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GNU is Not Unix The Courts

Software Freedom Conservancy Wins GPL Case Against Westinghouse 225

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the do-the-dance-of-joy dept.
fishthegeek writes "The Software Freedom Conservancy has received a judgement against Westinghouse Digital Electronics for $90,000 in damages, $50,000 in costs plus a donation of all of the offending HDTV's that were using BusyBox in violation of the GPL. Given that WDE is nearly bankrupt it's likely that most if not all of the cash will disappear in a legal 'poof,' but it is a victory regardless."
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Software Freedom Conservancy Wins GPL Case Against Westinghouse

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  • Not what it seems (Score:5, Informative)

    by ledow (319597) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @07:56AM (#33148904) Homepage

    As has been discussed in the million other websites that jumped on this news earlier in the week:

    It wasn't so much a win as a "no contest":
    - The company that's gone bankrupt, went bankrupt (in a real, non-SCO fashion) and couldn't have afforded to fight the case.
    - The people handling the bankruptcy don't want the lawyers who were working the case representing them any more (presumably they stopped paying them).
    - The lawyers handling the case stopped defending it because they were asked not to provide any further representation.

    In many senses it was a "win by default" - it was unchallenged, they couldn't afford to challenge it, and they were bankrupt anyway. In terms of legal precedent, this is like saying "I *do* own an acre of the moon because I presented it in a case against NASA and NASA went bankrupt before they could file any defence whatsoever" and then using this as a legal precedent that everyone with the same paper as you owns an acre of the moon. It's not a "win", it's not even a "loss", it's just a "nothing" in legal terms.

  • The title. (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:05AM (#33148972)
    Something is wrong with the title, look carefully and you will see it.
  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@nOsPam.gmail.com> on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:06AM (#33148980) Journal

    Isn't this the first proper test of GPL in a court of law?

    I'm not a lawyer so maybe I'm not understanding the weight of "first proper test" but there have been many court cases [wikipedia.org] I think most are settled out of court though. Example:

    In 2002, MySQL AB sued Progress NuSphere for copyright and trademark infringement in United States district court. NuSphere had allegedly violated MySQL's copyright by linking code for the Gemini table type into the MySQL server. After a preliminary hearing before Judge Patti Saris on February 27, 2002, the parties entered settlement talks and eventually settled. At the hearing, Judge Saris "saw no reason" that the GPL would not be enforceable.

    This might be the first one inside the United States to come down to a court decision without being short circuited by a settlement, yes. Keep in mind that they claim to find one violation per day [slashdot.org] so it's awfully kind of them to give years worth of warning before starting to take legal action. I'm sure that if someone with money really wanted to stick it to their competitors and they are listed as violators of the GPL (like any retailer who competes with Best Buy) they could probably be a real thorn in their side. The last thing you want is big companies afraid to use GPL'd code because it's a legal liability -- adoption and buy in from a huge company is one of the best things that could happen to a small GPL project because it means you'll always be around.

  • NOT EFF (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:14AM (#33149058)

    > EFF Wins GPL Case Against Westinghouse
    Give proper attiribution, please!
    Neither SFLC http://www.softwarefreedom.org/ [softwarefreedom.org]
    nor SFC http://conservancy.softwarefreedom.org/ [softwarefreedom.org]
    are EFF, and as far as I can see, they have no relation to EFF.
    So why is EFF in the title?

  • by bkuhn (41121) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:15AM (#33149074) Homepage

    I cannot figure out why the headline says that the EFF won this case. This case was brought by the Software Freedom Conservancy [sfconservancy.org], with the Software Freedom Law Center [softwarefreedom.org] acting as the Conservancy's legal counsel. The EFF was not, nor has ever been to my knowledge, involved in anything to do with the GPL.

    Also, winning the whole case is probably inaccurate. What's been achieved here is a permanent injunction and judgment against one of the violators. Thus, the case against Westinghouse has been won, but there are other defendants in the case as well.

    — bkuhn, President, Software Freedom Conservancy

  • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:17AM (#33149090)
    One thing you can do is reverse engineer the product and keep an eye out for certain strings in the firmware. From what I have seen, most GPL violators do not even bother to try to cover their tracks, and will often leave author names, GPL notices, and so forth in the software. The biggest challenge with consumer electronics is actually reading the contents of the firmware; once you can do that, you can just do some basic checks.

    Of course, that is not an easy thing to do, so it is possible that a number of consumer products contain GPL violations that go unnoticed.
  • Re:Confused (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:21AM (#33149110)

    You're talking about the freedom of different people. The GPL maximizes the freedom of the recipient of derived code. The BSD license maximizes the freedom of the distributor of derived code. In many cases the original programmer is also the recipient of code which was derived from his own work, so he maximizes his own freedom by using the GPL. He can after all dual-license his own work at any time. People who argue against the GPL usually do so because they want to use other people's work without reciprocating and therefore recommend the BSD license to other people. People who choose to use the BSD license for their own works have different motives, but they're rarely involved in these discussions.

  • by bigrockpeltr (1752472) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:26AM (#33149144)
    well here are a few ways i can think of.
    • A firmware update became availbale online and it looked similar to a linux-base firmware and then causes the person to investigate further.( not reallly applicable in this particular case )
    • The device has some kind of boot message that at least gives a hint of OSS software.
    • The device has a NIC or serial port. you connect to the device and try to ssh or telnet to it. then do further investigation.
    • someone found some manufacturer's manual or some insiders information or something (speculation).
    • accidentally or otherwise find some hidden menu that may give an indication and then they investigate further.

    im sure there are many other different more complex ways. but i guess it all comes down to someone sitting and looking at the device (e.g.) and saying this has a nic port there must be some kind of shell on it lets see. then they realise it is using GPL software and check to see if the manufacturer has posted the code online or try to contact the manufacturer and try to get the code.

