In what may turn out to be an important legal precedent for the open software movement, the Software Freedom Law Center has filed the first U.S. copyright infringement lawsuit over violation of the terms of the GNU General Public License, or GPL. The SFLC’s clients? Erik Andersen and Rob Landley, the developers of BusyBox, an application which implements several Unix-like utilities for use in embedded systems. The lawsuit’s target? Monsoon Multimedia, makers of the Hava video placeshifting system, which reached retails back in July.
BusyBox is licensed under version 2 of the GPL; one of the provisions of the license is that anyone who redistributes BusyBox provides its customers with the complete BusyBox source code. Although Monsoon apparently acknowledges its products contain BusyBox, it has not passed the source code to its customers.
The complaint (PDF) requests an injunction barring Monsoon Multimedia from distributing products containing BusyBox; it also seeks damages and court costs.
"We licensed BusyBox under the GPL to give users the freedom to access and modify its source code," said Erik Andersen in a statement. "If companies will not abide by the fair terms of our license, then we have no choice but to ask our attorneys to go to court to force them to do so."
[Update 24-Sep-2007: Monsoon says it is in negotiations to resolve this dispute, and plans to publish its modified BusyBox source code on the company’s MyHava Web site. “Since we intend to and always intended to comply with all open source software license requirements, we are confident that the matter will be quickly resolved,” said Monsoon COO and Chairman, Graham Radstone, in a statement. Most industry watchers expect this suit to be resolved before it gets to court, but it is curious that the BusyBox developers and SFLC had to go so far as to bring a suit to prompt Monsoon to announce plans to release its BusyBox source code. Whether source code distribution via a product Web site is enough to satisfy the GPL terms may be another open question, although the GPL states modified source be made available to a program’s users without specifying mechanisms.]
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