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Linux Devicemaker Sued In First US Test of GPL 315

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the running-it-up-the-flagpole dept.
An anonymous reader writes "For the first time in the U.S., a company is being taken to court for a GPL violation. The Software Freedom Law Center has sued Monsoon Multimedia over alleged GPL violations in the Hava, a place- and time-shifting TV recorder similar to the SlingBox. Interestingly, Monsoon Multimedia is run by a highly experienced international lawyer named Graham Radstone. According to his corporate biography, Radstone has an MA in Law from the University of Cambridge, England, and held the top legal spot at an unnamed "$1 billion private multinational company." He also reportedly held top management positions with Philip Morris, Pfizer, and DHL. Sounds like the makings of a good old legal Donnybrook ahead."
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Linux Devicemaker Sued In First US Test of GPL

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  • by Sparr0 (451780) <sparr0@gmail.com> on Thursday September 20, 2007 @08:19PM (#20690463) Homepage Journal
    Some [misguided] courts have held that because the GPL makes some "offers", the author gives up their rights to pursue copyright violations and is restricted to only pursuing the issue as a matter of contract breach. This has at least SOME logical basis, illustrated by this quite-oversimplified semantic example:

    I say {you can distribute my code} under the terms of the GPL.
    I say you can {distribute my code under the terms of the GPL}.

    In the former case, you have permission to distribute my code, but have violated our contract if you do so outside the terms of the GPL. In the latter case, you ONLY have permission to distribute my code if you do so under the terms of the GPL, and have violated my copyright if you do so without that conditional permission. Any sensible judge will understand that the latter is the only viable way to handle the issue, but we have some quite nonsensible judges on benches in various places these days.
  • by angryfirelord (1082111) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @08:23PM (#20690493)
    All true, but the big deal here is that this is the first time someone has stepped forward and said, "Hey, you're not complying with the GPL so we're taking you to court."

    It'll be interesting to see where this case goes & if other lawsuits will follow if this one is a success.
  • by ThosLives (686517) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @08:24PM (#20690507) Journal

    I think this will be an interesting suit. Without knowing all the details, it sounds like the situation may be:

    Monsoon built a box, and put the BusyBox software on it, and uses the BusyBox software as a "black box" utility package.

    Now, the question is: are the things that use BusyBox derivative of BusyBox or not? It doesn't make sense that Monsoon could be sued because it's not distributing the source code for BusyBox, because the product offered is not "BusyBox" - besides that, BusyBox source can presumably be found wherever it is that Monsoon got it.

    Does use of BusyBox by Monsoon mean that every bit of Monsoon's other code has to be released as well? This is the sticky point, and my guess is this is what is going to be fought. I think there's a strong case, as well: if I write "Hello, world" that runs on Linux, is that a derivative work? I don't think anyone would consider it to be so. I would bet that if Monsoon can demonstrate that they are just using BusyBox out of convenience and not because it is crucial to their software, the worst that will happen is that they will have to replace the BusyBox with some other code. I don't think they can be forced to release their source code. That said, I don't know that they'd have to stop and wait in the meantime anyway - if they are just using BusyBox "off the shelf", as the hypothetical "hello world" just uses Linux or whatever "off the shelf" then I don't think there would be an issue. I guess the question then is, if I write "hello world" for Linux, and with my hello world distribute Linux as well, does that mean I have to release the source to "hello world"?

    That's the question I'm fairly certain people are going to see here.

  • Yay! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by frup (998325) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @08:56PM (#20690801)
    Grocklaw has something else to jabber about! :P The GPL better hold tight, it would be seriously worrying what would happen otherwise.
  • by yankpop (931224) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @08:59PM (#20690829)

    You're very confused about what the GPL does. If Monsoon is selling a piece of hardware that is running GPL code, that is very clearly distribution. If they haven't modified the code in doing so, they are still required to make the source available to their customers should they request it. And if they have modified the source at all, their modifications must be made available. Whether or not there is other code included in the product that is unrelated to busybox is immaterial. They can put all the proprietary code they like in their product, but anything derived from GPL code must be made available to customers who request it.

    Some of your particular points:

    Now, the question is: are the things that use BusyBox derivative of BusyBox or not?

    They don't even need to be 'derivative'. They just need to use BusyBox, and they are bound to provide the sources on request.

    Does use of BusyBox by Monsoon mean that every bit of Monsoon's other code has to be released as well?

    Absolutely not. The GPL doesn't spread to other code. Programmers spread GPL code to other projects. Any derivative of GPL code has to be released when it's distributed, but other unrelated code in the same product is not effected. See almost any Linux distribution for examples of GPL and proprietary code being distributed side by side.

