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Settlement Reached in Verizon GPL Violation Suit 208

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the lifetime-of-clicking-i-agree-on-licenses-brought-to-a-halt dept.
eldavojohn writes "A settlement has been reached in the Verizon GPLv2 violation suit. The now famous BusyBox developers, Erick Andersen and Rob Landley, will receive an undisclosed sum from subcontractor Actiontec Electronics. 'Actiontec supplied Verizon with wireless routers for its FiOS broadband service that use an open source program called BusyBox. BusyBox developers Andersen and Landley in December sued Verizon -- claiming that the usage violated terms of version 2 of the GNU General Public License.'"
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Settlement Reached in Verizon GPL Violation Suit

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  • Cha-ching! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Citizen of Earth (569446) on Monday March 17, 2008 @05:36PM (#22777666)
    And people say you can't make money by giving your software away.
    • by jgarra23 (1109651)
      So I don't get it does it go like this now?:

      1. Write FOSS
      2. Apply GPLv2
      3. lower yourself to other litigious morons and abuse tort
      4. profit!!!
  • WOW (Score:2, Insightful)

    by budgenator (254554)
    That was pretty expensive free software
  • by coldfarnorth (799174) on Monday March 17, 2008 @05:37PM (#22777688)
    . . . that they settled. I would have liked to see a ruling that established a precident for dealing with this kind of violation.

    Ah well. I'm sure that there were other details that were equally important in determining the outcome.
    • I agree that it's somewhat disappointing that they settled when you consider it as a lost opportunity to test the GPL in court, but hopefully the developers well *well* compensated for their trouble. Perhaps they'll donate a portion of their settlement proceeds to helping others fight these cases. How many "little guys" are out there who might have legitimate infringement claims, but are too scared or too broke to stand up to the legal muscle of a large corporation?

      On a separate note, I just had to Digg [digg.com] this one. The more ways the news can get out about this, the better off the community as a whole is, and it increases visibility for the validity of the GPL. After all, if the case had no merit, why would a megacorp like Verizon settle? These stories need more exposure.
      • The settlements have been for the fees incurred by the SFLC; so yes, the money will precisely go to further defence of free software.
    • by Qubit (100461) on Monday March 17, 2008 @06:09PM (#22778018) Homepage Journal

      I would have liked to see a ruling that established a precident for dealing with this kind of violation.

      Sure -- a lot of us would like to see the certainty (well, some certainty, anyhow) that a precedent would set, but I can't think of a single FOSS developer who is in it for the litigation. Harald Welte, the founder of gpl-violations.org, has stated several times that as important as it has been for him to address violations of the GPL, he really wants to get back to developing software, not spending time with lawyers and courtrooms.

      Besides, we're the "good guys" -- even if it looks like a company should have known better, and even if it's pretty much a given that the company did know better (and is just trying to get away with not releasing source code), then we need to keep on taking the moral high ground and try to resolve the issue in a settlement out of court. At the end of the day, what most FOSS software developers want is to be recognized for their work and to have people respect the terms of the license under which they released their code.

      If a company keeps on committing violations time and time again, then sure -- give ESR and RMS their swords and wish them Happy Hacking -- but otherwise, deal with the underlying gpl violation issue, and move on.
      • by Kamokazi (1080091)
        As far as the moral high ground is considered, I think it's still pretty easy to take them to court and still look like a good guy. All you request in the judgement is legal fees, lost wages, expenses, and then just $1 in damages (or maybe the minimum required to keep it out of small claims court or something). That would probably make you look even better than if you had taken a settlement (though you'll walk away with considerably less money).
    • by XaXXon (202882)
      The GPL really doesn't need to be tested in court. As it relies on copyright, if you don't obey the requirements of the license, you fall back to the default constraints of any copyrighted work -- namely you can't distribute it.
    • by swillden (191260)

      . . . that they settled. I would have liked to see a ruling that established a precident for dealing with this kind of.

      I think this does establish a precedent. It's probably not a citable precedent in the legal sense, but it's certainly an example that other GPL developers' attorneys can show to infringers' attorneys, and it's a good one.

