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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."
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Busybox Developer Responds To Andersen-SFLC Lawsuits

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  • Proposition (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:15PM (#30449110) Journal

    The version 0.60.3 of Busybox upon which Mr. Andersen claims copyright registration in the lawsuits is to a great extent my own work and that of other developers. I am not party to the registration. It is not at all clear that Mr. Andersen holds a majority interest in that work.

    Perhaps it is high time you looked into the allegations that "every line of code you wrote for Busybox is gone?" [slashdot.org] It is still GPLed, afterall. Wouldn't your old code diffed against the new code reveal the truth in that statement and set things straight in whose interest the SFLC should be representing?

    If you can point me to a version/tag/branch/code repository where you assert your dominance in authorship, I would be more than happy to spend an hour when I get home tonight generating some stats against the current code (assuming that code hasn't been drastically moved around/repackaged/renamed). Even so, it would fairly trivial to script an expensive file-by-file comparison and return a set of the most likely matches based on percentage similarities to establish what work of yours may remain. Might even be a better tool out there than what I know of.

  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:17PM (#30449126)
    The final part of his statement raises an interesting issue. In the realm of OSS, contributions from multiple developers are encouraged. But what happens if those developers then get into a geek catfight later? This is all well and good if the work is true [wikipedia.org] open source (everyone can just fork off an do whatever they want). But when you get into lawsuits over the more restrictive GPL license violations, that raises the issue of who gets to sue and who gets the proceeds from the suit (after all, what's to stop someone from just forking the code and taking out other developers' names from the copyright notice in the software, then suing without the other guys).
  • Worst summary ever. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WiiVault ( 1039946 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:23PM (#30449186)
    Sorry "editors" but many of us have no clue what this article is about based on the two sentence summary about a guy and company I have never heard of. Perhaps a little more explanation would help?
  • Re:Proposition (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:33PM (#30449326) Homepage Journal

    I wonder if you could answer a question for me?
    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?
    No it doesn't cost an arm and a leg to throw up a tarball of busybox to be nice and legal but what benefit does it have to the community?
    Including the GPL it's self I see as vital but the making yet another copy of the source available seems iffy at best.
    Just wondering about your thoughts on this. I have contributed some FOSS code to a few projects and I feel that feel that feeding code improvments back into the project is much more important than making another copy of already available source available.

  • Re:Proposition (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dedazo ( 737510 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:45PM (#30449476) Journal

    Bruce, what is your intention here? I'm sorry if I couldn't figure it out from your article. Are you trying to get the SLFC to drop the suit, include you on it, recognize your copyright over the code, or what?

  • by Andy Dodd ( 701 ) <{atd7} {at} {cornell.edu}> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:46PM (#30449490) Homepage

    I think the issue is whether false claims have been made about Person A in the process of Person B suing Company C. Bruce's statement kind of implies that.

    Also, Bruce's statement implies that SFLC is using rather overzealous "sue without negotiation beforehand" techniques that are damaging to the business of some of the other Busybox developers, including himself. Whether he has a legal leg to stand on is unknown, either way it's kind of a "dick move" on the part of those involved in the lawsuit.

    It's just like the patent system - there are companies that are typically very reasonable in terms of patent license negotiations and consider a lawsuit to be an absolute last resort (I knew someone who worked for Lucent's IP licensing organization - lawsuits were an asbolute last resort for them.), while other companies prefer to patent troll and immediately open up with a lawsuit.

  • Re:Proposition (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <bruce@perens.com> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:52PM (#30449584) Homepage Journal
    Yes. Surely the producer of an embedded product has no excuse to fail to deliver the source code. And if it's Best Buy with a house product, it's their obligation.
  • by gr8_phk ( 621180 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @04:57PM (#30449648)
    It seems from your post that:
    1) You seem upset that SFLC isn't representing *your* interests in the matter, but they are representing others.
    2) You are unhappy that someone registered a copyright without including you on it.
    3) You seem to imply that you'd be willing to waive your rights in the matter, or give your blessing to distribution without source.

    1 is not relevant
    2 would suggest you should go after the people who registered it - unless my interpretation of 3 is correct.
    3 If true, why would you say that?

