Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
GNU is Not Unix Television The Courts Your Rights Online

Busybox Developer Responds To Andersen-SFLC Lawsuits 316

Bruce Perens writes "I'm the creator of the Busybox program. I have released a statement on the past and current Busybox lawsuits, which do not represent my interest."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Busybox Developer Responds To Andersen-SFLC Lawsuits

Comments Filter:
  • Re:Proposition (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:20PM (#30449156) Homepage Journal
    I my contribution is not gone from the rather old version of Busybox which was subject to the copyright registration and is mentioned in the lawsuit. If necessary, yes, a diff can be produced. I also have a compilation copyright of various sorts, which can't be represented with a diff. And there is also the matter of non-literal copying, which probably exists despite Landley's claim, and can't be represented with a diff.
  • Re:Proposition (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:23PM (#30449194) Homepage Journal
    I didn't mention a tag, sorry. This would probably be a version pulled from an old Debian release. There were subsequent developers to me, for example Dave Cinege and the Linux Router Project, before the source-code control system currently in use for Busybox was established.
  • Re:Waitaminute: (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:26PM (#30449228) Homepage Journal
    The current suit is brought in the name of Erik Andersen. Erik worked for an embedded Linux company, now defunct, for a few years and was paid to maintain Busybox during that time. During that time the company's name appeared in copyright statements, and mine mostly disappeared.
  • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:31PM (#30449308) Homepage Journal
    When you make an embedded linux system, like in a network access point, Busybox is the user-mode component, and the other main component is the Linux kernel. Busybox provides a command-line environment that looks like the one provided in a Linux distribution, but is smaller. SFLC is involved in prosecuting Busybox violations because nobody with a significant copyright in the Linux kernel has asked them to prosecute GPL violations with regard to Linux.
  • Re:Waitaminute: (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:34PM (#30449336) Homepage Journal
    Yes, there's that. He also worked on the program after he was no longer employed by that company. I am not disputing that he has significant copyright interest in the program as it exists today.
  • Re:Proposition (Score:3, Informative)

    by Surt ( 22457 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:38PM (#30449386) Homepage Journal

    Without meaning to answer for the great and powerful Bruce, how does the end user know where to go for the source code? Per the GPL, they can ALWAYS go to the distributor.

  • by larry bagina ( 561269 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:39PM (#30449392) Journal
    busybox is a single binary containing stripped down versions of a shell and common utilities (rm, ls, etc), which require less disk space and less memory. It's used in embedded devices, NAS boxes, TVs, etc.
  • Re:Proposition (Score:3, Informative)

    by gr8_phk ( 621180 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:48PM (#30449504)

    If the source for the GPL software is unmodified and freely available from other sources why should the vendor have to duplicate it's availability?

    Because the license says so.

  • it doesn't matter (Score:5, Informative)

    by jipn4 ( 1367823 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:48PM (#30449508)

    Anybody who has contributed to a piece of GPL software has standing to bring lawsuits against people who violate the GPL. Who has contributed the "majority" of the code is immaterial. I'm sorry this is inconvenient for Bruce Perens, but it can't reasonably work any different.

  • Re:Does it matter? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:48PM (#30449518)

    busybox is just a collection of userland tools so it doesn't contain any parts of the kernel. Otherwise your point stands.

  • by schon ( 31600 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:53PM (#30449596)

    I don't think Bruce wants to stop the lawsuit, he justs wants to get a piece of the pie.

    Doesn't sound like that to me.

    I'm not really sure what he hopes to gain unless he wants a piece of any monetary damages awarded ... ?

    How about clarification, like he says in his letter:

    Unfortunately, all of this is confusing my strategic consulting customers. Thus, I will offer them a waiver of my interest where appropriate.

    What this says to me is that he has clients who got spooked by the suit, and he's publically stating that he's not a party to it, and won't sue them... which is pretty much the opposite of "wanting a piece of the pie."

  • by Diesel Dave ( 95048 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:55PM (#30449614)

    I am the one that handed BusyBox over to Anderson after maintaining it for 2 years.

    I believe I worked with Busybox longer then Bruce did and during my time I reorganized the code, but still consider Bruce the primary root Copyright holder and license grantor. Anderson is claiming complete Copyright and that is simply an impossibility. As far as I am concerned, this claim is a GPL violation in and of itself.

    Even if every line of code Bruce or myself wrote were replaced, it was done so on his and subsequently my license terms which are the GPL. My privileges and Anderson's privileges (if any ?) to alter and redistribute Bruce's work are based on those license terms derived from Bruce's initial publication and you can not simply 'code them away' unless you start from scratch.

  • by MasterPatricko ( 1414887 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @05:01PM (#30449698) Homepage
    For those too lame to Google the words they don't understand in TFA.

    Bruce Perens is a prominent open-source programmer and advocate. He co-founded the OSI with Eric S. Raymond and wrote the first Open Source Definition that became the first DFSG.