      Part of the problem has been that many companies have looked at the GPL as toothless -- if they don't comply and get called on it, well, then they just go ahead and come into compliance and continue business as usual. This settlement not only did that, but also required positive steps

    • I would have liked to see a ruling that established a precident for dealing with this kind of violation.
      Same here, but bills have to be paid.
    • I don't think we really need a legal precedent to deal with the corporate world in this way. We've already got a functional precedent, which is: violate the GPL--get forced to settle for an undisclosed (large) sum of money. That's what the business world cares about, and that probably means more than any legal ruling ever would when it comes down to it.
    • by Svartalf (2997) on Monday March 17, 2008 @07:59PM (#22778836) Homepage
      Why do you need a precedent? Especially in the case of the V2.0 of the GPL, it's solidly based
      in current Copyright law. It's a derivative works license. The royalty owed for the derivative work
      you produce from the original protected work is to allow YOUR derivations to be available under the
      same license and to provide an offer of the source code for any derivatives or mere copies of the
      protected work.

      Don't comply with the royalty arrangement, the agreement is invalidated. If you're not operating
      under an agreement with the original works providers (in toto) you're guilty of the act of Infringement,
      which is actionable just as if you'd illegally duplicated thousands upon thousands of Brittney's latest
      album (though why anyone in their right mind would want to DO that is beyond me... :-D ).

      And, that is what you keep seeing here. People caught with their hand in the cookie jar, breaking
      Copyright law and capitulating instead of facing the much worse penalties which are typically involved
      with such a breach of law.

      You don't NEED the GPL to be "validated", each settlement of this scope and scale (especially THIS one,
      if you think long and hard about it...)- have already DONE so.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by fishbowl (7759)
        I think there are things about copyright that are simply difficult for some people to understand.
        I've tried to explain it time and time again, and so have you, for years!

        People seem compelled to insist that rights under copyright are equivalent to property rights, and
        that copyright infringement and theft are the same thing.

        Copyright does a much better job of this: Protecting you, the content creator, from someone else
        claiming your work as their own and then accusing YOU of stealing it from THEM.

        Without cop
  • We can't do bugger all with suppositions.
  • Looks like this isn't the first time these guys have litigated this. Infringing this software seems to be a habit.

    Anyway, I wonder if this is a good thing for PR. If companies point to this to be even more reluctant to adopt F/OSS solutions, and make subcontractors indemnify themselves, and basically make everybody CTheirA even more tightly, it will likely be a bad thing for everybody involved; Open Source Software gets less support from the mainstream, services cost more (because of all that R&D pour
    • by ettlz (639203)

      without possibly raising more fears in the suspender-and-two-belts corporate world
      There's always the BSD option.
    • Victory (Score:4, Insightful)

      by corsec67 (627446) on Monday March 17, 2008 @05:58PM (#22777890) Homepage Journal
      I don't quite know what you mean. The court enforced the GPL license as it is written, and GPL is easily available. It isn't like Verizon couldn't see that the code was under the GPL, or what the GPL says.

      If a company can't have someone look over a license to see if they want to accept it, then they probably shouldn't be using GPLd code.

      Or do companies just blindly accept any sort of contract you send their way?

      This also means that if a company wants to release code under the GPL, there is some precedent for enforcing it against someone else that uses the code without releasing their changes.
      • by Ironsides (739422)
        It isn't like Verizon couldn't see that the code was under the GPL, or what the GPL says.

