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GPL Case Against Danish Satellite Provider 297

Rohde writes "The number of satellite and cable boxes on the Danish market using Linux has significantly increased during the last couple of years. The providers Viasat, Yousee and Stofa all provide HD receivers based on Linux, and all of them fail to provide the source code or make customers aware of the fact that the units are based on GPL licensed software. I decided it was time to fix this situation and luckily the Danish legal company BvHD has decided to take the case. We are starting with Viasat, which distributes a Samsung box including middleware and security from NDS, and you can follow the case here."
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GPL Case Against Danish Satellite Provider

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  • by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @02:28AM (#29081335) Homepage

    Nowhere does TFA provide information on exactly which part of the GPL code the guy is claiming copyright ownership.

    You can't sue for GPL violations if you have no claim of copyright over atleast some part of the GPL licensed product.

  • Re:Positive move? (Score:5, Informative)

    by amorsen ( 7485 ) <> on Sunday August 16, 2009 @02:37AM (#29081369)

    What does the community get out of the fact that YouSee, Stofa, and Viasat use Linux?

    All the Danes on Slashdot probably know about Viasat's business practices, which are about as close to fraud as you can get without losing in court, so I don't need to warn anyone against signing contracts with them.

  • by Zerth ( 26112 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @02:38AM (#29081375)

    In some countries, law firms are allowed to sue on the behalf of copyright owners on their own initiative, much like how you can be brought up on assault charges by the state in some countries even if the person you hit wanted you to do so.

  • by nielsm ( 1616577 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @02:51AM (#29081405) Homepage

    Regardless of what they use, even if it's unmodified software from another source, they are still distributing it. The GPL requires you to do two things if you distribute software covered by it:

    1. Include the complete text of the license
    2. Include a written offer to obtain the complete source code (or include the complete source code, or a location under the distributor's direct control where the user can download the source code)

    And then of course GPLv3 adds the requirement that the distributor must provide a way for the user to install and run a different version of the software on the device.

    The important part here is that the distributor of the binaries must also distribute the sources, you aren't allowed to just point to another party for that.

  • by kdemetter ( 965669 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @03:03AM (#29081433)

    Which comes down to just providing them the Ubuntu CD , which most would do anyway.
    Unless you really made some changes to the source code , in that case , you also need to provide the source for those changes.

    I don't see the problem : if you use GPL , you know this is what you have to do . It's what GPL is all about.

    If you don't want to do this , you need another license type. Often , this is a possibility too ( for a modest fee ) . I'm not sure if Ubuntu has it though.

    Simply put : GPL favors mainly the end users :

      by ensuring that derative products are also open source , you ensure that a product will stay open source.

    However , i doesn't favor developers or companies ( who are forced to share their work for free ) .

  • Re:Huh (Score:4, Informative)

    by BlueParrot ( 965239 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @03:04AM (#29081437)

    So if sell someone a box with a linux distribution installed on it do I need to print out all of that distribution's source code and ship it with the computer as well? If I make software that runs on a linux distribution and set linux to run that software at boot-up does that mean I'm really altering linux itself?

    If you sell somebody a box with linux on it you need to at the minimum include a statement in the user manual which more or less says "This box has some GPL licensed software installed on it. You can obtain the source-code from the following website and you are free to modify it under certain conditions. Please see the complete license for more details."

    Alternatively you can include a CD with the source code, or load the source code into the box's harddrive ( provided it is readily retrievable ). Basically you just need to make the customer aware you use GPL software on the box and tell them how to obtain the source code from you. There's various ways to do that but the easiest is probably to either include the source on a CD or to upload it to your website and tell the customer they can retrieve it from there. The main problem with the latter approach is that the GPL requires you to keep the source available for some years (can't remember how many ) and thus you may find it easier to just give the user a CD with the source code since you are then not obliged to keep a server running.

  • by rohde ( 1618993 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @03:15AM (#29081463)
    The company NDS that actually does most of the software on the box and tracked me down actually had 1 month to come up with an excuse for why the box violated GPL. I had direct contact with one of their representatives. They failed to give me any answer. I then contact the satellite provider using certified mail and wait 13 days for their answer. How long should I wait for this to be fair? The Danish providers have ignored GPL for years and I am pretty sure they know it. It would be nice of them to at least contact me and say we are working on it.
  • Re:Huh (Score:2, Informative)

    by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @03:35AM (#29081521) Homepage Journal

    Any bits of it you modified, you have to provide those modifications as source

    You have to offer to supply the source for all GPL software, not just your changes.