    BusyBox is a collection of userland tools to go with the Linux kernel, similar to the GNU utilities except optimised for use in embedded systems. They are the base of most complex embedded software on devices worldwide.

    Because BusyBox is so widely used but not well-known, companies generally through ignorance fail to comply with GPL guidelines stating that they must provide the source to any binaries they ship on their devices.

    The SFLC is the Software Freedom Law Centre and they represent free software interests in legal matters. In this case they are suing various embedded device manufacturers who sell BusyBox-based devices and are continuing to violate the GPL by not providing the source even when warned.

    Bruce Perens was the original writer of BusyBox many many years ago. However the SFLC has not included him in this lawsuit. He is no longer involved in BusyBox and the current authors say that every line that Bruce contributed to BusyBox has now been replaced by newer code; but he argues that because some of the code in the offending devices is actually based off older BusyBox code, he should actually be represented in the lawsuit.

    This little disagreement looks like he's just wanting a share of any monetary damages awarded - or at least his name in the news. Bruce certainly doesn't have any grounds to stop the lawsuit anyway, and he approves of protecting the GPL.
  • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @05:01PM (#30449706) Homepage Journal

    There is no monetary loss or other damage to the original developers.

    This is presently being tried in another case, Jacobsen v. Katzer. It looks as if there will be significant damages that the Open Source developer can collect. The judge seems to think so in that he granted a motion for summary judgement (after at first rejecting it).

  • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @05:07PM (#30449780) Homepage Journal

    I'd only give a waiver in specific cases. I would do this to 1) reassure my present and potential consulting customers and 2) offer assistance to companies that want to come into compliance, because that's what Free Software folks really want.

    I want to be properly represented as a person with a copyright interest in the program, and I want the folks who assert lawsuit on others to comply in regard to my rights as they would have others comply with theirs. I doubt that legal action will be necessary to effect this change.

  • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @05:11PM (#30449842) Homepage Journal

    I am not sure that these suits even ask for damages other than for the time spent on prosecuting the infringement. But one of the issues is that since I am not party to the suits, I can't see that.

    I also don't agree that my copyright interest has been removed from the program. Although one of the developers once said so, I don't think he knew what he was talking about.

  • Re:it doesn't matter (Score:5, Informative)

    by Diesel Dave ( 95048 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @05:12PM (#30449862)

    Anyone who has contributed to a piece of GPL software, reserves their copyright, and does not violate the GPL license has rights to defend their own copyright in the work. The issue you may be missing is this is not clearly the situation with Anderson for several reasons.

  • Re:Drama, drama. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @05:20PM (#30449988) Homepage Journal

    Then step right up, the solution to our problems has finally arrived!... several years ago.

    You might find Jacobsen v. Katzer educational. Jacobsen was using the Artistic License 1.0, and this did not protect him from Katzer.

  • Re:Proposition (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @05:26PM (#30450072)

    Joe is not the distributor. Private party sales have nothing to do with copyright.

  • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @05:35PM (#30450226) Homepage Journal
    You don't believe I've never communicated with these folks, do you? I did. And learned very quickly that it was the wrong approach where Mr. Landley was involved.
  • by julesh ( 229690 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @06:05PM (#30450736)

    Unless you can say (in any more detail than Bruce's assignment TO HIMSELF of copyright of other people's work in BusyBox (though again, this is merely BY INFERENCE, not specific statement)) that the proseution says Anderson is claiming sole copyright, how can you be disturbed by something that isn't going on?

    In TFA, Bruce claims Anderson has registered the copyright in a particular version of busybox without mentioning in the registration that some of the copyright is held by other preceding authors. This is, at the very least, likely to mislead the courts into thinking Anderson is the sole copyright holder, even if it is not actually intended to give that impression.

  • In my mind, Eric was the inventor. I paid him in 2000 to add some uClinux / Busybox code to the Coldfire project for my Blabbermouth product at
    I would probe the uClinux guys, Lineo, Greg Ungerer, Phil Wilshire...

    Sometimes its the guy who "ran with it" who assumes ownership....
    After the fact, that is tough to swallow. And the Busybox name and concept is genius whoever did it.
    Merry Christmas []
  • Re:Proposition (Score:4, Informative)

    by fatboy ( 6851 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @06:15PM (#30450866)

    If the source for the GPL software is unmodified and freely available from other sources why should the vendor have to duplicate it's availability?

    To comply with the terms of the license, under which the vendor received the code. Otherwise, the vendor has absolutely no rights to distribute the software.

  • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @09:30PM (#30452918) Homepage Journal
    Your ignoring the issue of derivative works. The current Busybox is not a clean-room re-engineering. It's an unbroken progression from my original code base. Thus, it's derivative.
  • Re:Proposition (Score:3, Informative)

    by zotz ( 3951 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @10:20PM (#30453276) Homepage Journal

    No, I don't think so. I think if you legally buy a large number of copies of a copyrighted work in one region / part of the world, ship them to another region and try to sell them in your retail establishment there that they can get you. Perhaps someone who knows could comment. (I am guessing based on a bunch of reading and discussions over the years but I could be way off base.)