        Only if Verizon saw the original code. If you read the article:
        Actiontec supplied Verizon with wireless routers for its FiOS broadband service that use an open source program called BusyBox.

        looks to me like Verizon never saw the original code. They contracted out for routers. They didn't make the routers themselves.
    • Re:Mixed Victory (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Belial6 (794905) on Monday March 17, 2008 @06:00PM (#22777926)
      This is not any worse PR than the running of the mouths we always hear. This situation would not have changed one bit if the software used was proprietary. The fact that it was F/OSS had no bearing on the situation, other than the fact that Verizon had a get out of free jail card that they decided not to play. With proprietary software, they would have HAD to pay on the lawsuit. With the F/OSS software they could have just published the source.
      • by v1 (525388)
        What's the timeline on something like this? When it says you have to release your source code, does it say how much time you have to do it? Or is there x days after the first request that you have, or what? Could verizon have just kept saying "just give us a few more weeks to tidy up our source code and comb for offensive comments etc" and stall indefinitely?
      • And in this case, not only did they have to pay, but they wound up having to publish the source anyway. If they don't publish it soon, all the other authors that contributed to busybox will come looking for their settlement.

        It [Actiontec] must also appoint an internal officer to ensure that it's in compliance with licenses governing the open source software it uses. ... The settlement calls for Actiontec to post the source code on its Web site.
    • Re:Mixed Victory (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Lumpy (12016) on Monday March 17, 2008 @06:03PM (#22777964) Homepage
      HUH? The companies involved were being snnotty thieves and REFUSED to abide after being contact several times.

      All they had to do was publish and make available the source code. they told them basically to go to hell, we dont have to do anything we are bigger than you.

      The FSF forced the big bully to give them money because the big bully acted like asshats and refused to abide.

      If it reduces the use of GPL code and apps in companies that like to act illegally or above the law, I see it as a good thing.
    • Anyway, I wonder if this is a good thing for PR. If companies point to this to be even more reluctant to adopt F/OSS solutions...

      Why wouldn't it be? After all, companies have to comply with the license for the software they distribute regardless of what that license says. There is no difference between this and proprietary software!

      If you distribute the software, you comply with the license. Whether it's GPL, proprietary, or otherwise. Period. It's really fucking simple!

    • Anyway, I wonder if this is a good thing for PR. If companies point to this to be even more reluctant to adopt F/OSS solutions, and make subcontractors indemnify themselves, and basically make everybody CTheirA even more tightly, it will likely be a bad thing for everybody involved; Open Source Software gets less support from the mainstream, services cost more (because of all that R&D poured into re-inventing this "wheel" thing everybody's talking about), and everybody misses out on the fruits of useful labor that could be shared.

      I think you underestimate the intelligence of most companies.

      Most companies understand the GPL very well. Most understand that you can use GPL'd software without payment, but with legal consequences, they understand these consequences, and make an educated decision whether to use GPL'd software and source code or not in their own products.

      The only exceptions would be companies run by complete morons (they might panic now), or companies who were willing to commit copyright infringement because they th

  • by Diesel Dave (95048) on Monday March 17, 2008 @06:29PM (#22778206)
    "must pay an undisclosed sum to developers Erick Andersen and Rob Landley."

    Now this pisses me off. Anderson you AIN'T GOT FULL COPYRIGHT OF BUSYBOX. I handled it for 2 years prior to you and Perens wrote the original. (And might I add I warned you about improperly changing copyright notices back then.)

    Did you even bother to contact Perens on this?

    If you sued to get them to abide by the GPL, that's one thing. But a personal payout without consideration for the other developers involved? Hell no...
    • and that, right there, is basicly why it is a good idea to assign the copyright to a unique entity. Such as, for example, the FSF.

      Besides, were you a plaintiff in this suit? Did you make the effort of building the evidence and starting the fight against such a Big Scary Entity as Verizon?

      Seriously, give us your part of the story. All of it.
      • by v1 (525388)
        Besides, were you a plaintiff in this suit? Did you make the effort of building the evidence and starting the fight against such a Big Scary Entity as Verizon?

        Some climb the tree and pick the fruit, efforts of their labors.

        Others stand at the base of the tree and catch anything you happen to drop while you're up there.

      • by Svartalf (2997) on Monday March 17, 2008 @08:10PM (#22778898) Homepage

        Seriously, give us your part of the story. All of it.


        It's called, "Sour Grapes". He didn't think to get himself added to the list of litigants or viewed the whole process with disdain and didn't
        get to be part of it. Now that they're settling with PART of the Copyright holders (Here's the key thing there- doesn't matter WHO does the
        filing so long as they have standing. Sorry Diesel Dave, they had Standing, just like you did.) he's pissed off he wasn't in on the whole deal.

