It was announced earlier today that the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) has filed a lawsuit on behalf of two of its clients alleging copyright infringement based on a violation of version 2 of the GNU General Public License (GPL). This lawsuit is significant in that it represents the first lawsuit ever filed in the U.S. based directly on a violation of the GPL.
The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against Monsoon Multimedia, Inc. on behalf of Erik Andersen and Rob Landley. Messrs. Andersen and Landley are two of the principal developers of BusyBox, a popular set of open source utilities commonly used in embedded systems and often referred to as “The Swiss Army Knife of Embedded Linux.” Monsoon Multimedia is a provider of, among other things, digital video and multimedia products and technology. It should come as no surprise that Monsoon’s products include quite a bit of embedded software.
The complaint itself alleges that Monsoon has violated the GPL by distributing elements of the BusyBox software as part of Monsoon’s own products without ensuring that each downstream recipient of the products is provided with access to the source code of the BusyBox software. In this regard, the case alleges a fairly straight-forward GPL violation relying on the core “copyleft” requirements of the GPL — namely, that anyone distributing software licensed under the GPL must make a copy of the source code to that software available to recipients of the software. The SFLC claims that Monsoon Multimedia’s own web site publicly acknowledges that Monsoon’s products contain elements of the BusyBox software, but that Monsoon has not provided any recipients of those products with access to the underlying BusyBox source code, as is required by the GPL. The complaint requests that damages and litigation costs be awarded to the plaintiffs and seeks an injunction against Monsoon Multimedia.
While lawsuits have previously been brought in Germany and other countries successfully enforcing the GPL (and even obtaining injunctions against violators of the GPL), this is the first such lawsuit to be filed in a court in the U.S. That said, it is worth noting that this case is still in its very early stages, and we will have to wait for additional facts to emerge as Monsoon responds to the complaint and additional filings are made in the case. At this point it really remains to be seen whether the case will ultimately progress to the point where it results in any binding legal precedent regarding the GPL or whether it will settle out of court. This is, however, likely not the last we have heard from this case. Stay tuned. . .
[For those interested in the details, the lawsuit is titled Erik Andersen and Rob Landley v. Monsoon Multimedia Inc., case number 07-CV-8205 and will be heard by Senior District Judge John E. Sprizzo of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.]