the lawsuit makes a lot more sense.
      John L. Ries
  • What Linksys routers?....

    Who'da thunk?....
    [pre]
    dietrich@linux-eftd:~> ssh root@192.168.1.2
    DD-WRT v23 SP2 voip (c) 2006 NewMedia-NET GmbH
    Release: 09/15/06 (SVN revision: 3932)
    root@192.168.1.2's password:
    ==========================================================

    ____ ___ __ ______ _____ ____ _____
    | _ \| _ \ \ \ / / _ \_ _| __ _|___ \|___ /
    || | || ||____\ \ /\ / /| |_) || | \ \ / / __) | |_ \
    ||_| ||_||_____\ V V / | _ < | | \ V / / __/ ___) |
    |___/|___/ \_/\_/ |_| \_\|_| \_/ |_____|____/

    DD-WRT v23 SP2
    http://www.dd-wrt.com

    ==========================================================


    DD-WRT VeryBusyBox v1.2.1 (2006.09.15-18:34+0000) Built-in shell (ash)
    Enter 'help' for a list of built-in commands.

    [/pre]

    [i]Why[/i] Verizon would opt to go with [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wrt54gl]Linksys router technology[/url] is beyond me!

    Anyone? Bueler? ;)


    Ah hem.
    D T Schmitz
    • DD-WRT - An affront to the good will of the F/OSS community

      [url=http://www.bitsum.com/about-ddwrt.htm]FYI[/url]

      Is there anything wrong with making money by forking? No--so long as you give the appropriate attribution.

      DD-WRT is a lesson.
      D T Schmitz
      • It's not an affront

        Writing proprietary code that runs on top of GPL code is not a violation of GPL. The FSF and their amen corner are anti-profit except for themselves when shaking down companies like High Gain Antenna and Actiontec who provide source code, or for chastising TiVo for profiting from open source.

        Let me elaborate further, too, on what I wrote yesterday and why I think Dana is wrong that Verizon will settle financially. Verizon has the resources to make sure they're not forced into becoming software distributors penny-ante clauses in what is a licensing scheme which defies hundreds of years of established copyright law and the anal-retentive zealots who peddle said licensing scheme. It will cost them about the same either way -- this is a matter they can win in the courts.

        Why? Because Verizon doesn't make the hardware. They don't program the firmware. The company that does offers the source code. That's where it starts and ends.

        Who's next in the SFLC's crosshairs? Cell phone manufacturers play by their silly rules. But do the vendors of those phones? What about used phone re-sellers? Do they have to run software repositories and distribute code of the versions on their devices?

        The problem with the FSF/SFLC leading the charge for open source is they're a hindrance to adoption. It would be far easier for manufacturers and distributors to buy licenses from single sources -- like Microsoft -- and not have to worry about running a freaking GNU mirror with every available version of every open source project that might or might not be used on their devices.

        But at the end of the day, you don't have two diametrically-opposed models of software distribution. You have one. There are two sides of it, just like a coin. They both place demands on their users. They both use lawyers and the courts to harass users.

        Which one is more business friendly? Increasingly, it's looking like closed-source is (leaving BSD/MIT licenses out of the equation). Why? Because the FSF/SFLC are anti-profit, anti-corporation.
        lucky 13
        • You're right and wrong

          [i]Why? Because Verizon doesn't make the hardware. They don't program the firmware. The company that does offers the source code. That's where it starts and ends.[/i]

          On Verizon, you're right only in that paragraph up until "That's where it starts and ends". Supposing that Verizon doesn't modify the firmware in question at all, they're still distributing it as part of their FiOS package. That makes them a distributor beholden to the license. It could be as simple as pointing to the ActionTec source page. If Verizon did modify the code, then they have to provide the source changes themselves, no excuses.
          Tony Agudo
        • What an absolute load of...

          Asides from neither the FSF or the SFLC being anti-profit, here's what I got from this comment.

