A group of open source advocates is suing tech giant Cisco for alleged violation of the General Public Licence (GPL). The Free Software Foundation (FSF) said yesterday that it had filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the network kit vendor in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. The group …
Then it's about time!
"The group added that it had never taken a company to court before over a copyright dispute in the 15 years it’s been enforcing its licences."
Companies will always try to squeeze out of such commitments. Cases like this NEED to be brought before a court in order to establish precedent. This makes the licenses stronger in the future.
Copyright infringement or licence non-compliance?
The question which hasn't been resolved in court about GPL (ever, to the best of my knowledge) is whether what Cisco have allegedly done is:
a) Distributed software which they have been given permission to distribute, but failed to comply with a condition, or
b) Distributed software which they don't have permission to distribute, because they have not complied with the conditions.
This is an important distinction: In (a) the alleged offence is failure to comply with contract conditions, in (b) the alleged offence is the far more serious one of copyright infringement.
I don't for a moment think this particular case will actually be heard in court.
Copyright infringement it is
Actually, while I don't remember GPL being tested in a US court, another free software license was tested and has so far prevailed. I'm talking about the Robert Jacobsen vs. Kamind Associates case:
I'm sure the SFLC lawyers will be citing the Court of Appeals decision.
I'm not sure that I understand what the infringement is either.
As I understand it, CISCO can only have infringed the GPL if they have modified any of the GPL'd code, and put it in a product without making the changes they made to the source available. If this is the case, all they need to do is to provide, on request, the altered code to whoever asks for it. They do not even have to put it on a publicly accessible web site.
There is certainly no block on USING, say the GCC compiler, libraries and other tools to create a commercial product which is NOT covered by the GPL, provided that no modified code licensed under the GPL is included in the product. If this were not the case, then any software developed using GPL'd tools would have to be published under the GPL, a situation that is explained at some length in the information about the GNU Public License.
Linking against the libraries is allowed, but modifying the libraries, compiler or tools to produce the product without making the source changes available is not. I would assume that the process of porting to a new architecture which required library or compiler changes would require those changes to be made available.
I would expect that if the libraries were modified as part of the porting process to produce the product, then these changes would have to be published, although it may be a moot point as to whether using a modified compiler counts as included code. It would certainly be against the spirit of the GPL, but it may not break the license in the strictest sense. This one is probably for the lawyers.
Just my two-pennies worth, which btw. can be found in the right pocket.
First give stuff away for free, and then cry when someone uses it in a product and makes bajillions . waa waa waa. Shouldn't have given it away in the first place.
@ Peter Gathercole
Dynamic linking to libraries can still result in a derived work if the linked library cannot be easily substituted for another non-GPL'ed library. In that case, the work does not stand on its own and the entire work would be considered to be derived.
Re: GPL @Peter Gathercole
As I recall, Linksys had been in some hot water with the FSF because they had modified code in their products and not released the code. Then Cisco bought them out, taking on that liability themselves. I seem to recall that Cisco has released *some*, but not all, of the custom code in question.
That having been said, I've heard people claim that distributing GPL binaries attaches a requirement to make the source code available, even if one hasn't modified the source code in question. This is normally fairly easy to do by setting up a mirror FTP site.
Cisco could save money by complying
Just release the source, and let "the community" fix the bugs in the various Linksys firmwares.
I recently bought a DMA2100 Media Centre Extender, and it's a great device, but there's a list of half a dozen niggles that would probably be fixed within 24 hours if Cisco would just open source the code. (Fairly trivial things like enabling "magic packets" to wake the media centre, and allowing the playback of Divx files without having to modify the fourcc code to xvid. The device can play mp4 files, but doesn't recognize MKV containers, etc).
Cisco would be doing themselves a favour, their customers a favour, and the Open Source community a favour.
I'm no lawyer, but I believe that GPL3 removes the requirement to publish the source for "system libraries", that include all OS libraries and runtime libraries for languages and tools like Python and Ruby. This is how I interpret the information explained at http://www.gnu.org/licenses/quick-guide-gplv3.html. The test appears to be whether the library could reasonably be expected to be freely available.
In the case of a port to new hardware, this test may fail, and may require all source to be published.
Of course , it is likely that the Linksys products were published under GPL2.
A friend of mine works for Cisco. His 'Official Comment' is "Bring it on, hippies!"