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SFLC Sues 14 Companies For BusyBox GPL Violations 309

Posted by Soulskill
from the fourteen-birds-with-one-stone dept.
eldavojohn writes "The Software Freedom Law Center has filed a lawsuit accusing fourteen companies, including Best Buy, Samsung and Westinghouse, of violating the GPL in nearly 20 separate products. This is similar to earlier BusyBox GPL suits. The commercial uses of BusyBox must be much more prolific than anyone could have imagined. Having dealt with hundreds of compliance problems and finding an average of one violation per day, the SFLC recommends one thing: be responsive to their requests (they try to settle things in private first) lest you find one of these (PDF) in your inbox."
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SFLC Sues 14 Companies For BusyBox GPL Violations

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  • Works for me. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Penguinisto (415985) on Monday December 14, 2009 @06:27PM (#30436518) Journal

    Unlike the patent trolls and the **AA, at least these guys do it right. You don't find a summons showing up without knowing that one is coming, there's no extortionist tactics, and they're not doing it for profit motive.

    Now why in the hell don't we see state/federal laws that require such behavior? I mean, why not have something sane like a law detailing that first the litigant must prove that they spent at least x days/weeks/months trying to negotiate a change in behavior first, and must prove that they had done so in a good faith effort? (that last part is important, as otherwise one could see the likes of the RIAA sending some ungodly demand down, then claiming that they "tried")?

  • But who gets paid? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by i_ate_god (899684) on Monday December 14, 2009 @06:48PM (#30436730) Homepage

    I don't know much about this product, but in general...

    If there is a community supported project then

    a) Who gets to sue companies/people who violate the project's GPL or other open source license
    b) Who gets paid should the lawsuit be successful
    c) Who gets in debt should the lawsuit not be successful?
    d) Who funds the lawsuit?
    e) Doesn't the possibility exist for "open source trolls" who scour the world looking for GPL/Apache/BSD/whatever violations and sue the offender hoping to make a few dollars?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 14, 2009 @06:56PM (#30436804)

      a - b) The copyright holder or his/her appointed representative
      c - d) The copyright holder or the organization which volunteers to file the lawsuit on the copyright holder's behalf
      e) No -- the copyright holder is in charge of who gets sued

    • Well, IANAL, but as anyone can claim to be the owner, I think anyone can sue.

      And logically, that one gets paid or gets the debt, and funds the lawsuit, as a result of being the one who sued.

      About e): Well, I guess same as someone can “troll’ by taking the free software (work of others) and selling it for money. But that’s kinda the point of GPL, no? Dunno.

      Anyone who is a lawyer here to enlighten us?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by bcmm (768152)
      IANAL.

      a) Any author of part of the software gets to sue (unless they had to assign copyright to the project*). In short, whoever owns the rights to the work! It's just copyright. The SFLC often gets asked to help by the people who's work has been stolen. I do not believe the poster above me who says that anyone can claim to own it.
      b) In the past, the end result has been future compliance, and various "undisclosed contributions" to projects (no idea how you keep the amount of a donation to an open-source
    • e) Doesn't the possibility exist for "open source trolls" who scour the world looking for GPL/Apache/BSD/whatever violations and sue the offender hoping to make a few dollars?

      No.

      Open source software is acquired through some method of distribution, that is a good portion of what the licensing covers.

      You don't develop your own software and have some troll come along and take you to court for having the concept of their open source software that may or may not exist included in your code. If you are in violati

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by reub2000 (705806)
      From TFA: "The suit was filed on behalf of the Software Freedom Conservancy (Conservancy), [...] and Erik Andersen, one of the program's principal developers and copyright holders."
  • by Guspaz (556486) on Monday December 14, 2009 @06:50PM (#30436738)

    A little over two years ago, I discovered that my VersaTek modem was using Linux/BusyBox. I requested the source, and the company refused saying that their Chinese OEM didn't give it to them, so that they couldn't give it to me. This is, of course, still a violation of the GPL in the same way that selling a stolen stereo doesn't change the fact that the stereo is stolen.

    I mailed a report of this to the BusyBox author, and this morning the SFLC sent me an e-mail letting me know that VersaTek was being included in this lawsuit. They don't mention the specific VersaTek product that I notified them about, but it's nice that they followed up.

    • Here's a question. BusyBox is just a bunch of optimized, small UNIX utilities right? What source were you expecting to get, and why didn't they just send you the BusyBox source itself? They are not linking against BusyBox, they are not using the source for busybox - so the only thing GPL related is making the BusyBox source itself available, no?
      • by Wesley Felter (138342) <wesley@felter.org> on Monday December 14, 2009 @07:35PM (#30437276) Homepage

        That's what's so galling about these cases; these companies are distributing unmodified BusyBox so complying with GPL shouldn't be that hard and it doesn't even require them to release any of their code. Yet they don't even bother to provide unmodified BusyBox source.

    • Somehow I seriously doubt a judge or jury will accept the "well our Chinese OEM didn't give it to us" defense.

      Just because you hire a Chinese company to develop a product for you doesn't mean you aren't required to ensure your product doesn't violate any laws or license agreements when you sell it here in the USA.

  • by AcidPenguin9873 (911493) on Monday December 14, 2009 @07:03PM (#30436922)

    What the hell, I have karma to burn: It doesn't sound as nice when I put it that way, does it?

