Busybox takes another step up GPL protection ladder

The deal piles the pressure on Verizon to settle, but the terms of the agreement, while manageable by Monsoon and Xterasys, may prove onorous to a phone company which harps on how "unapproved" software can damage its network.

Busybox logo from Busybox.net
The Software Freedom Law Center, acting on behalf of Busybox, has won a second settlement of GPL infringement charges and now faces Verizon's lawyers.

Pictured is the Busybox logo with a hint for last-minute Santas who have very small children. They will prefer the box to whatever is inside it.

At issue is embedded software in the wireless routers Verizon is distributing for its FIOS system. Actiontec added Busybox software protected under GPL Version 2 to its router, meaning all the code should be released under the terms of the license.

As in an earlier settlement with Monsoon Media, Xterasys agreed to publish the source code, appoint an Open Source Compliance Officer, notify buyers of their rights, and pay a a cash settlement.

The money will help the SFLC continue its campaign to protect GPL user rights, and could prove very useful if Verizon chooses not to make nice.

The deal piles the pressure on Verizon to settle, but the terms of the agreement, while manageable by Monsoon and Xterasys, may prove onorous to a phone company which harps on how "unapproved" software can damage its network.

An agreement to distribute ActionTec source code to past and current FIOS users could open up the Verizon network to hacking, the phone company might argue, and any action should be directed at the router maker, not the re-seller.

If Verizon plays hardball it could easily win even while losing, since it could use that time to replace the ActionTec routers in its channel with non-GPL code. I don't know whether that would require actual unit replacement or a simple firmware upgrade.

On the other hand, fighting the SFLC now means fighting, not just against precedent, but against public opinion. Verizon, as a giant utility, may find that fight more costly than any settlement the SFLC lawyers propose.

It's a lump of coal in Verizon's stocking, but how big won't be known until next year.

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