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First US GPL Lawsuit Heads For Quick Settlement

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 6 years ago | from the owning-up-shows-character dept.

GNU is Not Unix 196

DeviceGuru writes to tell us that the first lawsuit centered around the GPL seems to have been quickly resolved outside of the courtroom. Monsoon Multimedia was quick to admit that they had violated the GPLv2 in their modified BusyBox code and will soon be releasing the source to come into full compliance with the license.

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196 comments

Cue Amelia from slayers (4, Funny)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 6 years ago | (#20735555)

Victory!!! ^_^

Re:Cue Amelia from slayers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20735701)

Richard Stallman is a prince?! That guy?!

Re:Cue Amelia from slayers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20736821)

Cue Stewie-pusses:

"Victory is ours!"

Aha! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20735557)

1. Violate GPL
2. Get sued and get massive publicity for your little device that's actually kinda cool, then settle
3. Profit!

Nice to see a company admit it's mistake (5, Insightful)

he1icine (512651) | more than 6 years ago | (#20735571)

While it would have been better had they not violated the GPL in the first place, but it is nice to see that Monsoon is able to admit their mistake and release the code according to the license. Too bad most companies are happy to fight it out in the courtrooms forever, or pay people off, than to stand up and admit when they were wrong.

Re:Nice to see a company admit it's mistake (4, Interesting)

snowgirl (978879) | more than 6 years ago | (#20735683)

The interesting thing is that once they start talking to lawyers, I think they are informed of just how screwed they are.

I mean, if they defeat the GPL, then they couldn't use the software in the first place, if they defend the GPL, then they need to conform to it.

Either way, the whole GPL suits are so full of pitfalls and dangers to those abusing the code that they really don't have a chance, and any good lawyer should be telling them that.

There was another suit awhile ago with CherryOS vs PearPC, that looked to be pretty hefty, but before anything could be done, they dumped the product entirely. Sometimes, if something isn't worth that much... it's just not worth keeping around.

Re:Nice to see a company admit it's mistake (3, Interesting)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#20735961)

I mean, if they defeat the GPL, then they couldn't use the software in the first place, if they defend the GPL, then they need to conform to it.
That's a false dichotomy. There's a remote possibility that a judge could rule that the use of GPL on BusyBox is "copyright abuse" and the developers could lose their copyright. Or the judge might rule that certain actions that were thought to be insufficient to be in compliance with the GPL are actually sufficient. For example, the judge could rule that "the source code being available" is sufficient and it doesn't matter where the source code is available. Or that only a "majority" of the source code need to be available, etc.

The idea that we know what would happen in a US court should the GPL ever be tested is wishful thinking.

Re:Nice to see a company admit it's mistake (3, Insightful)

Stephen Ma (163056) | more than 6 years ago | (#20737027)

The idea that we know what would happen in a US court should the GPL ever be tested is wishful thinking.

OK, let Microsoft challenge the GPL in court then. They haven't dared to try it, even though all indications are that they really, really hate it. They have a history of going for what they want, dishonestly or honestly, if they think they can get away with it. But they have left the GPL strictly unmolested, and that is pretty strong evidence that even Microsoft feel intimidated by the strength of the license.

Re:Nice to see a company admit it's mistake (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#20737099)

Yeah, because if there's one thing Microsoft is all about, it's the fair fight.

</sarcasm>

Re:Nice to see a company admit it's mistake (1)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 6 years ago | (#20737133)

To respond to you and parent, keep in mind that the court of public opinion is very strong. Even if there is some wild technicality that MS can use to challenge a license, e.g., their covenant-not-to-sue through Novell, MS has to respect the GPL, even if they don't like it.
The real public opinion of MS is expressed in the continued popularity of XP. Vista was their last gasp^Wrelease. Now, do they go 'nucular' on the GPL, a la their SCO meat-puppet, and try some courtroom shenanigans?
I suppose if one of their brain-children lawyers dreams up some attack on GPLv3.
Anything's good for a laugh while the ship's going down, I suppose.

Re:Nice to see a company admit it's mistake (1)

OverflowingBitBucket (464177) | more than 6 years ago | (#20737373)

To respond to you and parent, keep in mind that the court of public opinion is very strong.

Most people barely understand who Microsoft is, or what an operating system is anyway. Even less are familiar with Microsoft's past actions. The Microsoft name is mud in a majority of tech circles but it is important to note that such circles are an absolute minority of the population. Basically: Not many people know, care, or know why they should care.

If you asked two dozen random people (ie. not techie friends) who SCO are (probably a good example of a company spitting directly in public opinion), how many do you think would know? How many would roughly understand the significance of their claims?

How about if you asked them about the GPL. How many know about it? How many could say (roughly) what it does?

Imagine if MS went for a straight outright kill on the GPL through some proxy, I can imagine some severe techie outrage. I'd be furious, personally. But can you see the bulk of people noticing, caring, or even understanding why they should care?

Anyway, my point is that they probably are not overly fearful of the court of public opinion, and they are certainly good at downplaying the significance of their actions in any case.

