Tuesday, 25 September 2007

A test for copyleft?

Another free-content related lawsuit has been filed in the last few days; this time the first United States case based on infringement of the GNU General Public License, filed in a New York state court last week.

The plaintiffs are the developers of the BusyBox project, a collection of small versions of Linux utilities bundled into a single executable, designed for use as firmware or in embedded systems. They allege that the defendant, Monsoon Multimedia, included BusyBox, or a modified version of it, as part of the firmware on some of their hardware products, and did not offer the source code to the firmware as required by the copyleft provisions of the GPL. The plaintiffs, through their lawyers the Software Freedom Law Center, claim that Monsoon infringed their copyright as a result, and seek injunctions to prevent Monsoon from continuing to distribute the firmware, as well as damages.

The case will be significant (should it make it to trial) not only because it directly concerns the GPL, one of the more widely used free content licences, but also because it revolves around what is, in my opinion at least, the key part of any good free content licence: the requirement that derivatives be released under the same licence (the same essential concept is referred to as either "strong copyleft" or "share-alike"). The case may be the first test of whether such requirements are actually effective at compelling creators of derivative works to release those works under the same terms.

DLA Piper senior partner Mark Radcliffe also raises the very good point that the case will also revolve around exactly how the GPL is characterised - whether it is a copyright licence or a mere contract - which may have implications as to what remedies are open to people releasing their work under the GPL.

However, the case may not even make it to court, with Monsoon apparently looking to settle and make the source code for the firmware available, according to breaking reports.

You can see a copy of the BusyBox statement of claim here (PDF format).


Titoxd said...

And it's over already:


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