21 September 2007

Eben Gets Busy Over BusyBox

One of the things that Eben Moglen has impressed on me when I've talked to him was that he - and Richard Stallman - have always preferred to negotiate settlements in cases of alleged breaches of the GNU GPL, rather than to rush to litigation. Hitherto, that's always worked, in the US at least. So it's extremely significant that Moglen's SFLC has decided to change tactics:

The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) today announced that it has filed the first ever U.S. copyright infringement lawsuit based on a violation of the GNU General Public License (GPL) on behalf of its clients, two principal developers of BusyBox, against Monsoon Multimedia, Inc. BusyBox is a lightweight set of standard Unix utilities commonly used in embedded systems and is open source software licensed under GPL version 2.

One of the conditions of the GPL is that re-distributors of BusyBox are required to ensure that each downstream recipient is provided access to the source code of the program. On the company's own Web site, Monsoon Multimedia has publicly acknowledged that its products and firmware contain BusyBox. However, it has not provided any recipients with access to the underlying source code, as is required by the GPL.

Clearly something big is afoot, here. Perhaps Moglen thinks the time has come to establish the legal solidity of the GNU GPL once and for all, and that this is the case to do it with. It will certainly be fascinating to see how this plays out.


Peter Rock said...

Perhaps they did try to settle outside of court first but did not succeed?

I don't know. Just speculating.

glyn moody said...

From what I've read (I can't remember where), you're right, but there was no response at all to such attempts.

What's interesting is that Eben and his mates seem to have gone straight to litigation, rather than being patient as they usually are. There's a reason, I suspect....

johndrinkwater said...

Possibly: because it’s an easy to win case; and the GPL needs some… gravitas at the moment to show (legal proof, at least) companies that the GPL is enforcable, and therefore a substanially smaller legal problem for them to use?

Really couldn’t be certain at all.

glyn moody said...

That may well be the case.

Peter Rock said...

Hi Glyn,

Here's a speculative article of interest.

glyn moody said...

Thanks for that.

But given the comments there, I'm still a bit confused why this has escalated to this level so fast: the company looks like it will comply, so why bother?