    The only point I can see to your rant is to draw attention to yourself and your consulting business trying to raise doubts about a bunch of things.
    What exactly is your point here?
  • Re:Proposition (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @05:04PM (#30449746) Homepage Journal

    Well of course if some chowder head links play_DRM_video.o into busybox they should get slapped.
    And yes you must play by the rules so that is a given. I just hate the idea 500 copies of the source for some out of date version of some code I wrote five years ago floating around the web. Of course if I stop working on it then having lots of copies of it floating around can be a good thing. I guess I can see the pluses and minuses. I can also see how some developer could make an honest mistake and not post there copy. If I buy a SBC with Linux on it and use it for my product I might think that they tar ball the vendor of the SBC has his site covers me. I would be wrong but it would be an honest mistake. Going back and making sure that every piece of code that is on an SBC is available while not a nightmare could be a bit of a task.
    You can also get bad advice when you start doing that kind of development. When I was talking to my vendor about freeing up some space on the flash image he suggested that I static link my code! This code was not something I wanted to release as GPL. When I asked the vendor actually said, "who will ever know". I didn't take that option.
    As with most things in life it is easy to make an honest mistake or get bad advice when dealing with GPL code.
    On another project we thought that must including the DIFF of our patch and saying what GPL code we where using was good enough. We latter decided to just put the tarball on the CD along with the GPL just to be safe.

  • Re:Proposition (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cyphercell ( 843398 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @05:15PM (#30449906) Homepage Journal

    I'm sorry but this reads like bias and little else. I think what Bruce is getting at is that these lawsuits generate FUD amongst his clients. It's not about destroying the FSF or whatever you're going on about, it's about protecting the marketability of software Mr. Perens authored and now supports.

    You know from the outside it may very well look like MS says people get sued for using FOSS, advocates scream to no end about FUD, and then the FOSS developers come out and start suing people.

  • Re:Proposition (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @05:15PM (#30449908) Homepage Journal

    Just to play the devil's advocate.
    Joe buys a cool FOSS based digital dash for FLOSS dashboards inc and puts it in his car. He then sells the car five years latter. Does he have to include the source?

    GM buys a lot of cool FOSS based digital dashboards and puts them in a lot of cars....

    In this case the only difference is in the numbers.

    If I buy a single board computer with Linux does the SBC manufactures site with links to Linux source cover me?

    If I put together a Home networking package at the local computer store I run that included a Linux based router do I have to provide the source code?

    These are some gray areas. I mean nobody would bust a guy that sells a linksys router but doesn't include the source but what about a guy that sells PCs with Ubuntu preinstalled?

    When do you become the "distributor".
    Me personally with probably always just include the source but one does wonder.

  • Re:it doesn't matter (Score:2, Interesting)

    by TexasTroy ( 1701144 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @05:45PM (#30450384)
    If I understand this correctly, all one needs to do is get one change into the source and they have standing to bring a lawsuit against any company not in compliance. From what I read in Wikipedia, these guys have already received undisclosed amounts in previous settlements. That could get interesting - some minor developer suing and getting paid for the work a majority of others have performed. What standing do the other developers have for getting a cut of any settlement?
  • GPL != ClusterFuck (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bryan Ischo ( 893 ) * on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @05:47PM (#30450420) Homepage

    BSD is fine for a company like Google who makes so much money on the platform that the code runs on (both directly, and indirectly by further cementing the Google "brand") that it matters little to them that they give the source code away.

    I can assure you that if you are an individual developer, your interests will be MUCH better served by releasing your code under GPL (NOT LGPL). If you release under BSD, you will get nothing of value back from anybody (except possibly some changes released back to you if whoever wrote them "feels like it"). If you release under GPL (NOT LGPL) you will get bug fixes and improvements because anyone who makes bug fixes or improvements, and intends to distribute them, must give them back to you. And you will also get money if your code is worthwhile enough, from companies who want to use your code to save them their own development time and money, and who will be happy to accept the code under a proprietary license from you in return for money.

    I played around and made a software library with a fairly specific purpose that I released under GPL. I didn't intend to make money off of it; it was to be part of a larger project that I haven't (yet) completed (and is currently on hold as I've lost interest, but I intend to get back to it ... eventually). I ended up making $6,000 so far from companies who wanted to use the code in their own products rather than re-developing it in-house. It's not a huge sum, but it sure is nice to get money instead of getting nothing, which is what I would have gotten if I had released under BSD.

    Is it against the "sprit" of GPL to issue a separate closed source license for the library for money? I don't think so. Only the author of the software in question has any say whatsoever over what is right and what is wrong with respect licensing that software; no one else's opinion is even remotely relevent. And GPL is a great tool if you want to give your code away for others to use but want to be rewarded if anyone finds it useful.

