back to article Free software lawyers hit Best Buy et al with GPL 'violation' claim

US retail giant Best Buy and 13 other consumer electronics firms have been named in a copyright infringement lawsuit filed yesterday in New York by the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC). The pro-free and open source software law firm said it had brought the complaint on behalf of the Software Freedom Conservancy, which is the " …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.
Headmaster

free software lawyers?

Software lawyers are free? That'll be the day...

1
1
Welcome

free as in freedom not as in price

You won't have too much trouble getting this kind of legal work done pro bono given that developers using these licenses want consumers to have access to source code to avoid freedom being compromised and the pool of talent which could contribute being depleted. Legal firms exist which have annual budgets concerning the amount of pro bono work they do, and this kind of case will come high up their criteria for support. I very much doubt Richard Stallman has ever had to find money to pay legal bills - he is setting an agenda very many people are keen to contribute substantially towards.

When, as a programmer, you are able to assign copyright to a suitably well funded software freedom organisation which pursues your agenda, then you obtain a strong ally in ensuring your objectives concerning distributee access to source code will be achievable.

3
1
Anonymous Coward

Oh No, They Will have to Comply

with the GPL and release the source code to busybox, and any of their sneaky modifications, to all and sundry to whit they have bestowed.

Oh, woe is them.

0
0
Linux

Licenses are Licenses

There's an easy way for these companies to avoid or settle such lawsuits, and that is to comply with the terms of the GPL. Generally, that means releasing their (possibly modified) BusyBox code to the public. Such actions are unlikely to seriously affect any business plans, since I doubt that BusyBox, or even a modified BusyBox, contains many trade secrets or other proprietary information.

0
0
Bronze badge
Boffin

Big Picture

So, when we look at the big picture, what is the point of this?

No-one is ever going to download the source of _a small portion_ of the firmware of their TV etc so why bother?

0
1
Linux

I want my TV's source code

You are very likely to find the TV firmware as a whole is a derived work, considering it was distributed together on the same chip, and compiled together into the same single program. So the demand is going to be for the source code capable of being used to create the firmware image as a whole.

The reason I want my TV's source code is because I want full control over what my own TV can do once I have purchased it. The software developer issued Busybox under the GPL partly so I could contribute any improvements I might be able to make towards Busybox, and if I don't get my TV's source code then I can't make any improvements to it.

2
1
Silver badge

Why bother?

They might have made improvements to the code, sharing them is what you "pay" for using GPL code.

Maybe no-one is going to download code for a TV, but for some devices there will be interest. Look at internet routers running GPL code, you can download different software for then with more or different features then the software that comes in the box.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Not quite a derived work

"considering it was distributed together on the same chip, and compiled together into the same single program."

If they have an embedded Linux system that happens to be running Busybox as well as some proprietary software, the presence of Busybox does not make their proprietary software a derived work.

The fact that they're "distributed together on the same chip" isn't important, that would be like saying anything on your hard drive is a derived work, since you have some open source software on said hard drive (the "same chip" in the embedded system is most likely a flash module mounted as one or more partitions).

You are correct that if they modified Busybox, those mods are based on the original, and would indeed be a derived work. You're also correct about why it's important to have access to the source code. AFAIKT, the lawsuit is alleging that they used Busybox, and did not make the source code of Busybox available, not that they need to provide access to anything else (although I just skimmed the filing).

Odd that Best Buy was named... how would they even know if Busybox was on the products? How would they know if any modifications to the source code were made? Would they have access to the source code from, say, Toshiba? etc. Well, I suppose it's "sue everyone, let the judge sort it out".

0
0
Go

ahem

http://products.sel.sony.com/opensource/

0
0
Pirate

My purchases go elsewhere

It is very annoying when companies misuse free software. I have sent a donation of funds to sflc and I have also emailed samsung letting them know I will now be actively avoiding their products, and urging others to do the same.

2
1

Software lawyers are free?

Pro bono. look it up.