  • by LingNoi ( 1066278 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @03:48AM (#29081571)

    You have it absolutely wrong. Your version of the source has to be available to your customers, so if you haven't modified the source in any way then you CAN provide them with the source from canonical.

  • Re:Positive move? (Score:3, Informative)

    by fraktus ( 632342 ) * on Sunday August 16, 2009 @03:54AM (#29081591) Homepage Journal
    In europe we have a lot of sat receivers built around Linux. I personally use a Dreambox. There are many variations on the distributions with different add ons and themes for interface. My favorite is the Gemini. The ecosystem is very well and alive and is centered around many forums where people exchange their experience

    I wonder if this provider uses something based on the Dreambox.

    The providers very often don't support using those Linux receiver because they have more options then the locked down proprietary receiver. By example my setup has a rotor so that I can pick many positions and different providers. Another cool thing is that you can stream on your local network the video and see it with VLC on any computer in your home, something that proprietary boxes never allow...

    The problem is that there are several Chinese clones because if the software is GPL the hardware is not open sourced.
  • Re:Dumb Idiots. (Score:3, Informative)

    by tagno25 ( 1518033 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @03:55AM (#29081595)

    Also, their lawsuit is not going too far, unless they personally are the copyright owners of the code. Just having a violation is not enough. The copyright owner needs to sue them for it. It's not enough for someone who have heard about the work to sue them.

    From [] (TFA)

    August 16th, 2009 - It has been brought to my attention that I do not state which part of the GPL code I am claiming copyright ownership on. I have some patches in the Linux kernel and a direct copyright notice in e.g. therm_adt746x.c []. However my patches alone are not going to make a very strong case and it is my hope that big contributors to busybox and uClibc will help out making a bigger group of people who had their copyright violated. I have already contacted several people who have very clear violations of their copyright in the product, and we are looking to sue on their behalf too. But let me please be very clear about the fact that I would rather this case could be settled in a peaceful manner.

  • Re:Positive move? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Mozk ( 844858 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @04:39AM (#29081733)

    And, why, exactly, can you not modify them?

    Because the device only accepts firmware with the proper digital signature? At least, that's how TiVo did it.

  • Re:Huh (Score:3, Informative)

    by slash.duncan ( 1103465 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @04:43AM (#29081751) Homepage

    So if sell someone a box with a linux distribution installed on it do I need to print out all of that distribution's source code and ship it with the computer as well?

    You don't need to print it out. In fact, that would be discouraged and may not meet the requirements of being in a customary format (too lazy to go look up the specific GPL wording ATM, but electronic format would be encouraged, dead tree format discouraged as it has to be converted back to electronic format for use), today. You do, however, need to make the sources available -- and no, pointing at upstream doesn't suffice, except "in the trivial case". (Again, I'm not going to go look up the details, but the idea is that individual users can share say Ubuntu and point to Ubuntu for sources, but commercial distributors and the like must make them available themselves.)

    With GPLv2 (which the Linux kernel uses), you have two choices. If you provide sources at the time of purchase, say, throwing in a CD/DVD with the sources on it, you're covered, and don't have to worry about it when you quit distributing the binaries. Similarly with a download, if you provide the binaries and an archive with the sources at the same time, you're fine. Similarly if you distribute disks at a FLOSS convention or the like. Have a stack of disks with the binaries and another with the sources (or a computer with a burner setup to burn a disk of the sources on demand, assuming there'll be less demand for that than the binaries).

    Alternative two is to include a notice /with/ the software offering the sources for no more than a limited handling fee, to cover the costs of providing them (and this cost may be audited if you decide it's several hundred or thousand dollars...). *HOWEVER*, if you do this, the offer of sources must be valid for (I believe it's) three years from the time of distribution of the binaries -- thus, you must keep the exact sources necessary to build the binaries as distributed (not an updated version of those sources) available for three years BEYOND the point at which you stop distributing the binaries, so users who get the binaries the last time they were distributed have sufficient time to decide they want the sources, and (covering the user-trivial case) so they can pass on disks using you as an upstream sources provider, provided they don't have to be a provider themselves.