    The BSD license is a great license if you are a company like Google for whom the value of the platform is worth more than the value of the code used to make it. But if you are an individual developer, it's no different really than releasing to the public domain, for which you should expect to get, and will get, nothing in return for your efforts.

  • by c0d3g33k ( 102699 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @05:54PM (#30450520)

    I'll have to agree with larry here. This touches an area that is nuanced, to say the least, but replacing the code needs to be an option in some cases. As an example, I worked on an OSS project several years back. For perfectly valid reasons, the current project maintainer wanted to change the license. He attempted to contact all the authors for their permission to relicense the code under the new license. If he got no response, or the original author said "no", then his only option was to replace the code with code he had written himself. This seems a perfectly valid approach to me, considering the old code is still available from the same source. I happened to miss noticing his request until it was too late (infrequently checked mail account), so was happy he could replace the code and move on.

    I suppose if one wanted to adopt a strict interpretation of "derivative", then replacing code within an existing framework might be considered in violation of the license, but people really need to think before playing this card. It makes situations like "if you show us patented code in our application, we'll replace it" much more difficult to reconcile easily, especially if the code violating the patent was part of the original application code. Then the replacement code is 'derivative' and still subject to the original claims.

    That's a mighty big can of worms you could be opening, Diesel Dave. Maybe even Pandora's box.

  • Re:Proposition (Score:3, Interesting)

    by shaitand ( 626655 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @05:55PM (#30450530) Journal

    Actually what you are mentioning doesn't matter because it qualifies as fair use under the right to second sale.

    Joe is not a retailer, joe is an end user. The differences between a manufacturer, distributor, retailer, and end user is not merely numbers but well established in law and case history.

    The right to second sale supersedes copyright and the requirements of the GPL. Now if Joe modifies that software and creates a derivative that isn't a second sale...

  • Re:Proposition (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @06:10PM (#30450814) Homepage Journal

    Trust me the right to second sale isn't as clear cut in case law as you might think. I have been involved in a case like the one I described and it ended up costing A LOT.
    Also no sane company trusts in the concept of Fair Use to cover them anymore.
    I think the whole think is a lot fuzzier than a lot of people are comfortable with. So far the FOSS supporters have seemed to be working within common sense and good manners to resolve any "issues" but there is a lot of wiggle room that makes me nervous.
    Here is an example.
    A small PC store started to include a CD of FOSS programs like Gimp, FireFox, Thunderbird, 7Zip, Putty, and other good software that everybody in the know downloads. It is a nice introduction to FOSS for the customers. Now it seems to me that the store is now responsible to keep the source code for many of those programs available to the people they gave the disk to.
    At that point I just wouldn't do it since it could be a huge legal hassle and risk for no real gain to me.

  • Re:Proposition (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mzs ( 595629 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @06:13PM (#30450858)

    Bruce I had a very bad experience regarding the Westinghouse firmware. It was not like how you put it where a company like Sony can put up links to tar balls of source code. Westinghouse did go out of their way to keep me from getting the source code. When I tried to get the source code from them and even provided my serial number for the TV I had purchased, they claimed that there was no source code and no open source code was used. Finally I was able to get a firmware update from Westinghouse. Extracting it and poking around inside it was abundantly clear that busybox and other projects had been used. One was not GPL-like, basically only had in the terms that the software simply needed to be mentioned in the manual. It was omitted from the manualm there was a section listing trademarks and what-not of other products. That is how atrocious Westinghouse was. I returned the TV and decided to never purchase Westinghouse products again. I can easily believe that Westinghouse had dragged its feet for a very long time and did nothing. I am sorry that you are having trouble in your day to day work based on this, but enough is enough when it comes to Westinghouse in particular.

  • by ComputerSlicer23 ( 516509 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @06:41PM (#30451204)

    That's not strictly true. If I started out with a movie that was original "Star Wars", and I slowly but surely removed every frame of that film, and then saved the film. It would not be considered a derived work of Star Wars. No harm no foul. If I started out with the Linux Kernel, and I released version 0.1, 0.2, 0.3, 0.4, up to 0.9, and finally released Kirbix at 1.0 and claimed I owned the copyright. I would be obligated to give the source code out for versions 0.1 and 0.9 (assuming I distributed them to anyone), but at 1.0, I'd be well within my rights to re-license the software. Bruce is claiming "compiliation copyright", which I'm unfamiliar with the basics of that.