1
1
Flame

Tom - what color is the sky in the world you live in?

Pro bono when is suits the suits. Free lawyers are with every penny you are paying for their services

0
0

What does this have to do with BestBuy

Everyone except bestbuy listed is a system integrator or manufacturer. bestBuy is simply a retailer, they do not manufacture the device, unless they've got some clone under their Insignia branding (which is typically made by someone else and simply has a lable slapped on it, and I'm sure there's LOTS of legalese in those contracts to ensure bestbuy can't be targeted for stuff like this under thier terms).

0
0
Linux

The retailer distributes the software

As a distributor of material coming under a copyright license you either comply with the copyright license or you have no right to distribute. This is how copyright law works. The copyright owner or assignee has the right to go after the unlicensed distributor. What happens quite often is that the manufacturer is located in a country where enforcement is difficult. Then the easiest way to get the manufacturer to comply with the license is by putting the retailer in the situation where if the manufacturer does not comply they would either get countersued by the retailer, or the retailer would be forced to discontinue sale of the products.

If the retailer sees costs in compliance they will be more careful about products they buy wholesale from manufacturers in future.

All these cases I'm aware of to date have been settled out of court by the manufacturer being forced into license compliance, i.e. by releasing the source code as required by the license.

1
1
Pint

@copsewood

That was really informative. It's always a pleasure learning something from comments. Beer's on me.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Best Buy branded DVD player

Another report (no, I don't remember where) gave the model number of the Best Buy branded DVD player at issue. Their name is on the box, so they are on the hook for this. Their contract with the OEM may have an indemnification clause, but that just means the OEM gets to foot the bill.

1
0

anti-compliance comments beggar belief

Belittling compliance cases like this denegrates the quality of all future requests for compliance, not in a legally binding sense but as a powerful negotiation tool. It's like not bothering with trying to keep advertisers compliant with the Advertising Standards Authority. If you don't bother then there's no point having any standards at all. I want to live in a world where GPL (and other licensing schemes - whatever they are) are followed through. If you don't work to keep your house in order, eventually it falls down.

0
1
Silver badge
Thumb Up

They sue only as a last resort

They don't normally sue, until they've exhausted all other avenues for obtaining license compliance. Most such violations are unintentional, and the offending party is persuaded to release their source code once they have the violation drawn to their attention and have taken legal advice.

Methinks the organisations named are being particularly difficult, either out of pigheadedness, or because their firmware contains something that they want to hide (Spyware? Customer-monitoring-ware? Closed-source DRM? ) that they've linked into a GPL-derived work.

2
0

No point in GPL for commercial software

"You must cause any work that you distribute or publish, that in whole or in part

contains or is derived from the Program or any part thereof, to be licensed as a

whole at no charge to all third parties under the terms of this License."

It looks as though the problem is that the resulting software is seen as being sold rather than given away under the terms of the GPL. It could be an interesting one - some might argue that the software was provided for free but the device that it ran on was paid for. Of course, there is still the argument that they need to publish the source code.

It just goes to show, however tempting it may be, GPL or other open-source code and commercial software just don't mix.

Phil A

1
2

"commercial software"

[i]It just goes to show, however tempting it may be, GPL or other open-source code and commercial software just don't mix.[/i]

Do you mean "proprietary"? It's perfectly possible to make use of Free / open source software in a commercial context, provided that you do not charge a royalty. I have advised on plenty of projects which make "commercial" use of open source software, including GNU GPL 2.0'd software, and hope to continue to do so.

0
0
Bronze badge

GPL happily mixes with commercial software.

"It just goes to show, however tempting it may be, GPL or other open-source code and commercial software just don't mix."

No it doesn't. As has been explained a gazillion times on here and elsewhere, you can freely build and distribute a system with open-source code and proprietary code, provided you don't derive proprietary code from open-source code.

Some examples:

- MacOS is a commercial product which is a mixture of open and closed-source code.

- You can happily and legally run proprietary paid-for applications on GNU/Linux without being obliged to release their source code.