    It is the three-year requirement in this choice that sometimes ensnares distributions that are otherwise playing by the rules, as many don't realize that if they only include the offer for sources, it must remain valid for three years after they've stopped distributing the binaries. Take a distribution that may be distributing historical versions of their LiveCD, for instance, from say 2003. As long as they are still distributing that LiveCD, AND FOR THREE YEARS AFTER, in ordered to comply with the GPLv2, they must make the sources used to compile the binaries on that CD available, as well. So if they're still offering that historical 2003 LiveCD in August 2009, they better still have the sources used to create it available thru August, 2012, or they're in violation of the GPLv2 that at least the Linux kernel shipped on that LiveCD is licensed with. It's easy enough to forget about that part and thus be in violation, when they can't provide sources for the binaries that were current way back in 2003, but that they may well still be making available "for historical interest" on that 2003 LiveCD.

    One many distributions become aware of this catch, they make it policy to ensure that they make available the actual sources at the time of distribution as well as the binaries, instead of simply providing the notice that people can request them later, so they don't have to worry about that 3-year thing.

    Of course, if an organization is on top of things, and sets it up so they're tarballing all the sources for a particular shipped version and indexing them by product release and/or model number (and perh

  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @04:44AM (#29081757) Homepage Journal

    You have it absolutely wrong. Your version of the source has to be available to your customers, so if you haven't modified the source in any way then you CAN provide them with the source from canonical.

    Okay lets read the license [].

    b) Convey the object code in, or embodied in, a physical product
            (including a physical distribution medium), accompanied by a
            written offer, valid for at least three years and valid for as
            long as you offer spare parts or customer support for that product
            model, to give anyone who possesses the object code either (1) a
            copy of the Corresponding Source for all the software in the
            product that is covered by this License, on a durable physical
            medium customarily used for software interchange, for a price no
            more than your reasonable cost of physically performing this
            conveying of source, or (2) access to copy the
            Corresponding Source from a network server at no charge

    The problem is that canonical may not provide that version on line for three years. They might be out of business then. So I have to host the source or pay canonical to do it for me.

  • Re:Huh (Score:4, Informative)

    by 49152 ( 690909 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @04:47AM (#29081769)

    Not exactly correct

    You only need to provide source code when ASKED for it. There is no requirement in the GPL to pro-actively distribute the source code along with the binaries nor that they must be available for download on the Internet. The good old CD in the mail system is fine. You might even charge for CD and postage.

    However, if you do not include source code in the distribution then you need to provide a written offer valid for at least three years to provide anyone who possesses the object code a copy of the corresponding source code.

    The reason most compliant companies chose to either include the source or just put it on their corporate web page is because this is easier in the first place than to handle potentially thousands of letters asking for the source later.

  • by rohde ( 1618993 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @05:27AM (#29081863)
    Please read my web page as it pretty much answers why they decided to track me down. I'm beginning to think you did not read the prologue? I was in contact multiple times with the security investigators from NDS and made them aware of the problem. We had meetings and phone conversations. It is now 6 weeks since I pointed them to the GPL violations and no comments so far. Viasat distributes the box and is the official offender, but I am pretty sure they rely on the solution bought from NDS. This is why I first tried to talk with NDS.
    If you are wondering why NDS sent security investigators it was most likely because I started digging into how the box is tied to your subscription card, thus making it impossible for you to use other brands of satellite receivers.
  • by blowdart ( 31458 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @05:34AM (#29081885) Homepage
    "Pretty sure"? Google doesn't agree, in fact I can't find any proof or even discussion of what OS the Sky+ box uses. Under the hood it's an XTV device [], which runs, according to XTV "IXI-Connect OS(TM)".
  • by harlows_monkeys ( 106428 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @06:05AM (#29081995) Homepage

    Everything which you distribute which is GPL licensed puts an obligation on you to distribute the source code

    Not quite correct. For example, I bought a router that includes GPL code. If I sell that router on eBay, I am not obligated to provide source code, even though I am distributing the binary code that is in the router.

    Only if your distribution requires permission from the copyright owner do you have worry about distributing source code. When you buy a product that contains copyrighted code, and then simply redistribute that particular copy, you do not need the copyright owner's permission.

  • by RAMMS+EIN ( 578166 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @06:25AM (#29082055) Homepage Journal

    ``This guy sent a mail, wasn't satisfied - in 13 days, then sued.

      By all means nail the GPL violators, but yeesh give them a chance to come clean first.''

    I don't disagree, I'm just saying that they've had that chance. It didn't start with that letter. The right of the company to distribute software it does not have the copyright to starts with a license from the copyright holder. So their first chance to do it right would have to either distribute the software under the terms of the GPL, or obtain a different license from the copyright holders.