          [b]"*whine*whine*whine*

          I can't take someone's Copyrighted work and make a load of money off it without ever having to give anything back, I can't use people as slave labour, I can't use other people's Copyrighted work without their permission. I should have everything I want no matter what anyone else thinks *whine*whine*bitch*bitch*moan*"[/b]

          I thought, as a proprietary software fan, you were supposed to [u]respect[/u] other people's IP, not walk all over it at the first opportunity. You don't work for the CBI do you?
          odubtaig
        • Au contraire

          Try typing 'busybox' from your dd-wrt router shell prompt.

          The signon shows 'verybusybox' but it is busybox. This forked firmware runs on [url=http://www.dd-wrt.com/wiki/index.php/Supported_Devices]many routers[/url]. Here again is the terminal window cut and paste:

          [pre][b]
          dietrich@linux-eftd:~> ssh root@192.168.1.2
          DD-WRT v23 SP2 voip (c) 2006 NewMedia-NET GmbH
          Release: 09/15/06 (SVN revision: 3932)
          root@192.168.1.2's password:
          ==========================================================

          ____ ___ __ ______ _____ ____ _____
          | _ \| _ \ \ \ / / _ \_ _| __ _|___ \|___ /
          || | || ||____\ \ /\ / /| |_) || | \ \ / / __) | |_ \
          ||_| ||_||_____\ V V / | _ < | | \ V / / __/ ___) |
          |___/|___/ \_/\_/ |_| \_\|_| \_/ |_____|____/

          DD-WRT v23 SP2
          http://www.dd-wrt.com

          ==========================================================


          DD-WRT VeryBusyBox v1.2.1 (2006.09.15-18:34+0000) Built-in shell (ash)
          Enter 'help' for a list of built-in commands.

          ~ # busybox
          DD-WRT VeryBusyBox v1.2.1 (2006.09.15-18:34+0000) multi-call binary

          Usage: busybox [function] [arguments]...
          or: [function] [arguments]...

          BusyBox is a multi-call binary that combines many common Unix
          utilities into a single executable. Most people will create a
          link to busybox for each function they wish to use and BusyBox
          will act like whatever it was invoked as!

          Currently defined functions:
          [, [[, adjtimex, ash, awk, basename, busybox, cat, chgrp, chmod, chown, chroot, clear, cmp, cp, cut, date, dc, dd, df, dirname,
          dmesg, du, echo, egrep, env, expr, false, fgrep, find, free, ftpget, ftpput, getopt, grep, gunzip, gzip, halt, head, hexdump,
          hostname, id, ifconfig, ifdown, ifup, insmod, install, kill, killall, klogd, less, ln, logger, login, logread, ls, lsmod,
          md5sum, mesg, mkdir, mke2fs, mkfifo, mkfs.ext2, mkfs.ext3, more, mount, mv, nameif, nc, netstat, nslookup, pidof, ping, pivot_root,
          poweroff, printf, ps, pwd, reboot, reset, rm, rmdir, rmmod, route, run-parts, rx, sed, sh, sleep, sort, strings, sync, syslogd,
          tail, tar, tee, telnet, telnetd, test, time, top, touch, tr, traceroute, true, tty, umount, uname, uniq, uptime, usleep,
          uudecode, uuencode, vconfig, vi, watch, wc, wget, which, whoami, xargs, yes, zcat

          ~ #
          [/b][/pre]
          D T Schmitz
      • RE: Just don't call it trolling, Verizon

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        gameaccessories
  • it's not trolling, it's bull...

    Actiontec already offers the code:
    http://opensource.actiontec.com/index.html

    So does High Gain Antenna but that didn't stop the FSF/SFLC lawyers from trying to shake them down. Face it, the FSF/SFLC are more trigger happy than Microsoft, Apple, and RIAA combined.
    lucky 13
    • As distributors, Verizon [u]also[/u] have to provide the code.

      All Verizon have to do, as distributors, is provide a copy of the exact source code used for the firmware per Secion 3 of GPLv2.