        You may not LIKE it, Diesel Dave, but they bothered to litigate- YOU didn't. You all have Standing to sue the hell out of the Infringers.
        Keep in mind, though, Actiontec settled the infringement matter with THEM, but not YOU unless you tacitly chose to allow them to do so.
        Perhaps you can sue them too... It certainly wouldn't be the first time for a Legal "dogpile" on someone who was guilty of Infringement.
        Also keep in mind that they actually brought the matter to the point of an actual trial being filed against them for Infringement- I would
        consider it a matter that they pay SOMETHING back to me and possibly the community at large after the cute games they played. You don't
        get to just publish stuff when you play the "I'm bigger than you are, go to Hell!" card on something like this.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Dr. Zowie (109983)

          It's called, "Sour Grapes".

          Actually, no, it's not. The phrase "Sour Grapes" refers to one of Aesop's Fables, in which a Fox, unable to get his mitts on some nice, juicy grapes, grumbles that the grapes look sour. You've used a false analogy, because Diesel Dave isn't speculating that the reward wasn't worthwhile (sour). He's pissed off because he wasn't able to enjoy any himself, and therefore doesn't want Anderson and Landley to enjoy their winnings. That's more like the Dog in the Manger, a story abou

    • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Monday March 17, 2008 @06:55PM (#22778374) Homepage Journal
      What exactly is your complaint?

      Are you trying to suggest that a single contributor to an open source project can't sue for violation of their copyright?

      If you want a cut, file your own lawsuit against Verizon.. you shouldn't have any trouble getting a settlement nor that Erick and Rob have done the hard work for you.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I can see two courses of action:

      1) If Anderson and Landley claimed that busybox was 100% theirs, and its not, sue them for misrepresenting their copyright claims. There are substantial penalties for this. There might also be a case against Verizon for "receiving stolen property"?

      2) If Anderson and Landley told Verizon they did not own 100% of busybox, write to Verizon and ask them to pay you your x%. A pretty good precedent has been set by their payout to Anderson and Landley. Perhaps someone should tra
      • If Anderson and Landley claimed that busybox was 100% theirs

        This was not the issue in this case. The issues were an alleged violation of the GPL (we will never know for sure now because Verizon settled the case before it went to trial) AND violation of copyright. The issue of whether 100% of the BusyBox source code belonged to the creators who brought the suit was irrelevant so long as some of the code in BusyBox was theirs and Verizon had violated their copyright on their portions of the source code by using it in violation of the terms of the GPL.

        The "stolen p

      • by pnewhook (788591)

        How about Anderson and Landley were the only two ontributers that bothered to spend the time and effort of going to court. Since it was their efforts that won the case they should be compensated alone, not the rest who refused to participate.

    • by CBravo (35450)
      Does this mean you get to sue them too?
    • by bug1 (96678) on Monday March 17, 2008 @07:29PM (#22778644)
      I was also a busybox developer for a number of years, there are some important issues to mention...

      1) The people involved Erik, Rob, SFLC have all donated much of their time over the years to advance the cause, im sure its about the principle, not the money.
      2) They are enforcing the license, its been abused for years, its painful work and they are enforce it, successfully, its an important step in corporations to get past.
      3) Getting the infringing company to pay _someone_ is the only punishment that might change their behavior, companies like this care more about the bottom line than they do about ethics.
      4) Its not free money, the case has been going for months, and im sure they spent a lot of time on it.
      5) SFLC was involved, im sure they have a lot of costs, and my guess is they got some of the settlement too.
      6) Erik and Rob can enforce their contributions to busybox without requiring agreement from other copyright holders, the SFLC wouldnt stand by and let them do anything unethical.
      7) Best not to jump and down about free money unless you know how much it is.

      Having to pay an "undisclosed sum" to every open source coder they they have wronged must scare the crap out the corporate laweryers who are all to happy to roll the dice and advise a strategy of "do what we like until we get caught, then expect forgiveness".