Re:Nice to see a company admit it's mistake (1)

snowgirl (978879) | more than 6 years ago | (#20737717)

Now, do they go 'nucular' on the GPL, a la their SCO meat-puppet, and try some courtroom shenanigans?


That's the first time I've ever seen it spelt how Americans actually say it.

Re:Nice to see a company admit it's mistake (2, Insightful)

yuna49 (905461) | more than 6 years ago | (#20737241)

OK, let Microsoft challenge the GPL in court then. They haven't dared to try it, even though all indications are that they really, really hate it.

I'm not convinced that Microsoft "hates" the GPL. It would certainly hate for the GPL to be applied to some component of a Microsoft product, but overall continued uncertainty about the legal status of the GPL benefits Microsoft.

Most of Microsoft's anti-GPL rhetoric is really aimed at enterprise customers considering migrating servers from Windows to Linux. The whole campaign is much more of a "FUD" operation than real opposition to the GPL or the principles it embodies. Microsoft benefits when corporate decision-makers choose not to implement GPL-licensed solutions for fear that somewhere down the road a program like the Linux kernel will be adjudged to infringe somneone's patent or copyright. Then, suddenly, all those supposedly "free" servers are subject to royalty payments of some form or another or, worse, have to be entirely rebuilt with compliant software. The uncertainty engendered by SCO's rather ridiculous claims of infringement against IBM and Linux is a good example of this process at work.

People don't advance to positions of power in corporate establishments by being risk-acceptant. So long as a GPL sword hangs over the heads of CIOs, they often going to choose the reliable, commercial solution (read "Windows") rather than worry about who owns the rights to every little piece of GPL-licensed software. (Yes, of course, Windows itself probably infringes some patents somewhere, but that's a much smaller risk than Linux presents. Even if Microsoft is found to be an infringer, as in the Eolas case, it has the resources to protect its end-users from any potential risks or losses.)

Re:Nice to see a company admit it's mistake (4, Insightful)

Stephen Ma (163056) | more than 6 years ago | (#20737463)

People don't advance to positions of power in corporate establishments by being risk-acceptant. So long as a GPL sword hangs over the heads of CIOs, they often going to choose the reliable, commercial solution

However, corporate executives are always interested in saving money, and they will stretch pretty far in order to do it. Linux and the GPL have the reassuring presence of IBM and HP behind them, and that is usually good enough for even the most timid exec. This is why Linux has been growing by leaps and bounds the last few years.

Re:Nice to see a company admit it's mistake (1)

deftcoder (1090261) | more than 6 years ago | (#20735703)

IANAL, but wouldn't it have been better if a judge actually ruled against them (Monsoon), setting a precedent to be used in future GPL violation cases?

Re:Nice to see a company admit it's mistake (1)

cromar (1103585) | more than 6 years ago | (#20735735)

Yes, there is no precedent if the judge does not rule on the case.

Re:Nice to see a company admit it's mistake (1)

mordors9 (665662) | more than 6 years ago | (#20735813)

Even then, there would be a some meaning for precedence sake but not much. To have significant meaning they would need to appeal the decision to an appellate court for review and lose there also. Then you would have precedent that would have meaning within that appellate court's jurisdiction and may even be referred to by other appellate courts when they would consider the matter.

Re:Nice to see a company admit it's mistake (1)

tchuladdiass (174342) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736913)

What about hacking the legal system in order to establish precedence? Let's say I want to establish a precedence in a particular type of issue. I higher someone to let me sue them, and have them present a very week defense (so week that the judge would have to rule in my favor). Then go through the same fake process during appeal. Since I'm controlling the lawyers on both sides, I can almost guarantee a victory for the side I want to win, and with an actuall judgement we have a precedence.
Of course if the legal system found out that this was a "fixed" case I'm sure there would be contempt of court charges filed. But if someone does this and doesn't get caught, will the precedence stand up even if it is evident that the loosing side had "bad" representation?

Re:Nice to see a company admit it's mistake (5, Insightful)

nomadic (141991) | more than 6 years ago | (#20735791)

IANAL, but wouldn't it have been better if a judge actually ruled against them (Monsoon), setting a precedent to be used in future GPL violation cases?

Better for whom? The attorneys in the case represent their respective clients, not the public interest at large. If they see a way to get a good result for their clients, they are ethically obligated to pursue it, even if in the long run someone else down the road has a harder time of it.

Re:Nice to see a company admit it's mistake (1)

torstenvl (769732) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736161)

My hat goes off to you, sir, for Getting It (tm). Are you a lawyer/law student? I'm tired of people who rattle on and on about the law and deliberately spread misinformation (and moderate down correct information). Thank you for pointing out the ethical obligations of the legal profession.

On the other hand, I think that it would be in the client's best interest - if that client is responsible for a lot of GPL software - to set a precedent. It takes a larger up-front effort, but further actions that dispositively rely on the GPL being unenforceable are a 12(b)(6) away from disappearing. Also, it's dangerous to suggest (even remotely) that the client shouldn't want to go to trial; even though it's always better for people to settle, it could be construed as using a lawsuit to extort payment, which of course would be sanctionable.

