October 1, 2007 4:00 AM PDT
GPL defenders say: See you in court
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Free software defenders file suit against Monsoon Media over Linux
September 20, 2007
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"Most of the time we get a very immediate response to our notification of the issue, and the parties work in good faith to resolve it quietly, discreetly and respectfully," Ravicher said, adding that the center has handled more than 50 enforcement matters on behalf of BusyBox. Of the 35 or 40 free and open-source projects SFLC represents, BusyBox and the Free Software Foundation are the two busiest when it comes to license enforcement activities, he added.
Monsoon declined to comment beyond its earlier statement from Graham Radstone, chief operating officer: "Since we intend to and always intended to comply with all open-source software license requirements, we are confident that the matter will be quickly resolved."
There have been a few examples in which the GPL has been involved in court cases, but the Monsoon suit isn't part of a larger strategy to build GPL case law, Ravicher said.
"Our client's goal was not to get a GPL decision from a court. Our client's goal was to get people to abide by the terms of the license," he said.
But legal precedents will come out of such cases. "My prediction was there will be more of these lawsuits," Harvey said. "A lot more will become known with respect to the licenses and the way they're to be used by the development of case law. It's not a great system but it's the one we've got."
Assertions of GPL violation have been going on for years, and the Free Software Foundation often has led efforts to bring companies into compliance. Not everybody has been satisfied with the pace of enforcement, however, including German open-source programmer Harald Welte.
"Violators don't lose anything by first not complying and waiting for the FSF," Welte said in 2005. Consequently, the open-source project in which he's involved began its own legal actions, some of them successful.
But Welte is an exception. Many programmers apparently would rather code than confront companies, often in a distant country and speaking a different language, with license violations.
That's apparently changing. Through the SFLC, many programmers have recourse, and the Monsoon case indicates that the center is willing to go to the mat.
"The message would seem very clear. To this point, the SFLC had never filed a lawsuit, nor had anyone filed a lawsuit on behalf of FSF in connection with GPL 2 code. Now they have," Harvey said. "So no longer is someone able to engage in water cooler conversation and say there's never been a lawsuit over the GPL. Clearly there has now. People need to pay attention to that."
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