BusyBox is Back, Back Again

The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) has announced today that it has filed a new round of 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 the new lawsuits are Bell Microproducts, Inc. (dba “Hammer Storage“) and Super Micro Computer, Inc., each well-established distributors of a wide range of storage and other computer hardware products and components. These two new suits bring the total of lawsuits brought by the SFLC on behalf of the BusyBox developers to six (the previous four having been filed against Monsoon Multimedia, Xterasys Corporation, High-Gain Antennas, and Verizon Communications.

The complaints against Bell Micro and Super Micro were filed on June 10, 2008 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York and are available online at — Erik Andersen and Rob Landley v. Bell Microproducts, Inc. d.b.a. Hammer Storage and Erik Andersen and Rob Landley v. Super Micro Computer, Inc. The complaints are similar in many respects to the complaints previously filed by filed in the Monsoon Media, Xterasys, High-Gain and Verizon suits. In each case the complaint alleges that the defendant “makes and sells various communications and hardware devices” containing firmware that contains BusyBox (either directly or in modified form). In the case of Bell Micro, the complaint specifically targets the Bell’s “MyShare HN1200 network attached storage device” and with Super Micro the complaint specifically names the “AOC-SIM1U+ IPMI 2.0 System Management Card“. Under the terms of the GPL, each complaint alleges that the defendant is obligated to provide the source code of the BusyBox software to recipients of the named products containing the firmware containing BusyBox. According to each lawsuit, Bell Micro and Super Micro continue to distribute products containing firmware containing BusyBox without source code in violation of the GPL, despite having been contacted by SFLC. Each complaints seek an injunction against each company and requests that damages and litigation costs be awarded to the plaintiffs.

It remains to be seen if the current cases will be settled out of court (as has happened in each of the prior cases brought by BusyBox to date) or continue on and become the first lawsuit alleging a violation of the GPL ever to go to trial in the U.S. Regardless, these cases signal that after a brief hiatus Eric Andersen and Rob Landley (and the SFLC) appear again to be interested in enforcing the GPL against alleged violators in court rather than pursuing out of court settlements. As 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 BusyBox and other open source software and to ensure that you are in compliance with the open source software licenses applicable to that software.

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