    Secondly, the mail your refer to is not the only warning they have gotten. In my previous post, I've already pointed out that there have been similar cases of GPL violations. They could have known about these. The author of the mail you refer to also says he has been in contact with the violating companies prior to sending his mail. Even if the violators had mistakenly assumed that the GPL allows them to distribute software in the way they were distributing it, they've had opportunities to realize this wasn't the case. Primarily, of course, they should not have made that assumption - they should have actually read the license they got.

    Thirdly, 13 days is enough to at least get back to the sender of the mail and convince him that you are looking into the problem and willing to resolve it in a satisfactory manner.

    Finally, I do not think that going to court at any point is unreasonable. It is what you do if you feel you cannot come to a satisfactory arrangement with the other party otherwise. Suing the other party does not preclude you from reaching agreement in any way. It simply means that a third party will decide the case if the two parties in conflict fail to reach agreement.

  • by PAjamian ( 679137 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @06:54AM (#29082137)

    If they do not comply, regardless of the reason, then they do not have any license to redistribute the GPLed software at all.

    If they cannot comply then they will end up having to pay punitive damages to the copyright holders of the software that they illegally distributed and cease any further distribution of the software.

    You cannot simply ignore the GPL because it doesn't fit with your other contractual obligations. The copyright holders were not a party to those other contracts and so the existence of them does not free the distributors of their GPL obligations.

  • by nosferatu1001 ( 264446 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:46AM (#29082285)

    14 days, or 10 working days, is sufficient time to require a response - not necessarily a solution but to acknowledge that they have received the letter and X is doing Y or Z to resolve the issue.

    If you do not receive one in this time, and have proof you sent and they received the correspondance, go ahead and sue - you have attempted to limit (mitigate) your costs, they chose not to respond.

  • I work for NDS... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:48AM (#29082289)

    ... and I call bullshit on his story of "NDS investigators". What we do, we do well, and what we don't, we stay out of.

    As far as technical details: no kernel changes were made; the drivers are non-GPLed, using a small GPL'ed wrapper layer. The NDS software, which on these boxes runs entirely in user-space, is linked against the LGPL'ed uClibc. Busybox is used on the STB. All of the "glue" (such as busybox, boot scripts, etc) are provided by the broadcaster, STB manufacturer, and/or chipset vendor.

    The bootloader is not based on any Linux code.

  • Re:Positive move? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Provocateur ( 133110 ) <shedied&gmail,com> on Sunday August 16, 2009 @08:15AM (#29082407) Homepage

    Well, it seemed that he HAD tried the diplomatic route, not just once, and now the companies are 'forcing his hand' to use this last resort.

    Doesn't anybody RTFCATFA (read the f***g comments about the f***g article) anymore? What is this world coming to??

  • Re:Positive move? (Score:4, Informative)

    by David Gerard ( 12369 ) <slashdot @ d a v i> on Sunday August 16, 2009 @08:25AM (#29082471) Homepage
    Considering they first sent around inspectors to spy on him for daring to open the box ... fuck 'em. Fuck 'em hard.
  • Re:I work for NDS... (Score:5, Informative)

    by rohde ( 1618993 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @09:03AM (#29082681)
    Well if you call bullshit on my story with the "NDS investigators" then please back it up. You should probably be able to figure out who they are and get their side of the story. If not then I can supply you with their business cards.
    You say that no kernel changes were made. Could you then please explain why it is named 2.6.12-4.0-brcmstb?
    You also know that doing a static link against LGPL forces you to at least share object files?
    Who actually does the "glue" is really not interesting in the case as the provider (in this case Viasat) must comply with GPL. It is not my job to contact every company on earth to get hold of the parts.
  • Re:Huh (Score:3, Informative)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @09:09AM (#29082705) Journal
    How about from the FSF []. For those too lazy to click on a link:

    I want to distribute binaries via physical media without accompanying sources. Can I provide source code by FTP?

    Version 3 of the GPL allows this; see option 6(b) for the full details. Under version 2, you're certainly free to offer source via FTP, and most users will get it from there. However, if any of them would rather get the source on physical media by mail, you are required to provide that.

    Distributing the source online is only acceptable if you also (only) distribute the binary online. If you distribute the binary on a physical medium, such as a disk, tape, or set-top box, then you must provide a written offer good for three years of the source code.