    Granted, (before I get 20 responses telling me just how many ways the SFLC is different than the RIAA), I acknowledge that the tactics that the SFLC is using are actually sane and civil. The point remains, however: all the pirate supporters on this website don't like it when you shove their arguments back in their face. If there were no copyright, or if copyright were limited to 2 years, then Linux 2.6.15 would be in the public domain by now and anyone could put it into any product they wanted without giving back to the people that created it.

    • The point remains, however: all the pirate supporters on this website don't like it when you shove their arguments back in their face.

      Which pirate supporters are you referring to?

    • by AK Marc (707885) on Monday December 14, 2009 @07:40PM (#30437350)
      The point remains, however: all the pirate supporters on this website don't like it when you shove their arguments back in their face. If there were no copyright, or if copyright were limited to 2 years, then Linux 2.6.15 would be in the public domain by now and anyone could put it into any product they wanted without giving back to the people that created it.

      I think these mythical piracy supporters would be all for that. Many seem to be of the mind of "if you are going to make this copyright shit that gets in the way of real progress, then we will use your tool against you." There's nothing wrong with taking the tools of your enemy and using them against him. And so I think the mythical pirates you refer to would be happy to have the problem you describe, as long as it came with the 2 year cap to copyright you mentioned (or even abolition).
    • by Enleth (947766)

      he point remains, however: all the pirate supporters on this website don't like it when you shove their arguments back in their face.

      Slashdot user base is big.

      Didn't it occur to you that these might be completely different individuals?

    • by selven (1556643)

      Except a large number of pirate supporters support limited copyright for commercial applications only. It's a perfectly reasonable solution: Hollywood could still make $800 million box office sales with a monopoly on movie theater viewing.

    • You are misunderstanding the purpose of "copyleft" licenses like the GPL and CC Attrib-ShareAlike. These were created to cleverly manipulate the concept of copyrights to ensure certain freedoms for everyone, not simply to protect the interests of the copyright holder. When a company like this is sued for violating the GPL, it is principally for denying certain freedoms to everyone else. I'm sorry I have to quote the Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org] for this subject on Slashdot (you people should all know this stuff, get o
      • I am fully aware of Copyleft licenses like the GPL and their purpose. The point is, they require copyright law to function. Without copyright law, or with very weak copyright law, they can no longer ensure those freedoms. Software would then have no reason to be open, and because the original creator can't make it so (without copyright), it won't be, as jbn-o points out [slashdot.org].
    • Can you point to serious refutations of copyright where the point of the argument is that copyright should last 2 years or not exist at all? FSF speakers have long pointed out the problem of no copyright, a very short term of copyright, and overly long copyright. My experience is that calls for no or very short terms of copyright are posited by people who ought to reconsider what is in society's best interests.

      No copyright means no end to the tyranny of proprietary software (said programs never enter the

      • Finally, some semblance of sanity.

        Can you point to serious refutations of copyright where the point of the argument is that copyright should last 2 years or not exist at all?

        No. The only arguments I have heard in this vein are from Slashdotters who like The Pirate Bay too much.

        My experience is that calls for no or very short terms of copyright are posited by people who ought to reconsider what is in society's best interests.

        Agreed again.

        I can't ascertain your position on copyright from your post. Stallman seems to grudgingly favor a medium-length copyright out of necessity, a "least evil" approach if you will, where he thinks copyright in and of itself is generally evil. I don't agree with that. From what I can tell, Stallman thinks that all software should be developed and effectively g

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Slashdot is a community with a lot of different groups and opinions represented.

      You can't just take two opinions that have been expressed at various times, declare them incompatible, and pretend that you have scored some kind of point.

      There are people here that are for an abolishment of copyright. There are also people here that a big believers in the GPL. This does not mean that there is even one slashdotter out there that have both opinions!

      If you find one, you may have a debate, but until then you are ju

    • Personally, I wouldn't mind even a 20 year copyright. I'm against software patents, as imho there's nothing non-obvious, original or unique in software for the past 20 years, just the same *IF* software patents are to continue, a 5 year limitation is probably appropriate there. I won't even get into Trademark abuse though.
  • So this is how you make money with F/OSS.

    1.) Write F/OSS.
    2.) File Lawsuits against infringers.
    3.) ???
    4.) Profit!!!

    I'm curious... how much money would he have made from the software if he didn't sue?

    Bill
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by selven (1556643)

      It's been said here 10 times, but I'll say it again.

      The FSF/SFLC GPL (ok, that's a load of acronyms) enforcement efforts are not about money; they're about compliance. These people try hard to create a peaceful solution for GPL violations, and only resort to lawsuits when it's clear that they're not intent on cooperating.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Well, if the company had followed the rules, then either a) the company would have paid the author some money for a closed-license version of the source so they could incorporate it into their product without releasing the source, or b) the company would have had to release their changes, which could then be merged back into the project (not directly money, but programmer time is a resource with non-zero value). Or c) the company made no changes to the GPLed code but wouldn't redistribute the source even af

  • Somebody should create closed source versions of the open source projects that are most often ripped off. Then give away (or sell) the proprietary versions. I don't mean fork it. I mean from scratch, in a clean room environment, to keep it untainted. It's the reverse situation of making an open source alternative to a free product.
  • Emprex too (Score:3, Informative)

    by naich (781425) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:47AM (#30441646) Homepage

    I got one of their ME1 multimedia enclosures. It's great, and uses Busybox. I can't find the source code anywhere on their web site.

    http://www.emprex.com/03_support_02.php?pg_no=10&group=84&kind=1 [emprex.com]

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