Re:Nice to see a company admit it's mistake (2, Insightful)

nomadic (141991) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736817)

My hat goes off to you, sir, for Getting It (tm). Are you a lawyer/law student? I'm tired of people who rattle on and on about the law and deliberately spread misinformation (and moderate down correct information). Thank you for pointing out the ethical obligations of the legal profession.

Thanks, I'm a lawyer. I think what a lot of people here also might miss is that even if they pursued it to a victory in court, that might not really create anything of real precedential value. If the case is routine enough the court might issue an order without a written opinion. Alternately, the court could simply state there is no precedential value, or issue a written opinion that doesn't even address the issue of the validity of the GPL.

On the other hand, I think that it would be in the client's best interest - if that client is responsible for a lot of GPL software - to set a precedent. It takes a larger up-front effort, but further actions that dispositively rely on the GPL being unenforceable are a 12(b)(6) away from disappearing. Also, it's dangerous to suggest (even remotely) that the client shouldn't want to go to trial; even though it's always better for people to settle, it could be construed as using a lawsuit to extort payment, which of course would be sanctionable.

I mean, if the client orders you to follow a certain litigation strategy, you have to either do it or withdraw, ultimately you're their agent. I've had clients tell me to do something that I thought was a terrible idea, and I told them I thought it might be a mistake, but some of them just think they know best.

So it's entirely possible that at some point a GPL licensor will want to pursue it until they get a binding opinion, but honestly for the majority of individuals it's just not really worth it, unless you get the FSF to carry the whole cost of the action (which could very well happen).

Re:Nice to see a company admit it's mistake (1)

turbidostato (878842) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736741)

"it have been better if a judge actually ruled against them (Monsoon), setting a precedent to be used in future GPL violation cases?"

Well, I'd say it's only liminary better than current situation. After all, a precedent is the opinion of one judge impressing the opinion of another judge. Current situation is that of a lawyer (the one that settled outcourts) and it will reasonably impress future lawyers in simmilar situations. So while they don't have a precedent, they already have a "precedent".

Nice to see payoffs. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20736087)

"Too bad most companies are happy to fight it out in the courtrooms forever, or pay people off, than to stand up and admit when they were wrong."

Pay people off? Like going straight to the developers, bypassing the GPL? Or hiring the developers?

Re:Nice to see a company admit it's mistake (2, Insightful)

Myopic (18616) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736285)

This was billed as the "first American GPL lawsuit". So... what companies are you referring to?

Re:Nice to see a company admit it's mistake (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736437)

I don't really get that whole "First US GPL Lawsuit" thing.. I mean, wasn't Progress Software vs MySQL AB in the US?

Re:Nice to see a company admit it's mistake (1)

bl8n8r (649187) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736925)

> forever, or pay people off, than to stand up and admit when they were wrong.

Oh c'mon, who the *cough*sco*cough* heck would *cough*Microsoft*cough* ever do something like that? You're being paranoid and trollish. Are you one of those GNU shills?

Re:Nice to see a company admit it's mistake.. HUH? (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 6 years ago | (#20737259)

Why are you giving them so much credit? They basically told everyone to pound sand until the lawyers were whipped out, and then only backed down because they were outgunned.

That tells me they are a scumbag company ran by scumbags. Instead of doing what is right and working with everyone, they were selfish and scummy and forced everyone involved to go to court.

Re:Nice to see a company admit it's mistake (4, Informative)

JimDaGeek (983925) | more than 6 years ago | (#20737459)

Do you work for this company?

If you read TFA, Monsoon didn't do Sh!t until lawyers got involved. The developers of BusyBox tried to settle things "under the radar". If Monsoon was a company with any morals, they would have corrected their mistake(s) then. However, they did not. It wasn't until a lawsuit came and bad press came that they did what they should have done from the get-go.

So no, it is not "nice to see that Monsoon is able to admit" anything. They basically said F-U until legal measures were taken. If BusyBox didn't have the ability to get support in fighting this, Monsoon would still be violating the GPL and saying F-U to the developers.

There is nothing "insightful" about the GP (I don't mean that to offend you GP). This sounds like typical corporate crap. Monsoon continued in their infringement after being notified. Monsoon did nothing until legal matters were taken. Now Monsoon is all like "we 'intended' to comply and we will comply". BS.

who gives a fuck? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20735579)

linux is for faggots. go suck another dick, faggot.

Are you Trolling.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20735625)

or looking for a piece of ass?

Re:Are you Trolling.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20736853)

*taps my feet next to your comment div*

Micro$oft at work... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20735585)

They don't want the GPL to win in the courtroom.

On the other hand it is good this case seems to be resolved. Now, proceed onto the next violation.

Re:Micro$oft at work... (1)

lowe0 (136140) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736049)

Oh, come on. Do you have even the slightest shred of evidence that Microsoft was involved?

Glad to see they admitted it (1)

VorlonFog (948943) | more than 6 years ago | (#20735591)

It sets a really good example for others to follow. Now, when are we going to get AMD/ATI to publicly post their Linux work for the ATI Xilleon MIPS processors?

all's fair in law and war (4, Insightful)

User 956 (568564) | more than 6 years ago | (#20735607)

Monsoon Multimedia was quick to admit that they had violated the GPLv2 in their modified BusyBox code and will soon be releasing the source to come into full compliance with the license.

