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First US GPL Lawsuit Heads For Quick Settlement 196

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the owning-up-shows-character dept.
DeviceGuru writes to tell us that the first lawsuit centered around the GPL seems to have been quickly resolved outside of the courtroom. Monsoon Multimedia was quick to admit that they had violated the GPLv2 in their modified BusyBox code and will soon be releasing the source to come into full compliance with the license.
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First US GPL Lawsuit Heads For Quick Settlement

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  • by snowgirl (978879) * on Monday September 24, 2007 @05:18PM (#20735683) Journal
    The interesting thing is that once they start talking to lawyers, I think they are informed of just how screwed they are.

    I mean, if they defeat the GPL, then they couldn't use the software in the first place, if they defend the GPL, then they need to conform to it.

    Either way, the whole GPL suits are so full of pitfalls and dangers to those abusing the code that they really don't have a chance, and any good lawyer should be telling them that.

    There was another suit awhile ago with CherryOS vs PearPC, that looked to be pretty hefty, but before anything could be done, they dumped the product entirely. Sometimes, if something isn't worth that much... it's just not worth keeping around.
  • Re:Precedence (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chris Burke (6130) on Monday September 24, 2007 @05:36PM (#20735933) Homepage
    While it's good that Monsoon's finally agreed to uphold the GPL agreement I was rather hoping that they'd hold out, if only to establish precedent for future actions.

    I guess. Is a precedent really necessary? I mean the "GPL hasn't been tested in court -- it might be an invalid license!" makes for great anti-GPL FUD, but when you get down to it there is no reason to believe the GPL would be invalid. There are thousands of licenses out there that have never been tried in court, and with most of them there would be no point.

    This may be the first GPL lawsuit, but it is hardly the first GPL-related incident with lawyers involved. The fact is that most companies cave immediately when faced with the facts of their GPL violations. Before now nobody has even wanted it to get to the point of a lawsuit being filed, much less letting the facts be tried by a jury. I think it's safe to say that most of these companies' legal departments regard the GPL as a sound license, and getting it ruled invalid as unlikely (and detrimental, since without the GPL they would have no license to use the code at all).

    The closest we've come to a company actually fighting the GPL in a court of law was SCO who claimed it was unconstitutional of all things. Nobody else seems to be crazy enough to want to fight the GPL at all.

    So a precedent would be nice simply for being able to say "the GPL has been tested in court and was ruled to be a valid license" to silence the FUDmeisters, but practically speaking it's not necessary to protect GPLed code.
  • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Monday September 24, 2007 @05:39PM (#20735961) Homepage Journal

    I mean, if they defeat the GPL, then they couldn't use the software in the first place, if they defend the GPL, then they need to conform to it.
    That's a false dichotomy. There's a remote possibility that a judge could rule that the use of GPL on BusyBox is "copyright abuse" and the developers could lose their copyright. Or the judge might rule that certain actions that were thought to be insufficient to be in compliance with the GPL are actually sufficient. For example, the judge could rule that "the source code being available" is sufficient and it doesn't matter where the source code is available. Or that only a "majority" of the source code need to be available, etc.

    The idea that we know what would happen in a US court should the GPL ever be tested is wishful thinking.

  • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Monday September 24, 2007 @06:09PM (#20736313) Homepage Journal
    Here's the situation. A startup company took a GPL licensed program, made modifications to it and dynamically linked to a proprietary third party VOIP library. Initially they weren't going to release any of their modifications, but after being contacted by the developer they tried to come into compliance. However, the use of the proprietary VOIP library is not compatible with the GPL as they are unable to provide source code for it.

    The startup company was the first to sick the lawyers on, but the developer has fought back better. For a while it looked like there was going to be a default judgment in the developer's favor but now it looks like it is going to court.

    See http://www.jinchess.com/ichessu/ [jinchess.com] for more details.

  • Re:Read some more (Score:5, Interesting)

    by phorm (591458) on Monday September 24, 2007 @06:27PM (#20736479) Journal
    Indeed. This company was also informed months ago by a user that had requested the code, unfortunately with no result. After discussing the GPL issues, Monsoon's rep basically started accusing the users' of illegally decompiling their source (in order to find the violation) and EULA violation etc etc. When told that there was no EULA if you download the source, he basically said "OK, well then we'll stick one in the download, or embed it in the binary so that you can't get around it." This shows that they had very little interest in showing the code, as their attitude towards their GPL obligations at the time was basically "we'll get to it, sometime, and we're not telling you when." Here's a bit of Monsoon's commentary in the forums pre-lawsuit:

    Seems to me that some of you have just come out blatantly admitting you are reverse engineering the firmware - or trying to. How should we handle this?
    I had posted the an article up on slashdot at around the time the forum debates were taking place, but unfortunately it never made it past the firehose (and I assume that is has now disappeared since it was rejected). However, the same rep was involved in a debate with me, and was spouting the same BS. His question was "well, what is the opinion of slashdot on breaking the EULA and reverse-engineering our code." I answer that it would really depend on the context, particularly whether the code should have been visible in the first place, and that the use of strings [wikipedia.org] does not qualify as reverse-engineering. He continued to insist that "having reverse-engineered stuff in the past, I know what I'm talking about, so it's just your opinion that strings doesn't count." etc etc

    All in all, their attitude - or at least of this rep - has been an offensive defensiveness (aka justify their actions by attacking those of others). I'm hoping that along with having the issues settled he now has an understanding of how the GPL works, but I'm sure he'll probably continue along with the mistaken assumption that his company was never in the wrong, and that this whole thing is the fault of those darn free-software people.
  • by Artifakt (700173) on Monday September 24, 2007 @09:27PM (#20737781)
    (I won't be a Spelling Nazi)
    (I won't be a Spelling Nazi)
    (I won't be a Spelling Nazi)...