  • by Diesel Dave ( 95048 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @11:13PM (#30453552)

    In bulk reply:

    1) There are two things here: Copyright and License. Bruce created a work. He holds copyright. He published that worked under a license. That license is the GPL. I had privilege to use, modify, and redistribute that work according to the license. The license requires that I respect Bruce's copyright and redistribute derivatives under that same license. I own copyright to the parts I have authored. This goes so forth and so on for each person. IMO the original author never loses copyright claim. Without question the original author remains the primary license grantor.

    2) Violating the GPL means violating the terms of the license. According to the GPL if you violate these terms, you loose your privilege the work completely .

    3) Before meaninglessly rambling actually read the GPL.

    4) Before meaninglessly rambling actually read the courts documents. Anderson claims complete copyright here.

    5) I would argue that from my knowledge Anderson did not hold the copyright for many of the code contributions he made into busybox (his employer did) and further more as Anderson is not respecting the terms of the original copyright and license term of the original author (Bruce) and authors before him (Me) he is in violation of Section 1 GPLv2, and has lost his his privileges to the software according to Section 4 GPLv2. In this case Anderson lacks standing to bring suit and he himself is open to an action.

    6) One must wonder why the SFLC is working with Anderson when they have been aware that both Bruce and myself have more senior claims to the original work without the 'issues' Anderson has. As Bruce has written we've basically been snubbed by them.

    7) I feel I speak for Bruce here in saying the most important issue for us is to have our interests be respected and to be a party to any terms of how the license is enforced. I would be content if it was ultimately left to Bruce because he is original author and respect that. I personally never made a penny from BusyBox unlike Anderson who's full time job paid him to work on BusyBox (and other work I created). When I start to read about 'undisclosed settlement amounts' and considering the full picture, it leaves a very bad taste not knowing exactly what is taking place here. I'm not allowed to know. Bruce is not allowed to know. That's not acceptable.

  • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <> on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @12:59AM (#30454114) Homepage Journal
    The situation with BSD UNIX could not recur today. The key factor was that they had not put the proper copyright notice on their code, and at that time they had to do that or they didn't have a copyright. Today the law is different and you have a copyright the moment you set pen to paper. There was also the issue that USG had been caught with dirty hands infringing upon BSD code.
  • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <> on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @02:18AM (#30454520) Homepage Journal
    Well, I was entirely snookered by it for a while. But every lawyer I've ever discussed it with doesn't buy it. And as I've looked into it, it seems less likely. IMO we all got fooled.
  • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <> on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @02:23AM (#30454554) Homepage Journal

    In the U.S. the license is the choice of the copyright holder. There are many on Linux. And thus to change the license on Linux, you have to ask all of those copyright holders, as best as you are able to reach them, including through public notices. Then, you have to remove the work of those who object. And then you can relicense.

    This is so painful that there would have to be a very good reason. Like GPL2 becoming seriously less enforcible.

  • by micheas ( 231635 ) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @05:12AM (#30455096) Homepage Journal

    IANAL but have spent a lot time this last decade around the US legal system.

    I would see if you could not find someone that would file a motion with the court to let you see the settlement.

    You would probably have to propose and agree to terms of non-disclosure, but you are an interested party that has standing to know if you have reason to enter negotiations with the defendants in the lawsuit for copyright infringement. The matter has been settled, in an identical suit with identical facts with the identical defendant.

    You would almost certainly have to provide proof of copyright ownership of some of the code subject in the complaint.

    You might have to file a lawsuit in order to see the case, but an attorney could advise you on the details.

    Lawyers are like nukes, you have them because the other side has them, but using them makes everything much more complicated.

    Good luck

  • by micheas ( 231635 ) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @05:38AM (#30455176) Homepage Journal

    Clean-room engineering is a legal strategy to make your copyright easier to defend, and gives you a better chance at prevailing in litigation that is employed when you are fairly sure you are going to be sued.

    Derivative works are a woolly gray are that is subject to all the rules of 1 + 1 = N

    (of course N may be 2, 1, 0, in the range between 0-1, 3, 11, and probably a few other mathematically correct answers I am not remembering at the moment, depending on the context)

    Your clean room implementation can still lose a lawsuit declaring it a derivative work, and you can have a non-clean room implementation found to be non-infringing.

    Or here be dragons.

  • by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @11:30AM (#30458108) Homepage Journal

    I'm surprised that someone hasn't written something like BusyBox starting from FreeBSD's utilities.

    They have. Go to a FreeBSD console and run ls -i /rescue. There are 133 binaries in that directory on my desktop, each being a hardlink to the same statically linked file, with behavior depending on the value of argv[0] when the program is run. The idea is to include all the programs you might need to repair a FreeBSD system in single-user without having even /usr mounted. See the man page for crunchgen(1) [] for more details.

"I shall expect a chemical cure for psychopathic behavior by 10 A.M. tomorrow, or I'll have your guts for spaghetti." -- a comic panel by Cotham