  • by bkuhn (41121) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:27AM (#33149150) Homepage

    Slashdot readers might be interested to read the actual judgment as issued by the Court [sfconservancy.org], which is available Conservancy's announcement of the decision [sfconservancy.org]. I also wrote a blog post about the decision [ebb.org] that may be of interest.

    — bkuhn, President, Software Freedom Conservancy

  • Re:Confused (Score:2, Informative)

    by countertrolling (1585477) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:31AM (#33149178) Journal

    Simple public domain will do...

  • Re:WDE? (Score:4, Informative)

    by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:34AM (#33149196) Homepage Journal

    It does not cover bankruptcy at all, even indirectly.

    Article I, Section 8, Paragraph 4 [usconstitution.net]. Which doesn't specify that all bankruptcies are to be in Federal court, just that the Congress may specify uniform treatment.

    ob Onion [theonion.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:08AM (#33149496)

    My Sony TV uses BusyBox and the manual has a link where you can download the software from. They also print out the GPL.

  • by Timothy Brownawell (627747) <tbrownaw@prjek.net> on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:15AM (#33149546) Homepage Journal
    But there isn't any precedent here. It basically says "the defendants didn't show up, so I'll assume everything the plaintiffs said is true and give them everything they asked for". There's no decision on whether there actually was any infringement, because that assertion was never contested. (Plus, I think only appeals courts set precedent?)
  • by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7&cornell,edu> on Thursday August 05, 2010 @10:04AM (#33150154) Homepage

    OK, name a single one of the functions you described that would be handled by busybox.

    Just because one component (busybox) to handle basic OS housekeeping functions is open source doesn't mean your main application (the TV stuff) has to be. That was my whole point. You can save a LOT of development time on OS housekeeping type stuff with busybox, and then publish that source code in compliance with the license and your competitors get NOTHING, because the stuff that matters is in another fully independent software component that does not fall under the GPL.

  • by Sockatume (732728) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @10:08AM (#33150212)

    Precisely. Res judicata only applies to actual decisions of fact or law. If I bring suit against you for libel and claim you're a martian sympathiser, and you don't show up, I win by default but no legal precident is set regarding your loyalties to the green men of the red planet.

  • by Eunuchswear (210685) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @10:09AM (#33150226) Journal

    $ uname -a
    UnixWare xxxxxx 5 7.1.1 i386 x86at SCO UNIX_SVR5
    $ strings /usr/lib/drf/bzip
    ...
      Copyright (C) 1992-1993 Jean-loup Gailly
      This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify
      it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by
      the Free Software Foundation; either version 2, or (at your option)
      any later version.
      This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,
      but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of
      MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. See the
      GNU General Public License for more details.
      You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License
      along with this program; if not, write to the Free Software
      Foundation, Inc., 675 Mass Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.
    ...

    Oh look, a GPL violation in SCO UnixWare.

    That was hard to find, wasn't it.

  • by Sockatume (732728) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @10:18AM (#33150384)

    Please, read the judge's decision. The only matters he issued a ruling on were SFC's uncontested motion for summary judgement because of Westinghouse's failure to appear in court, and the appropriate damages under copyright law.

  • Re:Confused (Score:3, Informative)

    by scharkalvin (72228) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @10:29AM (#33150556) Homepage

    Each license has different goals. Since it applies few restrictions on how the code can be used, the BSD license is sorta like putting the code into the public domain without giving up ownership of it. The GPL, on the other hand, seeks to keep the original code and any improvements made to it as open source. It also seeks to insure that anybody that gets a product containing the original or modified code can get the source to it without having to go on a wild goose chase. If you use the BSD license you are keeping your original work open source, but not any fork of it and only in your original distribution of it. If you use the GPL you preserve the open source nature of your code everywhere it gets used, not just in the original distribution that you make.
              The real problem with the GPL is determining what constitutes a modification and what is an unrelated new application not part of the original, but making use of the original, that's why the LGPL exists. I personally disagree with static linked GPL libraries with user code as involking the GPL provisions of requiring the user code to be released under the GPL as well. Using a dynamic linked library solves the issue, but in the end there is no difference between the linking being done in memory by the kernel at load time, or on disk by the GCC link phase. Certainly the GPL'ed libraries need to be identified and their sources provided with the distribution of the user application. However the user application did not require any of the library source code to compile (only the prototypes in a header at the most), so use of the library is on the same level as running under the Linux kernel (which you can do with closed source applications under the GPL). The LGPL for libraries removes this issue, but I think it shouldn't be necessary.

  • Re:WDE? (Score:3, Informative)

    by DragonWriter (970822) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @12:13PM (#33151800)

    Westinghouse is currently in General Assignment, an alternative to bankruptcy under California state law

    I don't get this at all. The US Constitution says bankruptcies are in Federal court and not a state matter.

    General Assignment is not bankruptcy, it is a procedure governed by state law which can provide an alternative to bankruptcy in the dissolution of a concern in some circumstances. Unlike bankruptcy, it is not a judicial process (which can often make it more expedient and less costly.)

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