I hate to sound like a pessimist, but this sounds like nothing but a win for Monsoon. Number one, there's no mention of any cash payout, and number two, they get a shit-ton of free advertising for doing the "right thing".

Win for Free Software. (4, Insightful)

Erris (531066) | more than 6 years ago | (#20735809)

this sounds like nothing but a win for Monsoon. ... there's no mention of any cash payout, and number two, they get a shit-ton of free advertising

It's another win for software freedom. We get their changes or they get hammered. The thing being advertised is that free software can be and is used for business. No one had to waste money on lawyers and everyone is happy.

For their reputation, it's a wash. Monsoon's reputation has been damaged by their original behavior but the settlement goes a long way to repairing that. The reputation enhancement they get from using free software is well deserved because free software has a well earned reputation for quality.

That's strange (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20736421)

I thought you'd use the few posts you get per day to continue shilling [slashdot.org] your other account, which seems stuck in negative karma hell. Or blaming Firefox bugs [slashdot.org] on "Windoze".

Re:all's fair in law and war (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20735841)

Not exactly:

When they were confronted about the fact that they were in violation of the law, they brushed it off, "jokingly" accusing the guy who discovered it of reverse-engineering and violating the EULA, then saying that the forums were for paying customers only. They also ignored phone calls. When they admitted to it, they said they'd put it on a timetable, and not make legal compliance a top priority.
Links: http://lwn.net/Articles/250798/ [lwn.net] and groklaw comment [groklaw.net]

Re:all's fair in law and war (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#20735845)

They're good GPL soldiers, they're not interested in money. Asking for damages in the complaint is just a stick. Dropping the complaint if Monsoon comes into compliance is the carrot.

Re:all's fair in law and war (5, Insightful)

Daimanta (1140543) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736031)

Number one, there's no mention of any cash payout
Why do there always have to be (punitive) damages paid? They lost and they will now comply. FOSS has won. No revenge. Case closed.

Re:all's fair in law and war (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20736379)

Why do there always have to be (punitive) damages paid? They lost and they will now comply. FOSS has won. No revenge. Case closed.

Because it's a disincentive to do the right thing in the first place. If the only reparation is releasing the source, most PHB's would take the gamble that they won't be caught, because there's no real "penalty" if they are caught, in their mind.

Re:all's fair in law and war (1)

rhizome (115711) | more than 6 years ago | (#20737097)

Because it's a disincentive to do the right thing in the first place.

Are you sure about that? If they're making so much money by violating the GPL, then they have that much more to lose when it turns out they have to give the source away and people can replicate their entire company with a download.

Re:all's fair in law and war (1)

stinerman (812158) | more than 6 years ago | (#20737539)

True, but lets say I'm just out to make a few dollars. I just repackage some FOSS software and sell it for $20. If I sell 100 copies of X, I've made $2000. Someone figures out that I'm violating the license, so all I do is release the source and then move on to another piece of software.

Re:all's fair in law and war (1)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736875)

Why do there always have to be (punitive) damages paid?

I've got one concern with no financial penalty, and I admit it's minor. It encourages companies to think, "Hey, let's start with GPL'd software and if we get caught, we'll wait until someone sues us and settle."

On the flip side, other companies see how the FOSS community treats violators and contrasts that with Microsoft and the BSA.

Microsoft - Product activation, DRM, byzantine license requirements, and CALS.

BSA - Audits, lawsuits, big public settlements.

FOSS - Warning, another warning, filing, quick settlement with no big fines.

Who would you rather do business with? Once again the FOSS community demonstrates a better way to do business.

Re:all's fair in law and war (1)

risk one (1013529) | more than 6 years ago | (#20737341)

I agree, if some FOSS project had accidentally used copyrighted code, all we would expect is for them to remove the code and apologize. If the copyright holder started suing for cash on day one, we'd scream bloody murder. This is the exact same thing, they found out about the violation, and took the necessary steps. (Of course, it did get to court, so I expect they put up some resistance, but that's just the way businesses work I guess; prove that you're serious, and we'll get off our asses.

Re:all's fair in law and war (5, Insightful)

kebes (861706) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736085)

Number one, there's no mention of any cash payout
In various talks I've heard, Eben Moglen (legal counsel for the FSF) repeatedly states that it should be the policy of the free software community to give ample opportunities for infringers to "do the right thing."

He emphasizes that the objective is for the software to end up free, not to extract revenge, or get extra money. As such, the message we must send is "do the right thing," and not "pay for your crime." He says that this strategy has worked remarkably well: most GPL infringements never make it anywhere near a courtroom: a couple of friendly phone calls and the situation is resolved.

Frankly I think this "don't be a jerk" tactic is something we should encourage everywhere, not just in the FOSS community. In any case, the somewhat more even-handed approach to infringements helps to not scare away potential users of GPL software and code (e.g. corporations). The message they get is: "play by the rules... but if you make a mistake, don't worry: we'll send you a friendly reminder before taking any harsh action."