    I would bet that if Monsoon can demonstrate that they are just using BusyBox out of convenience and not because it is crucial to their software, the worst that will happen is that they will have to replace the BusyBox with some other code.

    This is just plain ridiculous. Can I distribute photocopies of a Stephen King novel, just because it's more convenient than writing my own book?

    I don't think they can be forced to release their source code.

    If it is derived from GPL code they most certainly can.

    I guess the question then is, if I write "hello world" for Linux, and with my hello world distribute Linux as well, does that mean I have to release the source to "hello world"? That's the question I'm fairly certain people are going to see here.

    I'm fairly certain you don't have the foggiest idea how the GPL works. You should take a stroll over to gnu.org before you continue with your uninformed speculation.

  • Why not use a BSD? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by noldrin (635339) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @08:59PM (#20690831)
    If you want an OS for a box and to keep the source to yourself, then why wouldn't you use a BSD? What advantage do you get for using Linux and other code released under the GPL? Is it just corporate types who are looking to cheap out on development and know the Linux buzzword?
  • by karl.auerbach (157250) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:04PM (#20690871) Homepage
    Has the copyright been registered with the US copyright office?

    If not, the question arises about the legal requirements about having a registration *before* going to court.

    If so, it raises the questions of statutory damages, but also raises the question whether the registration(s) were made by the actual authors of each separate snippet of code in the composite work, each having its own author and date of authorship.
  • by mark-t (151149) <[markt] [at] [lynx.bc.ca]> on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:11PM (#20690935) Journal

    The GPL is legal agreement between two parties
    Even if this were correct, it is superfluous. GPL'd works are copyrighted, and may not be copied without permission from the copyright holder. The GPL says that one must agree to its terms to get permission, so without it there is no permission unless otherwise arranged with the copyright holder. Whether the GPL itself has never been tested in court is also irrelevant because copying any copyrighted work still requires permission from the copyright holder.
  • by mr_matticus (928346) on Friday September 21, 2007 @01:59AM (#20693003)

    Nope, it's not a contract. It's a conditional license, the granting and continuation of which is conditional upon complying with its terms.
    And how, pray tell, do you enforce a license under the law? (Hint: a license, i.e. an agreement not to sue, involves a meeting of the minds around specific terms and requirements). That's right, CONTRACTS.

    Offer of the license is not conditional. It's right there on the website. Should the offeror wish to exercise some limit on making the offer, they have every right to do that, but that means individually entering into agreements.

    As soon as you break the terms you have revoked the license yourself, and may no longer distribute under it.
    Okay. I'll roll with it. Since you revoked the license, you're responsible for enforcing that revocation...on yourself. Crash and burn!

    Somebody needs to get his terminology straight.
  • by Brandybuck (704397) on Friday September 21, 2007 @02:05AM (#20693025) Homepage Journal
    Courts where the GPL has been tested (e.g. in Germany) have upheld this.

    But this isn't Germany. Every nation has slightly different legal systems. I tried looking up your term "conditional license", and the only thing showing up is stuff about drivers licenses. I very strongly suspect you made up this term, and that it doesn't exist in US law.
  • by h4rm0ny (722443) on Friday September 21, 2007 @03:58AM (#20693597) Journal

    What gets me is that according to TFS this guy is a world renowned super lawyer. Why is he suddenly (the company is three years old) director of a smallish video-software company based around a single (GPL-violating) company. It's almost like a set-up for an assault on the GPL. A sort of legal Kuwait. Or is that too paranoid?
  • by AJWM (19027) on Friday September 21, 2007 @11:13AM (#20696671) Homepage
    Troll or moron, I was right.

    It's the only thing that grants you legal access to the copyrighted material.

    There is no such restriction in law. Where's the license that grants you legal access to read this copyrighted material? Every work is copyrighted from the moment of its creation. What grants you legal access to download this website? Or read the newspaper? Or a billboard? Or listen to the radio? Copyright law places restrictions on copying (duh!) not reading/receiving. (Don't bother mentioning satellite broadcasts, they're covered by FCC regulations, not copyright law.)

    You certainly have a bizarro-world concept of copyright law. Do you work for SCO?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 21, 2007 @07:27PM (#20705729)
    Finally, SOMEONE got the point!

    Monsoon Support Droid (boy, I've been called a lot of things, but THAT is low)

    wink wink wink wink

    Leaving the rest of it up to the lawyers.

The person who's taking you to lunch has no intention of paying.

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