- There are binary drivers for ATI and nVIDEA video cards, Intel wifi chipsets, etc, whose source code doesn't have to be legally released to be loaded by the Linux kernel, and although these happen to be free, there is nothing legally stopping their authors from charging for them. They are commercial software written to sell the hardware they support.

0
0
Silver badge
Boffin

@ Phil A

what are you talking about? just a couple of lines above:

"You may charge a fee for the physical act of transferring a copy, and you may at your option offer warranty protection in exchange for a fee."

So even if you argue that the cost is not that of the device, you are allowed to charge a fee for the act of making the copy or offering a warranty.

The complaint is (as it always is) source not provided.

And we aren't talking about commercal software, we are talking about an embedded application. meaning the software is not what is valuble (as it is in truely commcial software), but the device itself.

0
0
Linux

Wrong

"GPL or other open-source code and commercial software just don't mix."

They can work together very well, as long as the proprietary code is kept separate from the GPL code and they have not made changes to the GPL code.

I can sell a widget that uses Linux for the base OS but has a custom closed app as a binary that makes the widget do something cool. As long as I put a link pointing at kernel.org on the home page for the widget that says "go here for the OS source code, the application itself is not GPLed" I would be in compliance. Not rocket science.

Even commercial closed source embedded OSs keep the app separate from the kernel. You could even have the OS closed but the application code released under the GPL and there would be no problems unless the OS maker is the sort to freak out about people knowing that you use some routine called "taskStart" to start your applications.

IANAL so there may be a little more to it than that , but my point is still valid. You can mix GPL and closed code as long as you follow the rules laid out in the GPL, others have managed to do it so its not impossible.

0
0
Silver badge
Gates Horns

One name seems to have been missed!

Microsoft ... the oldest cribber of the lot.

0
0
Linux

@The First Dave

The big picture is that if the licence isn't enforced it becomes unenforceable - was that OK for you?

0
0

@handle, Timemaster, etc

Yes, I agree with you, apart from one niggling detail... the definition of a "derived work". This is so badly defined that it can make it next to impossible to decide whether or not your proprietary code infringes the GPL. What makes this particularly bad is that the FSF has attempted to clarify this over the years, inconsistently, using language that isn't actually in the licence itself; look at the issues of dynamic linking, kernel drivers, and so on.

A reasonable person might therefore conclude that the GPL is viral, and is incompatible with anything proprietary. A reasonable person who knows anything about RMS might also conclude that the FSF is ideologically opposed to proprietary software.

I personally never touch anything which is GPL'ed; it's not worth it, and you can generally find an alternative with a proper free licence if you look hard enough.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

The founder of Busy Box

Bruce Perens, has made quite a few posts now to Slashdot.

Actually one of Slashdot's better threads in a while.

Here is a take from Bruce:

http://perens.com/blog/2009/12/15/23/

And here is the Slashdot thread

http://yro.slashdot.org/story/09/12/15/1925257/Busybox-Developer-Responds-To-Andersen-SFLC-Lawsuits?art_pos=15

The GPL is not what a lot of people think, there is a viral nature to it, but busybox is quite a useful thing for embedded development, and that viral nature is useful in improving the busybox code. Now if you don't want to give the extensions to who you distribute to, then you shouldn't really extend BusyBox and then sell an item with it.

BSD and other licences such as MIT are much simpler for business, where competitive edge is a factor.

GPL works well for people working on their own small projects, and oddly enough for marketing lead companies, which is quite ironic because most marketing hate the GPL. But, there they are mixing technology competitive edge with marketing, if they were more pure in their marketing the GPL works quite well for them, because the punter doesn't really look at the code or care about it, they want to see the effect and be sold the emotion of inclusion.Especially in the computing field, where computers tend to intimidate because they are complex.

Most people are neurotic, and just looking to belong to a group and seek validation from histronics. Bit sad really, but that is a large chunk of what marketing is all about.

0
0
This topic is closed for new posts.

Forums