Friday, December 07, 2007

The open source police coming to mobile

It was just a matter of time. Today the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) filed a copyright lawsuit against Verizon, alleging they infringed on the GPL and should have distributed the source code.

In their words:

The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) today announced that it has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Verizon Communications, Inc. on behalf of its clients, two principal developers of BusyBox, alleging violation of the GNU General Public License (GPL). BusyBox is a lightweight set of standard Unix utilities commonly used in embedded systems and is open source software licensed under GPL version 2.

Verizon is the provider of a fiber-optic Internet and television service called FiOS. Verizon distributes Actiontec MI424WR wireless routers to FiOS customers. This router contains BusyBox, and under the terms of the GPL, Verizon is obligated to provide the source code of BusyBox to recipients of the device. According to the lawsuit, Verizon continues to distribute BusyBox illegally without source code, despite having been contacted by SFLC.

This is the fourth GPL enforcement lawsuit filed by SFLC on behalf of the BusyBox developers. The first one, against Monsoon Multimedia, was settled out of court in October, with Monsoon agreeing to remedy its prior violation, ensure future compliance, and financially compensate the plaintiffs. Mark has written a nice post about the Monsoon case and the lessons for FOSS management. I am sure all the other lawsuits will be a slam dunk, as the first one. Verizon will have to pay.

I have been waiting for this to happen for a while. Eben Moglen and the SFLC are simply enforcing a license (or a lack of it, if you are out of compliance with the GPL...) that many have simply used to their advantage - without any respect for the hard work of the developers. Remember, GPL is not free, you have to give back the code. Or you can get sued.

BTW, for those panicking out there, there is another option provided by commercial open source companies built on the dual licensing concept. Pay and license the code. Get indemnification, support and a throat to choke (that would be me, when it comes to Funambol ;-)

Quid pro quo: you have to give back something. You do not want to give back the code? Give us cash instead. We'll put it back to build an even better open source product.

Long life to the open source police. If you are a Funambol user and you are violating our GPL/HPL/AGPL license (we know you are out there...), it might happen to you sooner or later. Maybe sooner. We are here to help you ;-)