  • Re:I work for NDS... (Score:5, Informative)

    by rohde ( 1618993 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @09:30AM (#29082787)
    Btw I forgot to thank you for pointing out the fact that NDS has thought about the GPL and for confirming the box indeed carries GPL'ed software.
    The module you are referring to is probably callisto_gpl.ko. I find it noble that you like to use GPL'ed software, but try to come up with clever ways to work around the intentions of GPL.
    But since everything apparently is thought through I do not see any real problems in complying with GPL. Then the community can perhaps start thinking of ways to get around all the obstacles put inside the box to disallow changes to the software.
  • Re:I work for NDS... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Aggrajag ( 716041 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @10:02AM (#29082977)

    Looks like it is using same kernel as Zinwell's STB's and they have been more
    than unhelpful with people asking them to comply with GPL.

  • Re:Huh (Score:3, Informative)

    by dissy ( 172727 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @10:43AM (#29083253)

    You have to offer to supply the source for all GPL software, not just your changes.

    Just because such a comment will get you modded up on slashdot, does not make it true. []

    If I write a driver for Linux, and it is GPLed, all that is required of me is to release the source code for that driver.
    I do NOT, i repeat NOT, have to provide an entire mirror of, nor a mirror of the FSF code base, nor am I expected to provide the source code to your pet GPL project, if I do not distribute any of that stuff as a binary!

    It is not possible to expect the developers (or in this case, distributers) to have the source for *ALL* gpl software. That is just ridiculous.

    If my driver is made from scratch, I must provide its complete source, and any glue code needed to compile and use it.
    If it is a modification to an existing driver, then I must provide sources of the entire end-result. aka diff files are not enough, it must be the entire code for THE DRIVER, including my changes. But that is it. Not the source to all kernels, not the source to every possible distro that driver would work on. Just my changes.

    Providing a distribution is different of course. You do need a source 'snapshot' of the entire distribution. But that is it!
    If I distribute a version of Ubuntu with my driver, then I must provide the source to that Ubuntu release, as well as my driver.

    Again, not *ALL* GPLed source code, as you claim. Just source of what you are distributing binaries of.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @11:19AM (#29083551) Homepage

    Exactly. Panasonic uses linux in ALL of it's HDTV's the TV tells you it has linux, the manuals talk about linux and the GPL. and their website has links to what I need.

    If a company cant do that, then they are scumbags. Most HDTV's and DVD, BluRay players run linux. In fact more people run linux in their home than windows because of how pervasive it is in the Embedded market. 90% of the companies out there can easily comply with the GPL, This one can easily do the same.

  • by Antique Geekmeister ( 740220 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @11:31AM (#29083645)

    No. They can't. NVidia very carefully does not _publish_ kernels with the modifications. They publish a downloadable patch that you must manually apply on top of your existing kerneal, and the agreement on that patch says you _may not_ distribute it as part of a kernel.

    Sending boxes to people's homes pre-installed with non-GPL modifications would be a much more blatant GPL violation, because it would constitute distribution of the "tainted" kernel, rather than allowing people to taint their own kernels. They have similar problems with modifications to glibc, which is far more likely, since that's a component other set-top box and Linux appliance manufacturers have been caught violating the GPL on as well.

  • by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Sunday August 16, 2009 @10:34PM (#29087941)

    Anyways, what it came down to is our legal department recommended against using linux because of having to provide source code, their slant on it was that if we didn't offer the latest linux on cd for reinstallation purposes, we'd have to keep the source code around somewhere for offering to distribute it because it matched whatever out of date version we had in our kit. In the case if we then actually DID distribute it and even the smallest piece subsequently failed to build, we would then have to help the customer fix the smallest piece that would fail to duplicate his slightly out of date binary debian installation and thus have to possibly duplicate THE ENTIRE DEBIAN PROJECT.

    Your lawyers were wrong; GPL compliance is not even slightly that hard.

    1. You don't have to ship the "latest" anything; just take a snapshot of the source code at the time you compiled the version running on the box, burn it on a CD, and shove it in the damn package. You're done! You don't even have to maintain an FTP server or mailing address at that point; you've already fulfilled all your obligations from the get-go. It's not fucking rocket science...
    2. The "we'll have to help the customer fix it if it fails to build" argument is so completely wrong that I don't understand how the idiots could even manage to come up with it. Back in reality, the GPL says exactly the opposite: that it disclaims any warranty, merchantability, fitness of purpose, etc.

Loose bits sink chips.