      [b]As distributors, Verizon are <u>obliged</u> under Section 3 of GPLv2 to "Accompany it with the complete corresponding machine-readable source code, which must be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange or accompany it with a written offer, valid for at least three years, to give any third party, for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code, to be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange"[/b].

      It's not brain surgery children, it's compliance with the GPL. It's not like it take a colossal amount of effort.

      High Gain Antennas only coughed up the source code [u]after[/u] the suit was filed (http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20071122-software-freedom-law-center-files-more-busybox-gpl-infringement-suits.html) so, really, that counts so little it's painful.
      odubtaig
      • blah blah blah

        How many actual Verizon customers ask for the source? How many of them have been unable to find it from the vendor from which it was obtained? Why is it unacceptable for those who resell equipment -- all the way to used phones and PDAs -- to link where the source used is available rather than maintain their own repositories? Seriously, will the FSF/SFLC lawyers go after people who sell used Linux-based phones on craigslist if they don't offer source and maintain a repository of every byte of open source code that may or may not be on their phones? It's not a ridiculous analogy. Verizon's not making money off hardware, they make money off subscriptions to the service. The people making a living off the hardware are now in compliance.

        "But the license says..." -- that's why I wrote it's anal retentive and why I wrote that FSF/SFLC are more onerous than Microsoft, Apple, and RIAA combined.

        The biggest barrier to open source adoption is those who are leading the advocacy of it. You don't want more adoption of it?

        As far as the timing in the High Gain allegations, the FSF lawyers were asking for money on the first call even after High Gain said they were already in compliance:

        Richard Bruckner, CEO of High-Gain Antennas, said the SFLC is mistaken about the GPL violation. The company, which makes wireless broadband antennas and related products, uses firmware from a company called Edimax, not BusyBox, and makes the source code available, at the request of customers, he said. Bruckner said he tried to explain the situation in a conference call with SFLC officials but was hung up on. During that first conversation SFLC was ?already asking for money,? he said. ?What they need to do is get their act together and read the source code.? If the SFLC doesn?t end its threats, High-Gain Antennas may file a countersuit, Bruckner added.
        http://lucky13linux.wordpress.com/2007/11/22/fsf-tries-another-shakedown-one-victim-company-already-offers-source-code/
        lucky 13
        • Give them an inch...

          [b]How many actual Verizon customers ask for the source?[/b]

          Irrelevant. If exactly one customer asks for the source they should be able to get it from them. It's not exactly difficult to comply so why anyone has a problem with doing so is beyond me. It's simple. You don't take a CD out of a store without paying money for it and you don't distribute GPLed software without complying with the GPL. Verizon have been made fully aware of the requirements and are still not complying despite it being stupidly easy to do so.

          Next you'll be telling me it's anally retentive that I can't just use Microsoft's reference licensed source code in any software I like.

          [b]As far as the timing in the High Gain allegations, the FSF lawyers were asking for money on the first call even after High Gain said they were already in compliance:[/b]

          1) Actiontec complied on first notification and are thus not being sued so the claim that they were 'asking for money on the first call' is dubious at best. According to the suit filed by SFLC, High Gain were notified both by a 3rd party and by the authors of Busybox in 2006 of the problem.

          Note: FSF and SFLC are separate entities. Eben Moglen specifically left the FSF to set up the SFLC as a separate entity. Do your homework.

          2) It's rare for an infringing party to admit guilt in the first instance so, what, because High Gain say they're innocent it must be true? Good thing we didn't apply that line of thinking to Ted Bundy.

          3) I just downloaded the firmware source from http://www.aprouter.com.br/firmware/firmware-source.zip unzipped and untarred the included rtl-11g-ap-GPL.tar.bz2. What should I find in there but a subdirectory called rtl-11g-GPL/AP/busybox-1.01? Oh no, no busybox source code in there, course not. Seems a little legal action can achieve wonders.

          Conclusion: I smell something that's almost certainly from the back end of a bull.
          odubtaig
          • it IS available

            ...from the manufacturer. Why is it insufficient for the extremists' tastes for compliance to be limited to where it was installed?