Re:all's fair in law and war (1)

Quarters (18322) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736277)

Getting a post on Slashdot and some other tech-sites doesn't = a "shit ton" of free advertising. Ask anyone watching an NBC season premiere tonight who "Monsoon Multimedia" is and you'll, more often than not, just a blank stare in return.

Re:all's fair in law and war (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 6 years ago | (#20737501)

I hate to sound like a pessimist, but this sounds like nothing but a win for Monsoon

Yes. It's better to think of the law as a method of getting people to do the right thing instead of being some tool of vengence.

Still don't quite understand (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20735613)

I expect this could have all been settled without instigating a lawsuit. From what I heard they were notified of the GPL violation via a support forum. Good to see that the company are not assholes and are going to do the right thing but I suspect the situation could have been handled better by both parties.

Read some more (1)

gvc (167165) | more than 6 years ago | (#20735917)

Their counsel were notified in writing and failed to respond.

You may argue that the time given for response was short,
but it should have been adequate given the nature of
the allegation.

Also don't assume that all interaction between the parties
is documented in the complaint.

Re:Read some more (4, Interesting)

phorm (591458) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736479)

Indeed. This company was also informed months ago by a user that had requested the code, unfortunately with no result. After discussing the GPL issues, Monsoon's rep basically started accusing the users' of illegally decompiling their source (in order to find the violation) and EULA violation etc etc. When told that there was no EULA if you download the source, he basically said "OK, well then we'll stick one in the download, or embed it in the binary so that you can't get around it." This shows that they had very little interest in showing the code, as their attitude towards their GPL obligations at the time was basically "we'll get to it, sometime, and we're not telling you when." Here's a bit of Monsoon's commentary in the forums pre-lawsuit:

Seems to me that some of you have just come out blatantly admitting you are reverse engineering the firmware - or trying to. How should we handle this?
I had posted the an article up on slashdot at around the time the forum debates were taking place, but unfortunately it never made it past the firehose (and I assume that is has now disappeared since it was rejected). However, the same rep was involved in a debate with me, and was spouting the same BS. His question was "well, what is the opinion of slashdot on breaking the EULA and reverse-engineering our code." I answer that it would really depend on the context, particularly whether the code should have been visible in the first place, and that the use of strings [wikipedia.org] does not qualify as reverse-engineering. He continued to insist that "having reverse-engineered stuff in the past, I know what I'm talking about, so it's just your opinion that strings doesn't count." etc etc

All in all, their attitude - or at least of this rep - has been an offensive defensiveness (aka justify their actions by attacking those of others). I'm hoping that along with having the issues settled he now has an understanding of how the GPL works, but I'm sure he'll probably continue along with the mistaken assumption that his company was never in the wrong, and that this whole thing is the fault of those darn free-software people.

Re:Read some more (2, Insightful)

keeboo (724305) | more than 6 years ago | (#20737385)

All in all, their attitude - or at least of this rep - has been an offensive defensiveness (aka justify their actions by attacking those of others). I'm hoping that along with having the issues settled he now has an understanding of how the GPL works, but I'm sure he'll probably continue along with the mistaken assumption that his company was never in the wrong, and that this whole thing is the fault of those darn free-software people.

I don't believe so.. That kind of stuff is just theatrical, what they really think is another matter.
They probably thought that it would be possible to keep their way just ignoring/scaring the eventual complainer. But after a while it looked like they could have some real trouble, so releasing the code (or just announcing that) seemed the more convenient solution.

I don't think this company believed for a moment they were right or wrong in the moral sense... Looks more like an amoral behavior: You do whatever is needed for profits as long as you don't have too much trouble with the law.

Precedence (2, Insightful)

ricebowl (999467) | more than 6 years ago | (#20735627)

While it's good that Monsoon's finally agreed to uphold the GPL agreement I was rather hoping that they'd hold out, if only to establish precedent for future actions.

Still, there's a chance that other companies approached by the SFLC [softwarefreedom.org] will look to this act before deciding to refuse to comply with the GPL they're trading under.

Hopefully...

Re:Precedence (4, Interesting)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 6 years ago | (#20735933)

While it's good that Monsoon's finally agreed to uphold the GPL agreement I was rather hoping that they'd hold out, if only to establish precedent for future actions.

I guess. Is a precedent really necessary? I mean the "GPL hasn't been tested in court -- it might be an invalid license!" makes for great anti-GPL FUD, but when you get down to it there is no reason to believe the GPL would be invalid. There are thousands of licenses out there that have never been tried in court, and with most of them there would be no point.

This may be the first GPL lawsuit, but it is hardly the first GPL-related incident with lawyers involved. The fact is that most companies cave immediately when faced with the facts of their GPL violations. Before now nobody has even wanted it to get to the point of a lawsuit being filed, much less letting the facts be tried by a jury. I think it's safe to say that most of these companies' legal departments regard the GPL as a sound license, and getting it ruled invalid as unlikely (and detrimental, since without the GPL they would have no license to use the code at all).

The closest we've come to a company actually fighting the GPL in a court of law was SCO who claimed it was unconstitutional of all things. Nobody else seems to be crazy enough to want to fight the GPL at all.

So a precedent would be nice simply for being able to say "the GPL has been tested in court and was ruled to be a valid license" to silence the FUDmeisters, but practically speaking it's not necessary to protect GPLed code.

