BT accused of GPL violation

The Freedom Taskforce Foundation is investigating claims that BT is in breach of the General Public License with its Home Hub product
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

UK telecoms firm BT has upset some members of the open-source community after it used software that had been released under the GNU General Public License (GPL) in one of its latest commercial products, but did not immediately release the code to the public.

Under the terms of the GPL, if a company uses GPL-licensed code in one of its products, it must also make the source code available under the GPL.

BT has now admitted that its Home Hub product — a wireless router for the home market — contains GPL-licensed software. The Home Hub went on sale last year, but BT only started offering this code for download from its website on Monday 22 January.

It appears that the catalyst for this move was a complaint made on 5 January, 2007 to gpl-violations.org, a project that tries to prevent companies abusing the GPL.

A BT spokesman said on Tuesday that the telco was now complying with its obligations under the GPL.

"The code is now available for anyone who wants to modify their Home Hub," the BT spokesman told ZDNet UK. "We apologise for the oversight in not publishing the code in line with the GPL earlier."

This code includes versions of Busybox, a Linux distribution fine-tuned for running on communications devices and other appliances.

The BT spokesman added that the company has used GPL code before, in products such as its Voyager ADSL routers, and had released this code back to the community.

However, BT hasn't satisfied everyone by making the Home Hub code available. The Freedom Task Force (FTF), part of the Free Software Foundation Europe, is investigating claims that BT has failed to also offer the scripts needed to compile the code.

This claim was made on the Home Hub Blog, which also made the initial complaint to gpl-violations.org.

Shane Coughlan, FTF co-ordinator, told ZDNet UK that this claim is now being looked into.

"There's no concrete investigation yet," Coughlan told ZDNet UK, explaining that gpl-violations.org is looking to see if BT's release contains everything needed to compile the software into firmware.

"BT appears to have released bits and pieces of code, but to fully comply with the GPL we need to be able put those bits and pieces into a piece of firmware," Coughlan explained.

Several companies have been accused of violating the GPL in the past, including D-Link, which lost a court case brought by gpl-violations.org over claims that it had infringed the GPL through its use of the Linux kernel.

Coughlan said that the Home Hub case was unusual, because BT had been very quick to release its code.

When a company violates GPL code, the software developers or companies who own the copyright on those specific pieces of code may have a case against them.

Coughlan emphasised, though, that gpl-violations.org is primarily interested in ensuring compliance with the GPL, rather than in seeking financial compensation when infringements occur.

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