Just as quickly as it began, the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) has announced today that an agreement has been reached to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Erik Andersen and Rob Landley, two of the principal developers of the popular BusyBox set of open source utilities, against Monsoon Multimedia, Inc. alleging a violation of version 2 of the GNU General Public License (GPL). In the agreement to dismiss the lawsuit, the SFLC is reporting that Monsoon Multimedia has agreed to appoint an “Open Source Compliance Officer” within its organization “to monitor and ensure GPL compliance, to publish the source code for the version of BusyBox it previously distributed on its web site, and to undertake substantial efforts to notify previous recipients of BusyBox from Monsoon Multimedia of their rights to the software under the GPL.” The SFLC reports that the settlement also includes an “undisclosed amount” of financial consideration paid by Monsoon Multimedia to the plaintiffs.
The settlement is certainly a benefit for the parties involved in that it helps them move forward from what could have been a costly and prolonged litigation. However, while the BusyBox lawsuit will remain significant as first lawsuit ever filed in the U.S. based directly on a violation of the GPL, the settlement itself appears to have done little to advance the law surrounding the enforceability and interpretation of the GPL and open source licenses in general. Indeed, based on the research I did for my presentation on “Open Source License Enforcement Actions” at the Open Source Business Conference (OSBC) earlier this year, the terms of the settlement appear to be very standard and to closely track those sought by the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and other enforcers of the GPL in past out of court settlements. As a result, those of us in the open source legal community who had hoped that the BusyBox lawsuit might begin the process of establishing the type of binding legal precedent regarding the enforceability and legal interpretation of the GPL here in the U.S. that has begun to occur in Germany and other countries are once again left empty handed. Stay tuned, however, as this is likely not the last lawsuit we will see here in the U.S. to enforce the terms of the GPL.