Bargaining chip (3, Funny)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 6 years ago | (#20735643)

They did not win on technical grounds, and any sane (or insane) lawyer would have done the same.
They backed down once they found out RMS might be called to testify.

In reality, this means that there is still no precedent for the GPL in court which is a shame.

Mod parent up (1)

AP2k (991160) | more than 6 years ago | (#20735789)

There is little victory in a settlement to release the code. The real victory would have indeed been a precedent for GPL.

Re:Bargaining chip (3, Insightful)

kebes (861706) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736003)

On the other hand, the fact that no GPL dispute has ever gone to court says something very powerful: It says that no company who has ever been discovered to be violating the GPL honestly thought that they could win in court.

So, the (unofficial) conclusion from a wide variety of lawyers working for different, unrelated, companies is: "Don't go to court against the GPL." It's not a legally-binding test, but it sends a clear message to other would-be infringers.

Re:Bargaining chip (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20736395)

Yeah, his B.O. is considered a weapon of mass destruction.

Precedent (4, Insightful)

cromar (1103585) | more than 6 years ago | (#20735667)

It is too bad, in some ways, that it didn't go to court. Personally, I will sleep much more soundly when there is a precedent set which upholds the GPL as legally valid.

Re:Precedent (3, Insightful)

codepunk (167897) | more than 6 years ago | (#20735815)

I would not loose a whole lot of sleep over it, the GPL may never be tested in court. When faced with
a violation the offending party is not going to be stupid enough to go to court over it. If you loose the case you get smoked for copyright infingement, if you win you still cannot distribute the compiled code since the GPL is the only thing allowing distribution.

Only a fool would take his chances with such odds.

Re:Precedent (4, Funny)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736551)

Only the sandman can loose sleep. Other creatures occasionally lose it though.

Re:Precedent (1)

jareth-0205-mobile (909903) | more than 6 years ago | (#20735823)

But, don't you see, the very fact that in its entire existence the GPL has not even been debated in a court goes to show how clear it is. There is no case to argue against it! Sleep well...

Re:Precedent (1)

nomadic (141991) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736023)

It is too bad, in some ways, that it didn't go to court. Personally, I will sleep much more soundly when there is a precedent set which upholds the GPL as legally valid.

If thoughts about the GPL are keeping you up at night, I think you have a problem...

Re:Precedent (1)

MicktheMech (697533) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736411)

If thoughts about the GPL are keeping you up at night, I think you have a problem...

Don't worry too much. If that problem is the lack of an SO to be waking you up instead; it's a slashdot wide problem.

Re:Precedent (4, Insightful)

vondo (303621) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736025)

As the other commenters have alluded to, businesses go to court with other businesses all the time over these types of issues. The fact that no company, to date, has been willing to take on a bunch of long haired hippies with scant resources over their commie license would suggest that either the terms of the license are benign to them or they know they don't have a leg to stand on. Also, there have been a few companies that have gotten to the stage Monsoon has and they've folded their hand when lawyers get involved. That says something.

Re:Precedent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20736923)

It is very bad. They should have pushed this to the court or demanded a Really Large TM sum of money which would have been made public and a public apology. (Microsoft would gladly have paid the sum to avoid this going to court.)

These guys had their chance to comply with the license. They chose not to.

As a summary, GPL has not been tested and criminals got away laughing with plenty of free publicity.

Expect more GPL violations in the future.

"Soon" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20735707)

>Monsoon Multimedia was quick to admit that they had violated the GPLv2 in their modified BusyBox code and will soon be releasing the source to come into full compliance with the license.

They violated it and now they play time ("will soon be"). Better now than later.

Call the Grammar Nazi (3, Informative)

heff66 (561254) | more than 6 years ago | (#20735717)

You can't center "around" something. You can revolve around something or you can center ON something. But you can't center around. Doesn't even make sense and it's on two front-page Slashdot articles.

Re:Call the Grammar Nazi (3, Funny)

KermodeBear (738243) | more than 6 years ago | (#20735731)

Does definition determine usage or does usage determine definition?

Re:Call the Grammar Nazi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20736255)

Let's call the whole thing off.

They were really over a barrel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20735729)

Usually, out of court settlements are secret. The fact that Monsoon is forced to publicly admit they were wrong, demonstrate what a losing position they were in.

The fact that this was the first American GPL suit demonstrates how clueless Monsoon were. It should never have got to this situation.

as was said in the former /. FA (1)

N3wsByt3 (758224) | more than 6 years ago | (#20735751)

They should have given it more time to begin with. The GPL folks themselves had argued that one warning and - wham - suing wasn't a good way to deal with these issues.

Since the GPL is pretty straightforward and based on the same principles as 'normal' copyright, companies really don't make much of a chance, and they know it. A little bit of pressure, and even the obnoxious ones cave in rather soon, *without* having to go to court.

As long as violations can be solved this way, there really isn't a need to go the long and tedious legal way.

It would be nice to have a (legal) conformation of the validity of the GPL, but that would only be pro forma. It has an extreme likelihood of being legally sound and valid, and companies (and everyone else, really) know that - that's why they settle so fast in the first place.