    I don't understand what legal principle is being applied to claim some piece of the copyright if I had replaced all of the pieces and parts. The mostly commonly known situation like this is the old BSD UNIX distribution [wikipedia.org]. Eventually it was determined that UC had sole rights to all of their copy of UNIX, because they had slowly but surely replaced all of the pieces of AT&T's UNIX. I thought 4.4BSD Lite was essentially BSD UNIX minus the 7-10 files that AT&T still owned. Eventually those last bits were re-written and 386BSD and it's decendents (FreeBSD, OpenBSD, and NetBSD) were spawned in the late '80s (looks like I might have the timeline wrong, but the salient points at the end of the Wikipedia story linked above shows the thrust of this is correct). In my mind that sets a much stronger precedent then what I have seen of Bruce's claims, assuming that "I've re-written every line" claim is true. However, I believe Bruce is probably right, that it hasn't all been re-written. Just a hunch. Re-writing "everything" is pretty darn difficult.


  • Re:Waitaminute: (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SLi ( 132609 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @06:44PM (#30451228)

    Then isn't that enough to enforce it? Where does your copyright come into picture? He's enforcing his copyright, not yours.

  • by rtfa-troll ( 1340807 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @07:03PM (#30451460)
    Dear Bruce; some comments
    • the SFLC should be guarded since you were potentialy a party in their lawsuits where they already agreed to represent another party
    • now that you are in active conflict with their clients, it would probably be illegal for them to represent you (which is why they should be guarded before)
    • you should get your own, separate, lawyer
    • even having majority interest may not be sufficient to overcome the minority interests; anyone with any interest can claim a GPL violation on the combined work
    • the time for publicity is normally after you have filed a court case and even then it should be limited to what your lawer agrees to

    Given this I'm not sure I see your point with what you are doing now. Most of your complaints about the SFLC are unfair since they cannot represent two opposed clients at a time. I think they should have a duty of fair access, and representing those they can, however that doesn't extend to breaking the law or allowing conflicts of interest and in this case, Mr Andersen and Landley got there first. Sorry, bad luck.

    Having said that, if it's true that your copyright on BusyBox has been deleted incorrectly, then using the SFLC way on the other Busy Box developers is a perfect example of what you should do to the Busybox developers who mistreated you; but you must use a proper lawyer. Start with a clear legal letter to the busybox developers pointing out which version had your copyright deleted and shouldn't have and asking them to come into compliance with the GPL (which has a requirement for correct labelling of authorship). Please remain as reasonable as we have seen you being before and you will get your way. We'll back you up and I hereby pledge 20 Euro towards your legal fees if you produce a reasonable lawsuit and explanation of it and how it got to this stage of breakdown. I'll give more if I'm convinced this is a worthwhile use of money.

    INAL and all that...

  • Re:Just to be clear (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @07:20PM (#30451668)

    I'd like to correct a few things in that statement.

    First of all, Perens was involved in the early wiki venture, but was also at the same time a big advocate of open source in general. In particular he has a long running feud with RMS regarding credit for who wrote the original GPL.

    Second, Perens is not the cousin, but the brother-in-law of Wales.

    The name Busybox should make it obvious that it is a porn related collection of apps. Perens did work quite a bit in the 1-900 phone call porn business before the internet.

    Perens has a BA in library science from the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. The library school later became a "school of information science", giving Perens the idea that he should learns something about IT. After a series of courses at the University of Phonix in microsoft office, he was able to leave his 1-900 job to join Wales.

  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @08:48PM (#30452580) Homepage Journal

    Pa, either put your money where your mouth is or shut it.

    Don't go around crying about what laws someone may or may not have broken. Talk to your lawyer, find out if you have a claim, and act on it.

    Airing your dirty laundry in public does nothing but weaken the cause.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @09:27PM (#30452894) Homepage

    I'm surprised that someone hasn't written something like BusyBox starting from FreeBSD's utilities. Busybox is just "cat", "echo", "grep", etc. all in one executable with some common code merged. It's not like it's a significant original work. FreeBSD has all those components with the BSD license.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @11:47PM (#30453748)

    Microsoft will love this!
    This thread gives them a lot of evidence about why GPL should never be used.

The absent ones are always at fault.