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Feature: Free Software

First US GPL case is not settled

By Bruce Byfield on September 25, 2007 (7:30:00 PM)

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Contrary to yesterday's report, the lawsuit against Monsoon Multimedia for violating the GNU General Public License (GPL) in its distribution of BusyBox may not be headed for a quick settlement. Nor will the settlement necessarily be out-of-court.

Yesterday, Monsoon issued a news release that announced that the company was in "settlement negotiations with BusyBox." Graham Radstone, Monsoon chairman and chief operating officer, said, "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."

However, Daniel B. Ravicher, legal director of the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC), which filed the suit on behalf of BusyBox, is more cautious.

"I can confirm that we are discussing settlement," Ravicher says, "but -- contrary to what many in the press seem to believe -- no agreement has been reached. Simply coming into compliance now is not sufficient to settle the matter, because that would mean anyone can violate the license until caught, because the only punishment would be to come into compliance."

In the past, both the Free Software Foundation and the SFLC, the two main defenders of the GPL in North America, have preferred working with companies found in violation of the license to taking them to court. However, now that a case has actually gone to court, the SFLC is apparently less forgiving.

"I can't discuss the details of what additional things are being sought by our clients, but hopefully we'll be able to shed light on that if and when we do reach an agreement," Ravicher says.

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for Linux.com.

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First US GPL case is <em>not</em> settled

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.12.221.242] on September 26, 2007 01:26 AM

Simply coming into compliance now is not sufficient to settle the matter, because that would mean anyone can violate the license until caught, because the only punishment would be to come into compliance.


Compliance has been the only objective of the FSF. I know that the SFLC is representing BusyBox in this case but this unqualified statement seems to fundamentally be at odds with the position of their other client, the FSF.

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Re: First US GPL case is <em>not</em> settled

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 75.58.40.192] on September 26, 2007 03:19 AM
Compliance should be, and still is, the goal AFAIK but you are not only talking about the compliance of a single company. If you want voluntary industry compliance, there has to be some sanction for forcing the FSF to sue in order to get compliance. The message should be clear - if you are willing to work with the FSF prior to litigation in order to come into compliance fine; if the FSF is forced to sue in order to obtain compliance, you're going to pay. These guys told the FSF to go shove it when approached about their non-compliance with the GPL forcing the filing of this lawsuit. In order to get voluntary compliance from business, there has to be some financial downside for non-compliance.

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Re: First US GPL case is <em>not</em> settled

Posted by: Jeremy Akers on September 26, 2007 04:55 AM
"Compliance has been the only objective of the FSF."



That -is- the only objective here. Like the other commenter pointed out, if Monsoon is going to force the SFLC to actually go to court by not responding to their compliance requests prior to the lawsuit, then Monsoon should face some punitive damages. This is the only way to make sure other companies don't make the same mistake. This is how every case typically works. If you and I have a dispute over something, and you refuse to work with me. I then go to court, and you suddenly have a change of heart? I'm sorry, but at that point it's too late, now if you want to keep from going to a full court case, you need to offer me some incentive to do so. I mean, I've already filed the paperwork, hired the lawyer, and it's a clear cut win for me... Why should I let you off easy at this point? If I do, it will simply send a message to others that you can ignore the terms of my license all you want, and if I end up going to court with you over it, then you can simply offer the source code and hope for no hard feelings.



-Jeremy

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Re(1): First US GPL case is <em>not</em> settled

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.12.221.242] on September 26, 2007 08:27 PM
Again, my point was only that punitive remedies have traditionally been shunned by the FSF, regardless of how you would handle, or believe they should handle, such cases. I should point out again that, as AFAIK, the only relationship the FSF has to this case is through their counsel, the SFLC, who is representing BusyBox.

So BusyBox may want to handle this differently that the FSF would. The problem is the SFLC espousing an opinion that is at odds with the opinion of one of their other clients.

Or maybe the SFLC also wants to pursue this case in court to establish case law for the GPL.

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Re(2): First US GPL case is <em>not</em> settled

Posted by: Jeremy Akers on September 27, 2007 06:18 AM
"Again, my point was only that punitive remedies have traditionally been shunned by the FSF"



Again? Maybe I missed it. Could you show me where you stated this, specifically? ;)



Also, could you provide a reference to substantiate your claim that the FSF has shunned punitive remedies for a case that made it to court?



Thanks!



-Jeremy

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First US GPL case is not settled

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.190.243.147] on September 26, 2007 05:06 AM
CASH. Like lawyers fees, or lawyers fees X3? And no seal on the deal.

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First US GPL case is <em>not</em> settled

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.145.240.224] on September 26, 2007 03:17 PM
Now, now, I didn't say it was settled. I said the company claimed it was settled. Big difference.

Steven

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First US GPL case is <em>not</em> settled

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.195.21.50] on September 26, 2007 03:37 PM
Monsoon violated the GPL.
Monsoon were notified they were violating the GPL and asked nicely to come into compliance, and Monsoon blew it off and persisted in violating the GPL.
Monsoon were threated with a lawsuit for copyright violation if they did not comply, and they blew off the threat and continued to violate the GPL.
Monsoon deliberately and persistently violated the law and actually got dragged into court, and *now* they want to get let off scott-free, merely by releasing the source they were supposed to release in the first place?? Ah.. NO.

The GPL community is *extremely* generous with inadvertent violators and even insanely generous with deliberate violators. Copyright law carries serious penalties for violation. If you violated Microsoft's or anyone else's code, even inadvertently, the penalties are quite severe. Companies have to know that they need to comply with the law and comply with the GPL in the first place. They have to know that if they deliberately violate the GPL and kicking-and-screaming fight compliance, that they face very serious consequences. The first consequence of copyright violation is a court injunction completely shutting down the company from distributing their violating product at all. The second consequence is that the company gets hit with MASSIVE $$$ damages for copyright infringement, and those $$$ get paid to the person(s) who were violated by the company. It is even possible for the violators to face commercial-piracy criminal prosecution by the government and felony prison.

It's great that the GPL community is so generous in merely asking for compliance, but we have long passed any reasonable definition of generous here. Someone who fights compliance to the point that they have actually already been dragged into a courtroom... at that point you might as well not bother settling at all and just go ahead and convict them on their illegal behavior.

If you don't then *all* companies might as well just violate the GPL by default, and they might as well blow off compliance requests and they might as well blow off lawyer threats and they might as well blow off threats of being dragged into court. They might as well try to get away with violating the GPL hoping not to get caught and if they get caught hoping that the violated party won't have the will or resources to pursue the violation. They might as well *never* comply with the GPL unless and until they actually get dragged into a courtroom, and then turn around and release the code that *they were supposed to release in the first place* and get off scott-free for their violation.

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First US GPL case is <em>not</em> settled

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First US GPL case is not settled

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