    I'm not a lawyer - this is a layman's comment, reflecting only a layman's understanding, so of course utterly worthless. Still, I had fun writing it.

    No, it won't stand up (much).
    A precedent isn't an automatic win for subsequent cases. If a precedent appears to have technical flaws, people opposed to it will normally ask a higher court to overturn it. In some cases, all this takes is legal status as affected party, which means that if, for example, you represented a company and they were willing to make a claim that an old precedent hurt their bottom line, you would have standing to file an appellate brief. (If someone is willing to contend they are losing serious money because of the existing precedent, in some venues they don't have to actually have lost any case themselves to appeal). Then all you would need is a line of argument you thought had a chance of winning to actually prepare one. The way a precedent helps your side is all this filing can cost money, so the other side might decide its cheaper not to fight you. But if they hire a good lawyer to evaluate what their chances are, he or she is likely to see how weak your win was.
    Alternately, one side could already be involved in an actual case and the other side (your side in your example) bring up the precedent in their motions. This doesn't automatically hurt their case, let alone mean your side automatically wins. They can make motions to the effect that the precedent doesn't really apply to your case, cite other conflicting precedents, or do many other things that could still mean you don't win. Cases have been put on hold while a higher court considers whether a precedent is valid or applicable, then the lower court case finished after that court rules. Some precedents are broader than others, and judges will frequently compare such factors as whether one was originally a mixed decision or a unanimous one, too, in deciding among conflicting precedents.
    Precedents become stronger if they are set at a court of appeals level, and in the U.S. are very strong if the Supreme court has heard them and agreed, but even there, a new appeal on different grounds can overturn one. Often the Supreme court refuses to even hear an appeal. When they do, they will generally give reasons, and just what those reasons are may affect whether anyone might resubmit an appeal with other grounds or accept the intermediate court's verdict as effectively final. There are even cases where the Supreme court has refused to consider an appeal, but spelled out just how to restructure one so they would consider it (and in some of these, the court has then rejected the new appeal - go figure). There are some lower court precedents the Supreme court has consistently refused to hear, that are considered very strong for that reason, perhaps as strong as if they had heard and affirmed them.
    How does this apply to your scheme? First, (in most venues) if a judge thinks one side isn't presenting its case very well, he can suggest they raise points of law, or question litigants as to points of fact directly. He or she can write the decision to reflect his or her own opinion that one side is doing a poor job, and this means the decision won't necessarily give the sort of protection you want. Legal decisions are often many pages long, not some simple "Side A wins, Side B loses" document.
    Second, you can't automatically get a superior court to hear an appeal, and it may be very hard to get one all the way to the Supreme court. Remember, the side that wins can't appeal a point where they got a victory, rather the side that loses on a given point has to appeal their defeat, or someone else has to become involved. If fact, most appeals happen where a complex decision gives some points to both sides. It's rare to see one side lose badly on all points and appeal, because in mo
  • by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @06:44AM (#20741091) Homepage Journal

    I suspect Samba to be hit or at least a target. It is a key part of replacing a lot of windows servers.
    You touch the money nerve here.
    When you touch that nerve, an awful lot of people become highly interested.
    MS would have to tread very, very carefully to make an attack on GPLv3 and not face ridiculous blowback in the form of anti-trust proceedings.
    The outcome would be far from certain, and I don't think big money moves in uncertain waters.
  • by JetScootr (319545) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @07:35AM (#20741533) Journal
    I used this to explain GPL vs proprietary to a non-techy friend: Suppose I owned a good fishing spot coupla acres big. Friend Joe asks if he can fish from there, I say "sure, but share". He's ok with that. He comes back, says it's great, but his wife doesn't like to get her feet wet...would I build a dock? No, but he can, with this provision: He must allow anyone to use the dock, if I let them use the land. I promise that no one will get exclusive use of the land. Joe's ok with that.
    Fred loves it too, but is tired of dragging his BBQ equip out there twice a year, and asks to build a brick grill. Same rules: All who share the land share the dock and the grill.
    Time goes on, and we all get the use of each other's efforts in making a good fishing spot into a great getaway.
    Each thing added to the land belongs to the person who added it. If anyone doesn't like the rules I run my land by, they are free to go somewhere else. They just can't use my fishing spot if they won't share.
    The diff with software under the GPL: Everyone can simultaneously use a virtual BBQ. Physical laws mean the BBQ at the fishing hole has be shared by timeslice, and that I can't share with EVERYONE, only a few dozen or so buddies.

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