GPL Settlements Nicer (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20736097)

It has an extreme likelihood of being legally sound and valid, and companies (and everyone else, really) know that - that's why they settle so fast in the first place.

Let's not forget that GPL settlements are usually much nicer than 'normal' copyright settlements.

Example: Violate Microsoft's copyright on some code, bundle it up in an executable, and start distributing it (heaven help you if you actually sell it). Think the settlement that Microsoft will offer you will be anywhere near as amicable as "Share your changes back to the rest of us." ?? Not on your life.

The fact that the GPL hasn't needed a legal confirmation gives testament to its simplicity and strength. These waters are filled with some *very* dangerous sharks that have had plenty of time to attack. It seems our shark cage is made of some pretty stern stuff.

Re:as was said in the former /. FA (1)

k8to (9046) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736297)

Your uninformedness is showing. Here is a comment on the situation [groklaw.net] from the person who knows best:

It's hard to engage company principals when the company won't take your calls. (Or your emails. And signs for a fedex containing your complaint and your contact info, but haven't replied at all a week later.) The message board shows they aware of the issue internally and that they are capable of responding.

Ok, hypothetical: When a company is confronted by users, they talk trash. Afterwards, when confronted by lawyers, they clam up. Is this a recipe for avoiding a lawsuit?

The SFLC may not quite be at IBM's "blacken the skies of Utah with lawyers" level, but they're not empty cease and desist letters with no resources to back it up either.

To quote lolcats: They are serious lawyers, this is serious lawsuit. (Against invisible defendant at the time...)

As for venue, the SFLC is located in New York, so it's convenient for them to ask for that as the venue. (There was some legal case noticing that the internet is everywhere that's precedent for this, they explained it to me on the phone but it's not my area.) Since copyright is federal this seems to me as much a matter of convenience as anything, but IANAL. :) (Yeah, I know, different precedents in different circuit courts. Not my area. This is why one _has_ lawyers. I happily defer to their expertise in matters of appropriate venue...)

P.S. Thank PJ for all this, she introduced Erik and me to the SFLC back when we declared the "hall of shame" a failure and turned to her for suggestions. We're pretty happy so far... :)

Conspiracy theory in favor of Monsoon (4, Funny)

tygt (792974) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736015)

Ok I really don't know anything about this, but... what if Monsoon is actually on the tux side and wanted to provide an opportunity for a court case which they were already planning on caving on, just so that others would think "well you *can* get sued and those guys caved".

I know, far fetched. But still, I love a good conspiracy theory.

Hardly a surprise (1)

FoolsGold (1139759) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736089)

The vast majority of legal cases reach a settlement before they even set foot in the court. No-one enjoys drawn out cases anyway (apart from the lawyers).

Hrm... What is cheaper? (4, Insightful)

vertinox (846076) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736091)

A.) Hire a lawyer and fight a court case you may or may not loose.

or

B.) Just release the source which costs you nothing

Re:Hrm... What is cheaper? (1)

MMC Monster (602931) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736977)

Actually, choice A is more like "Hire a lawyer and fight a court case you will probably lose". To get a call from the FSF lawyers likely means the code is truly licensed under the GPL. Lawyers realize that if they are not abiding by the scope of the GPL, they have no right to use the code at all. Copyright infringement is ridiculously costly.

I have to applaud the FSF lawyers, who are giving big businesses a second chance to do the right thing without any monetary penalty. It is something that other areas of business would do well to imitate.

There's still one really bad option (1)

h2oliu (38090) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736135)

It could be viewed that failing to follow the GPL is not a copyright violation, but a contractual violation.

That changes the game. That was a concern for the artistic license [slashdot.org] not too long ago.

It could happen. I hope not, but it could.

Re:There's still one really bad option (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736319)

I'm not a lawyer, but I have failed to see how that's a bad thing. If they violate the contract, you sue them under contract law. If that doesn't work, THEN you go after them for the copyrights they broke. Either they are in a contract with you, or they aren't. If the court rules they aren't (because they've broken it) then copyright laws still exist, and both parties must follow them.

Re:There's still one really bad option (1)

h2oliu (38090) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736499)

An additional poster commented as well, pointing to a wiki article.

IANAL either. To me it is kind of like the DMCA, for good guys. The more it is defined by the courts, the less options that we will have.

I just don't have a lot of faith in our legal system.

Re:There's still one really bad option (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736617)

That's... Horrid logic. It basically says 'Until it's proven, anything is possible. The more we prove it, the worse off we are.' ... No, the more we prove it, the more we know exactly what our rights are, and the less money we spend trying to figure that out. I'd much rather know exactly what the GPL means in a court of law than not if someone was infringing on my rights.

Re:There's still one really bad option (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20736513)

You ought to be correct, but unfortunately the judge disagreed. He decided that the artistic license was a contract, so distribution was authorized, and the failure of the defendant to obey the license was a breach of contract. Instead of not being able to distribute anymore, the defendant was just liable for damages, and since artistic license is a free license there *are no* actual damages (at least, none that are easy to prove).

The GPL explicitly states that failure to abide by the license revokes the license, so it is hoped that it will fare better.

