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SFLC, BusyBox, Monsoon dismiss GPL lawsuit

Oct 31, 2007 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 3 views

On Oct. 30, the Software Freedom Law Center, acting on behalf of the two principal BusyBox developers, and Monsoon Multimedia jointly announced that an agreement has been reached to dismiss the GPL enforcement lawsuit, which had been filed by the SFLC.

This was the first time in the United States, according to the SFLC, that a company and software vendor, Monsoon, was going to be taken to court for a GPL violation. Previously, alleged GPL violations have all been settled by letters from the FSF (Free Software Foundation) or other open-source organizations, pointing out the violation.

Monsoon Hava DVR
(Click for details)

Monsoon makes consumer devices primarily for home multimedia users. One such device was Hava (pictured at right), a place- and time-shifting TV recorder similar to the SlingBox. It was the Hava that got Monsoon in hot water with BusyBox's developers.

BusyBox is a set of tiny versions of many common Unix/Linux utilities into a single small executable. By providing replacements for most of the utilities ordinary found in GNU fileutils, shellutils, etc., developers get much of the expected functionality of the GNU utilities without the space requirements. Thus, the BusyBox programs are used in many — perhaps most — embedded Linux-based devices, such as Numark's iDJ2, a Linux-based DJ mixing console built around the Apple iPod; Drew Tech's DashDAQ car engine computer; and Pinnacle Audio's Athenaeum music server.

BusyBox is open-source software licensed under the GNU GPLv2 (General Public License version 2). One of the conditions of the GPL is that re-distributors of BusyBox are required to ensure that each downstream recipient is provided access to the source code of the program. Monsoon's sin was that it had used BusyBox in its Hava line without providing access to the BusyBox code.

Once the matter came to the point that the SFLC filed suit against Monsoon, the company quickly agreed to comply with the GPLv2 requirements. That in and of itself, though, wasn't sufficient.

Lead SFLC attorney Daniel Ravicher explained that the delay was because “simply coming into compliance now is not sufficient to settle the matter because that would mean anyone can violate the license until caught, because the only punishment would be to come into compliance. I can't discuss the details of what additional things are being sought by our clients, but hopefully we'll be able to shed light on that if/when we do reach an agreement.”

Now, that agreement has been reached. As a result of the plaintiffs agreeing to dismiss the lawsuit and reinstate Monsoon Multimedia's rights to distribute BusyBox under the GPL, Monsoon Multimedia has agreed to appoint an open-source compliance officer within its organization to monitor and ensure GPL compliance, to publish the source code for the version of BusyBox it previously distributed on its Web site, and to undertake substantial efforts to notify previous recipients of BusyBox from Monsoon Multimedia of their rights to the software under the GPL. The settlement also includes an undisclosed amount of financial consideration paid by Monsoon Multimedia to the plaintiffs.

“Although we really hated having to ask our attorneys to file a lawsuit to get Monsoon Multimedia to abide by the GPL, we are extremely pleased that they worked so hard and so fast to come into compliance,” said Rob Landley, a developer of BusyBox and a named plaintiff in the lawsuit, in a statement.

“Going forward, we are confident that Monsoon Multimedia will be upstanding members of the open-source community and we wish them the absolute best of luck with their business,” said Erik Andersen, the other BusyBox developer named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

“We are happy to put this behind us and move forward,” said Graham Radstone, chairman and COO at Monsoon, in a statement. “The fact that Monsoon Multimedia and BusyBox have reached an agreement amicably shows that settlement is far better than costly litigation. We will ensure that we are in compliance with the agreement in the future. Monsoon Multimedia is a highly innovative company and occupies a leading position in the emerging place-shifting market; therefore it is essential that we set an example for compliance for others.”

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

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