BusyBox Settlement #2

The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) has announced that it has reached an agreement to settle and 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 Xterasys Corporation (a manufacturer of wireless routers and other networking products) alleging a violation of version 2 of the GNU General Public License (GPL). This leaves two pending suits by Andersen and Landley, against High-Gain Antennas, LLC (a manufacturer of antennas and other products for use in wireless networking applications) and telecommunications giant Verizon Communications.

As was the case with the settlement with Monsoon Multimedia, Inc., the terms of the Xterasys settlement were not released. However, based on the SFLC press release regarding the settlement, the terms appear to be nearly identical to those in the Monsoon case. While this is yet another case in which we will not see the establishment of binding legal precedent regarding the enforceability and legal interpretation of the GPL here in the U.S. (as has already taken place in Germany), it does appear that we are starting to see the establishment by the SFLC of a de facto precedent for settling cases alleging violations of the GPL. In each of its settlements to date, the SFLC has consistently imposed the following requirements on the defendant:

– The appoint an “Open Source Compliance Officer” to monitor and ensure GPL compliance;

– Publishing of the source code for the version of BusyBox previously distributed in violation of the GPL;

– Undertaking “substantial” efforts to notify previous recipients of BusyBox of their rights to the software under the GPL; and

– The payment of an “undisclosed amount” of financial consideration to the plaintiffs.

Of course, these settlement terms do not carry with them the same legal precedent as would a decision of a court of law. As a practical matter, however, by imposing a consistent set of settlement terms over time, the SFLC has begun to create a sort of standard for resolving future lawsuits alleging violations of the GPL. Defendants in future GPL violation lawsuits (and we are likely to see future suits) will not be legally bound to accept these terms and certainly will be free to attempt to forge their own paths to settlement. However, over time, the terms imposed by the SFLC are likely to represent an increasingly strong lure to those defendants to relatively quickly and cleanly resolve the GPL violation lawsuits against them through an accepted path of least resistance. Not legal precedent, but a strong practical guide for certain.

Stay tuned. The BusyBox cases are driving changes in the open source license enforcement landscape and open source compliance will need to evolve right along with those changes.

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