      If this news gets around, corporate lawyers might even take the time to read the GPL.
      • The SFLC getting costs I don't see a problem with. Two latter authors seeing cash (with complete disregard for earlier authors AND the original author) is not looking right here. Keep in mind Anderson was PAID to work on Busybox for quite a long time as an employee of Lineo.

        > 6) Erik and Rob can enforce their contributions to busybox without

        Yes, but only if they actually contributed to the infringed version and they limited their settlement agreement only for their code.

        > 7) Best not to jump and down
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by LordKaT (619540)
          Either go file your own copyright suit and get your damages

          or

          Shut the fuck up, you whining pile of horse shit.
        • by bug1 (96678)
          If it was a large amount of money (and they are off on a spending spree, lol) then i would like to see it disclosed as it would assist other develpoers.

          But if its only a small amount then i think it would be bad to disclose it, The infringing companies can look at the settlement and say, IF we get caught, and IF we get taken to court then the only extra costs are this small penalty (maybe $1) as they probably already have lawyers on staff so its not an EXTRA cost, and license compliance is something they wo
    • by arcade (16638) on Monday March 17, 2008 @07:45PM (#22778750) Homepage
      Shut up and sue them yourself.

      Seriously. Shut up. If you own part of the copyright, go sue verison yourself. See if you too can't get a nice share of it all. If you don't, you're part of the problem - not the solution.

      SERIOUSLY. Shut up. Those guys may sue as much as they want for breach of their copyright. If you've got a different copyright, or didn't licence it under the GPL but under something else - then you might have a suit against both verizon and against those guys. If you licenced it under the BSD licence, you're just So Out Of Luck (Or maybe not, I'm not entirely certain about this GPL BSD thing).

    • by sholden (12227)
      They have copyright over some of it. People with copyright over other bits are free to sue as well...

    • by SETIGuy (33768)
      IANAL, but you may have a claim on the payout, if the terms of the settlement do not require Verizon to follow the terms of the GPL.

      I can see several possibilities.

      1. The terms of the settlement require Verizon to pay a sum to Andersen and Landley and to follow the terms of the GPL for copies all distributed, and for all copies distributed in the future. In this case you probably have no claim as you released the software according to the GPL, and Andersen and Landley have followed the terms of the GPL.
  • A little history (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 17, 2008 @09:34PM (#22779408)
    I used to work for AEI. Back in the day there was another product sold by Qwest and others that also ran Busybox. We were found to be on the Wall of Shame. At that time there were some of us who cared about FOSS and we were ashamed of this. Unfortunately AEI is not a company who gives a shit about its pissant workers. These workers are people the suits jokingly call "monkeys" on phone calls with each other and the suits from the other companies they dealt with such as Qwest, Verizon, etc.. "You want that by Tuesday? OK, we'll just have the monkeys work the weekend." Those underlings who cared about linux cried out about licensing and getting in good with the FOSS community went unheard. AEI's actions seemed hypocritical because we used FOSS so much. Almost the entire dev team used Linux. We used Linux to route our networks, run test servers, etc.. (That being said, we also used an amazing amount of expensive pirated software like Windows Server 2000/2003, NetIQ Chariot, etc., but I digress...) One of us who was high enough up in the company took it upon himself to bring the issue forward and managed to get us off The Wall of Shame by posting source-code on our site. We thought of this as a big win. We thought maybe this suit driven company with its BMW 7's out front and its sweatshop monkeys in the back of 760 N Mary might actually be turning over a new leaf. No, that's not the case. One small win. Then later, the man who had gotten us off The Wall of Shame left the company. It was only a matter of time before we got back up on that wall, nobody else knew the FOSS culture and cared enough, let alone had a voice in that company. I'm glad AEI lost that battle. That settlement money might not be going to all their employees who go year after year without even getting a raise or a Christmas bonus, but at least it's not in the grubby hands of Dean and the rest of the suits.
  • It is exactly the same as the SCO business model, except that these guys actually *do* own the copyright.

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