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GPL upheld against D-Link in German court

Sep 27, 2006 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 8 views

Netfilter developer and founder Harald Welte reportedly has prevailed against D-Link in a case heard by a district court in Germany. Welte apparently sought to recovery expenses incurred in pursuing D-Link, and to force D-Link to concede that using GPL-licensed software carries legal obligations, Hanover-based magazine publisher Heise reports.

According to Heise, the case was the second time that the Frankfurt-on-the-Main District Court had upheld the “fundamental validity” of the GPL, the first time having been in 2004, in a case involving router manufacturer Sitecom.

Heise reports that Welte wrote to D-Link about an alleged GPL violation related to its DSM-G600 product, a WLAN-enabled NAS device. D-Link subsequently signed a cease-and-desist agreement, published firmware source code on its website, and attempted to inform customers.

However, D-Link declined to reimburse Welte for his expenses, which reportedly included purchasing one of the devices, having it tested, and seeking legal advice and representation. And, D-Link “refused to concede that it had a legal obligation,” according to Heise.

Welte said in a statement published at that a D-Link lawyer's statement could be translated as “Regardless of the repeatedly-quoted judgment of the district court of Munich I, we do not consider the GPL as legally binding.”

Now, the German court has found otherwise. The D-Link lawyer reportedly argued that “price-fixing” language at odds with anti-trust law rendered the GPL legally invalid. However, the German court reportedly called that argument “irrelevant,” finding that D-Link is not entitled to dismiss the GPL's legality on the one hand while at the same time enjoying the use of code licensed under it, a practice it reportedly termed “expropriation of the author,” according to Heise.

Thomas von Baross, managing director of D-Link in Central Europe, reportedly told Heise that his company will not appeal the ruling. He reportedly said his company had “no reservations with regard to GPL as such,” but rather “doubts about the lawfulness of the demands made by the plaintiff.” von Baross reportedly said that by taking the matter to court, rather than settling out of court, D-Link hoped that the case might contribute “an added degree of legal certainty to the topic of GPL.”

In a statement, Welte said, “The Free Software community is very happy to see more and more vendors to use Linux and other Free Software in their products. However, Free Software is copyrighted material, much like any other software. Redistribution may only take place in accordance with its license.”

The Frankfurt-on-the-Main's District Court's ruling on the matter has been published, in German, here. The English-language Heise story is available online, here.

Welte also founded OpenEZX, a project to create open source firmware for Motorola's Linux-based mobile phones.

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