US Lawsuit Tests Open Source

In what appears to be the first US case to test the limits of the GPL (General Public License), an organization known as the Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC) has spearheaded a lawsuit against Monsoon Multimedia for alleged violation of the terms of the GPL. 

Monsoon uses an open source software application known as BusyBox, which is subject to the GPL, but it is alleged that Monsoon has failed to make the source code available to its customers.  Such a failure would violate the terms of the GPL.  By breaching the GPL Monsoon would lose its rights to use the BusyBox software.  The suit seeks an injunction preventing Monsoon from using the BusyBox software in its own products.  BusyBox is a popluar component included in Linux-based devices and applications developed by Nokia, IBM, Sharp, HP and others.

The case may settle if Monsoon releases the code.  If it proceeds to trial, the lawsuit will test the enforceability of the GPL and will provide much-needed guidance in this area.  So far in Canada and the US the GPL has been enforced informally but has never been directly tested in court.  It also serves as a reminder for businesses using open source software:

  • When developing software (in-house or out-sourced) be sure to have clear guidelines and policies regarding the use of open source applications;
  • Get advice on the license terms which apply to open source applications: not all open source licenses are the same;
  • Determine what the impact will be for proprietary software and what disclosure will be required to comply with the open source license terms.

Calgary 11:45 MST

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  1. […] The lawsuit Andersen and Landley v. Monsoon Multimedia Inc, (No. 07-CV-8205) which promised to tackle the enforceability of the GPL head-on has settled, with Monsoon agreeing to appoint an Open Source Compliance Officer to monitor its use of open source software. Flush with this success, the lawyers at the Software Freedom Law Center promptly filed two new lawsuits, this time against Xterasys Corporation and High-Gain Antennas, LLC, also for violation of the terms of GPL in connection with the use of BusyBox open source code. […]

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