BusyBox Back For More

The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) has announced that it has filed two additional lawsuits on behalf of its clients Erik Andersen and Rob Landley (the two principal developers of the BusyBox open source utility) alleging copyright infringement based on a violation of version 2 of the GNU General Public License (GPL). The defendants in these new lawsuits are Xterasys Corporation (a manufacturer of wireless routers and other networking products) and High-Gain Antennas, LLC (a manufacturer of antennas and other products for use in wireless networking applications). The lawsuits are the second and third GPL enforcement lawsuits respectively ever filed here in the U.S. The first such lawsuit, filed against Monsoon Multimedia in September of this year, was quickly settled out of court on October 30. Both of the current lawsuits were filed November 19 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The complaints in the current lawsuits are available online — “Erik Andersen and Rob Landley v. High Gain Antennas, LLC,” (case number 07-CV-10456) and “Erik Andersen and Rob Landley v. Xterasys Corporation” (case number 07-CV-10455). In substance, the current complaints read very similarly to the complaint filed in the Monsoon Media suit. Each of the current complaints alleges that the defendant continued to distribute BusyBox in violation of the GPL (and applicable copyright law) without also distributing the source code for BusyBox, despite having been contacted by SFLC. Each complaint likewise seeks an injunction against the defendant and requests that damages and litigation costs be awarded to the plaintiffs.

These cases are significant in that if either is ever heard before a judge, it will be the first time that a lawsuit alleging a violation of the GPL has gone to trial in the U.S. While these cases may take the route of the Monsoon Media suit — which settled out of court with Monsoon agreeing to remedy its violation of the GPL, ensure future compliance, and financially compensate the plaintiffs — these cases remain highly significant for a number of reasons, not the least of which include:

— It is widely suspected that the list of BusyBox users in violation of the GPL is quite long and that the BusyBox developers have already quietly settled out of court with a number of the companies on this list. With these two new lawsuits, it is clear that the earlier suit against Monsoon Multimedia is not a mere anomaly and that the BusyBox development community is not content to sit quietly as these alleged violations continue. Users of BusyBox are now on notice that they should take care to ensure that they are in compliance with the terms of the GPL as it applies to BusyBox.

— Ensuring compliance with the GPL (and other open source licenses) starts with knowing when and where software subject to the GPL and other open source licenses is in use in your organization. Implementing and maintaining an open source software license compliance program is key to gaining this knowledge. Cases such as these brought by the BusyBox developers underscore the growing importance of implementing and maintaining such a compliance program (and the growing risks posed by not doing so).

— The time line in each of the BusyBox cases has evolved from initial contact by the plaintiffs regarding the alleged violation through to the filing of a lawsuit at a very rapid pace. Unlike many of the “private” open source compliance actions brought in the past by the Free Software Foundation (FSF) it would appear that the SFLC is willing to act quite aggressively in pushing its grievances. Organizations need to respond quickly and decisively to any complaints about violations of open source software licenses, by the SFLC or any other organization.

Now more than ever, if your organization is not taking steps to identify and correct violations of open source software licenses on its own terms, others like the SFLC appear increasingly willing to do so for you on theirs. Remaining ignorant of existing open source software usage and potential open source software license violations, it would seem, is no longer bliss.

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2 Responses

  1. […] the GPL against alleged violators in court rather than pursuing out of court settlements. As I mentioned in connection with the previous BusyBox suits, now is the time to take steps to identify whether and to what extent your organization is using […]

  2. […] For additional information on the previous settlements, please refer to my prior posts (here, here, here, here, and […]

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