BusyBox Gets Busy with Verizon

The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) has announced that it has filed yet another lawsuit 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 defendant in this latest lawsuit is Verizon Communications. The lawsuit against Verizon is the fourth in a recent string of suits brough by the SFLC on behalf of Andersen and Landley. However, unlike the previous suits brought against Monsoon Multimedia, Xterasys Corporation and High-Gain Antennas, this suit is the first such suit against a major public company.

The complaint against Verizon was filed December 6, 2007 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York and is available online at — Erik Andersen and Rob Landley v. Verizon Communications, Inc. The complaint is similar in many respects to the complaints filed in the Monsoon Media, Xterasys and High-Gain suits, but specifically centers on Verizon’s distribution of a third party product containing the BusyBox open source software utility (as opposed to a product developed by Verizon).  In particular, the complaint against Verizon alleges that Verizon distributes the Actiontec MI424WR wireless router to customers of its “FiOS” fiber-optic Internet and television service and that the router contains the BusyBox software. Under the terms of the GPL, the complaint further alleges that Verizon is obligated to provide the source code of the BusyBox software to recipients of the Actiontec router. According to the lawsuit, Verizon continues to distribute BusyBox without source code in violation of the GPL, despite having been contacted by SFLC. The complaint likewise seeks an injunction against Verizon and requests that damages and litigation costs be awarded to the plaintiffs.

It remains to be seen if the current case against Verizon will be settled out of court (as happened in the case against Monsoon) or continue on and become the first lawsuit alleging a violation of the GPL ever to go to trial in the U.S. Regardless, this case is a highly significant indication that Andersen and Landley (and the SFLC) appear increasingly willing seek to enforce 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 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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And Just Like That, The Games End — First Ever GPL Lawsuit Dismissed

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.