            Verizon aren't software vendors or distributors. Do they install anything on these routers? If not, it should be adequate that they refer anyone who has such a unit and who wants the source to the vendor.

            Rather than becoming a software mirror, I wouldn't be surprised if Verizon specs that GPL software not be used in the products they make available to their ISP customers. How does THAT kind of result help open source adoption?
            lucky 13
          • That's fine.

            If Copyright is not enforced exactly there's a risk of losing the Copyright by being seen not to enforce it strictly enough.

            Verizon have gained a monetarily cheaper piece of hardware and seem unwilling to abide by the rules under which they were allowed to do so.

            If they do not abide by the terms of the license agreement, they [u]may not[/u] redistribute the software in any form, including preloaded onto a router.

            If they're unwilling to comply, they can seek another source for the software on the routers they are leasing.

            [b]Rather than becoming a software mirror, I wouldn't be surprised if Verizon specs that GPL software not be used in the products they make available to their ISP customers. How does THAT kind of result help open source adoption?[/b]

            By making damn sure it can't just be incorporated into proprietary products. There is a reason so many developers prefer the GPL over any other open source license, it makes it very clear that no-one's allowed to just stick in their closed source program and use extra code around it to lock in users. It doesn't so much help Free Software adoption as prevent it being misused. Clearly you have a different view but there are some kinds of adoption I could do without.
            odubtaig
          • Not enforced strictly *enough*?

            **COUGH!**

            Talk about a red herring. There's zero chance that anyone would construe the use of BusyBox in a device under which the *manufacturer* of the device offers code in full compliance with the GPL. Unless Verizon changes that GPLed software, the GPL due diligence is complete when the manufacturer makes the source available to those who ask for it.

            "Verizon have gained" -- we're back to the issue of profit, which GNU/FSF/SFLC oppose. TiVo has been a model citizen when it comes to open source, yet they're criticized and even get a clause "anti-"named after them in GPLv3. Why? Because they're corporate, because they profit. In the scheme of GNU/FSF/SFLC, that's the target -- not whether code is locked up or not, but the profit motive is what they find most objectionable.

            "[S]eem unwilling to abide by the rules" -- no, they don't believe they're distributing code. They're distributing hardware. Its manufacturer makes the relevant source available. That's adequate.

            I can get the GPLed source for my phone from Samsung. I don't expect the girl at the phone store where I bought it to even know what GPL means, much less to know what source code is. I don't expect the middlemen from whom she buys phones to give me source. I don't expect my phone company to, either. It's a Samsung phone, they offer the source. Why is that not good enough?

            There's zero chance in any court that I can get away with saying the various projects whose code is on my phone aren't doing due diligence and I can therefore infringe on their rights just because the sales girl, the store where she worked, the company that owns it, the distributors who supply their phones, the buyers for the distributors who get them from Samsung, or my phone company or any of its agents don't offer the source code. Samsung does. That's sufficient.

            And that's why Verizon would prevail if it were to go to court. I don't think FSF/SFLC really want a trial with anyone. They have a lot more to lose than to gain, especially since the courts aren't filled with the kind of revolutionary thinking that prevails among GPL zealots.

            I stand by my remarks about GPL advocates being anal retentive anti-capitalists. FWIW, not all open source is GPL. The most successful open source isn't GPL -- Apache, Mozilla, etc. There are much more realistic programmers who use GPLv2 and object to GPLv3 -- including Linus Torvalds. He's not alone. A recent survey found 43% of GPL projects have no intention of adopting GPLv3. The more the GNU/FSF/SFLC folks show their true colors (pink, red), I don't think there are quite as many GPL fans as you think there are...
            http://biz.yahoo.com/bw/070925/20070925006182.html
            http://www.freebsdfoundation.org/press/2007Aug-newsletter.shtml
            etc.
            lucky 13
          • You don't get to decide what's infringement.

            [b]Unless Verizon changes that GPLed software, the GPL due diligence is complete when the manufacturer makes the source available to those who ask for it.[/b]

            Which they haven't done, despite offering firmware upgrade downloads. What was that about 'becoming a software mirror'?