Re:There's still one really bad option (1)

wikinerd (809585) | more than 6 years ago | (#20737743)

and since artistic license is a free license there *are no* actual damages

I don't remember what Artistic says about this, but I think thatGPL allows one to charge distribution fees. Therefore, it is not inconceivable that a company could have distribution fees of GPLed software as its only revenue stream. In fact, there are many Web shops around that sell nothing more than GNU/Linux and BSD CDs/DVDs. Their profitability revolves around their ability to offer quick access to superior high-quality software. If they cannot offer high-quality software, then their profitability will suffer. If a company gets the source, improves it, and refuses to supply the modified source under the GPL, then they do damage Web shops like these, since they deny them the opportunity to offer improved versions of the software they distribute.

Not sure whether this would be considered valid reasoning in a court, IANAL.

Don't worry too much (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20736443)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artistic_License [wikipedia.org]

The Artistic License has been criticized as "too vague; some passages are too clever for their own good, and their meaning is not clear." I guess the FSF pretty much called it. The GPL is way more bullet proof.

More interesting case happening in Israel (3, Interesting)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736313)

Here's the situation. A startup company took a GPL licensed program, made modifications to it and dynamically linked to a proprietary third party VOIP library. Initially they weren't going to release any of their modifications, but after being contacted by the developer they tried to come into compliance. However, the use of the proprietary VOIP library is not compatible with the GPL as they are unable to provide source code for it.

The startup company was the first to sick the lawyers on, but the developer has fought back better. For a while it looked like there was going to be a default judgment in the developer's favor but now it looks like it is going to court.

See http://www.jinchess.com/ichessu/ [jinchess.com] for more details.

Re:More interesting case happening in Israel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20736489)

They were not objecting releasing the modified GPL code itself, right? Only the libraries it was dynamically using.

So unless they were using GPLv3 (which is specifically design to deal with these issues) then it's pretty easy to find a technical workaround. Hypervisors/Tivolization comes to mind, or pretty much any (even if fake) imitation of client/server or multi-tier architecture.

GPL (especially GPL2) is not prohibiting in principle the use of proprietary software in conjunction with GPL software, only using them in the same namespace, which is a very technical definition and can be worked around without that much difficulty.

Re:More interesting case happening in Israel (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736539)

I don't think these guys really understand that they are violating.. which is why they are fighting.

In the US, the FSF tends to be contacted and steps in very quickly and negotiates how to bring the violator into compliance.

In this case, it seems the talk of money has made both parties a bit standoffish and the only talking they're doing is through their lawyers.

Wrong (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20737687)

GPL is not prohibiting in principle the use of proprietary software in conjunction with GPL software, only using them in the same namespace

Not so. The GPL explicitly allows distribution of a GPL-covered work in conjunction with a proprietary work when they are physically separate entities but placed together on the same storage medium as an aggregate. It says so in black and white. Aggregation is not derivation.

The only thing that the GPL forbids is distribution of a statically linked binary comprised of those two, because that's a single work, and hence clearly the executable is then a derived work of the GPL-covered work.

It does NOT forbid dynamic linking at all, because the .so or DLL loader combines the two works at the same time that it loads them into memory, and copying into memory is not regarded as an act of copying that invokes copyright. What's more, mere USE of a library does not trigger the GPL, ever --- Eben Moglen has explained repeatedly that the GPL is not a usage licence, but only a distribution licence, and in the case of dynamic linking the two parts are distributed only as an aggregate.

So you've got it wrong. *Using* them in the same namespace is unrelated to distribution, and distribution is the only thing that triggers the GPL.

GPL Will Never Be Chalenged (5, Insightful)

EEPROMS (889169) | more than 6 years ago | (#20736359)

The reason why no sane company will challenge the GPL is very simple, even if you win you lose. As soon as you have removed the GPL hurdle you then have the nightmare of copyright law to face. The GPL does not remove copyright its a usage agreement, so if the "agreement " is annulled in court then the code falls under well tested copyright law and thats even worse to deal with.

Re:GPL Will Never Be Chalenged (1)

drfireman (101623) | more than 6 years ago | (#20737169)

When people express concern that the GPL may or may not be "upheld," I don't think they're really worried (or should be) that the GPL will be found to be null in the sense you're describing. The GPL conditionally grants certain rights that would otherwise be reserved for the copyright holder, and there's a valid concern that through some mechanism as yet unidentified, someone will claim to have been granted those rights without having agreed to the conditions in the way we all understand them. At this point, it seems like a farfetched possibility, but that would certainly be a more meaningful concern if a big company with deep pockets and fast-talking lawyers went to court to claim their right to use GPLed code inappropriately.

Re:GPL Will Never Be Chalenged (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20737681)

The thing is that contracts are all or nothing. Find one clause invalid and the whole thing is invalid, which is exactly what the free software community wants. This is the reason so many contracts contain words to the effect of "if this clause is found to be invalid it is agreed that the rest of the contract is still valid".

Now go after the rest ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20737375)

Now if someone would go after companies like PhotoVu [photovu.com] and Olive [olive.us], both of which are still in violation, along with dozens of others.
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