BT under fire over GPL 'violation'

Update: The Freedom Task Force has started contacting Linux copyright holders over BT's use of software released under the GPL
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

BT is in dispute with some in the open-source community over its use of GPL-licensed code in its Home Hub router.

As reported earlier this week, BT was recently accused of violating the GPL through its use of open-source software within the Home Hub. Under the terms of the GPL it must make this source code freely available.

After a complaint was made to gpl-violations.org, the organisation that ensures compliance with the GPL, BT uploaded several pieces of software to its website. It insisted on Thursday that it has fully complied, but this claim is being disputed by the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE).

The FSFE's Freedom Task Force unit has now begun contacting the software developers who own the copyright within the Linux kernel, and other pieces of open-source software such as the Samba file and print application, to tell them that BT is infringing the GPL.

The gpl-violations.org team has examined the code that BT uploaded, and concluded that it cannot be used by developers.

"Some things are still missing. For example, a top-level Makefile and the scripts that would be used to properly generate a firmware image," explained Shane Coughlan, FTF co-ordinator. I did speak with BT on the phone and I emailed them. However, the reaction was not entirely co-operative. That's a pity."

Coughlan explained that: "One of the terms of the licence is that you either distribute the source code with the product using the binary code, or you include with the product a written offer to provide the source code on a physical media used for data exchange... BT have released a partial copy of the source code on a website. That's not adhering to the terms of the GNU GPL."

After uploading five pieces of software to its site on Monday 22 January, BT later uploaded a sixth — a kernel configuration file. Despite the FTF's concerns, the telco does not seem willing to release any more code.

"We released the kernel config file yesterday, which was a genuine oversight on our part. There is no more code to release, and hence we believe we have discharged our obligations to the GPL," said a BT spokesman.

BT later reiterated its insistance that it has not broken the GPL, pointing out that the Home Hub was manufactured by telecoms manufacturer Thomson.

"The BT Home Hub is developed by Thomson on the basis of a Linux kernel (version which is released under the General Public License v.2 in connection with proprietary binary kernel module and proprietary user space application. The binary module is based on proprietary software of Thomson (or of its licensors) and is subject to proprietary license terms. Thomson's use of the Linux kernel and kernel modules is in conformity with the terms of the GPL and complies with any of its obligations as a user and distributor of GPL code," the BT spokesman added.

Companies that violate the GPL run the risk of being taken to court. Coughlan emphasised that gpl-violations.org is primarily interested in ensuring that everyone who uses GPL-licensed code complies with the licence, rather than wanting to extract financial compensation.

Editorial standards