            [b]"Verizon have gained" -- we're back to the issue of profit, which GNU/FSF/SFLC oppose.[/b]

            Again, no. It's exploitation, breach of Copyright and freeloading that are opposed. You want to use my code, you can pay me or you can give something back. I fail to see where 'pay me or give me something in return' is anti-profit. It's certainly not anti-[i]my[/i]-profit. It's called 'I don't give my work away for free so some other guy can sit on his arse and make money from it without giving me a penny'. I don't do slave labour and if that's 'anti-profit' then so be it.

            [b]There's zero chance in any court that I can get away with saying the various projects...[/b]

            Reductio ad absurdum.

            [b]TiVo has been a model citizen when it comes to open source, yet they're criticized and even get a clause "anti-"named after them in GPLv3. Why?[/b]

            Try reading the clause, there's a big clue right in there. The whole point of the GPL is that the user has freedom to copy, modify, redistribute, etc. the software and that this freedom can not be taken away, the Tivo took the freedom to modify by only accepting binaries with a specific signature. If they'd allowed only a proprietary program on top of the GPL firmware to access certain functions there would have been no issue but what they did stayed strictly within the letter of the GPL while violating one of its core principles.

            Hence it's the anti-tivo-isation clause, because they did it first.

            [b]And that's why Verizon would prevail if it were to go to court. I don't think FSF/SFLC really want a trial with anyone. They have a lot more to lose than to gain[/b]

            Hang on, yesterday they were out to rip companies off, now they don't really want a fight? Well, you're right the second time but not for those reasons.

            [b]I stand by my remarks about GPL advocates being anal retentive anti-capitalists.[/b]

            That's because you'd have seen the abolition of slavery in the USA as anti-capitalist and anti-profit.

            [b]FWIW, not all open source is GPL. The most successful open source isn't GPL -- Apache, Mozilla, etc.[/b]

            That's two, one of which is quad licensed including GPLv2 and BSD.

            [b]There are much more realistic programmers who use GPLv2 and object to GPLv3 -- including Linus Torvalds.[/b]

            Yeah, he objects to DRM software producers not being allowed to claim their software actually does anything to stop piracy. Of all the battles to pick, that has to be the dumbest.

            [b]He's not alone. A recent survey found 43% of GPL projects have no intention of adopting GPLv3.[/b]

            All the same things are being said that were being said about GPLv2 when it arrived.

            The more the GNU/FSF/SFLC folks show their true colors (pink, red), I don't think there are quite as many GPL fans as you think there are...
            odubtaig
        • RE: blah blah blah

          >>>How many actual Verizon customers ask for the source?<<<

          It doesn't matter if NO ONE asks for the source. They are required to provide it. Period. This is not rocket science.
          joe6pack_z
          • Bzzzt, wrong.

            They're required to *MAKE IT AVAILABLE*. It is already available from the firm from whom Verizon buys the units, and that's where it should end. They're not obligated to include the source with the product.

            Back to my example of re-selling used phones and PDAs. Where does it end? Will FSF/SFLC (they belong joined together because there's no separation of ideology or of purpose) go after people who sell their ____ cell phones that have various and sundry GPL-based code but who don't supply it AT ALL to people who buy from them? Are we going to require grandmas who sell their old phones or donate them to charity to provide source code (if they even know what it is) just to comply with GPL? Or is it sufficient that Phone Manufacturing Company maintains the source code?

            I didn't get source for software on my phone from the store that sold it to me, I got it from Samsung. The store had nothing to do with the software on the phone. Nada! The manufacturer of the phone did. And the manufacturer complies with the GPL. That should be adequate because the store isn't a software distributor, just a retailer.

            And in comparison, Verizon's not a software vendor or distributor; they're an ISP and they make certain hardware available to their customers.

            Will FSF/SFLC go after electronics stores and online retailers that sell Linux-based phones? If not, why should it be any different for any other distributor of any other kind of hardware?
            lucky 13