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Will Cisco settle or battle?Jay Lyman, December 16, 2008 @ 2:17 pm ET
While we have not heard much of a response from Cisco regarding the Free Software Foundation lawsuit over Cisco’s alleged lack of GNU General Public License and Lesser General Public License compliance, many are indicating there is likely a fight ahead. However, based on previous lawsuits and resulting settlements involving free and open source software proponents, including a suit and settlement with telco giant Verizon, I think the more likely result is some type of settlement this time around, too.
Don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t rule out the possibility that Cisco opts to push back and cite its positive participation and contribution to open source software, but that seems like a bigger gamble than just getting into full compliance in the eyes of the FSF and its legal representatives at the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC). In contrast to most software copyright lawsuits, we do not see the same adversarial spirit around past SFLC suits, at least not the BusyBox GPL cases that have heightened awareness of GPL compliance and open source licenses in general. We may also be seeing a more aggressive stance from the FSF, which is separate from the SFLC, but may nevertheless be emboldened by SFLC’s BusyBox success and still seeking U.S. court precedent on the GPL.
Still, I believe the FSF will be consistent with what we’ve seen from the SFLC in the willingness to work with a vendor, even one that it has sued after warnings, so long as that vendor agrees to the terms of settlement, which have typically consisted of appointing an open source compliance officer, publishing and availability of code as required by open source licenses and undisclosed payments. The SFLC settlement with Verizon, which many people thought would simply drag out the case in typical legal process fashion, is a good example of how I see the Cisco matter playing out.
However, a settlement to the case will not necessarily settle the issue. Beyond the legalities, I think the key question is whether Cisco — as well as other vendors such as Google, Oracle and even Microsoft — not only participate and comply by the letter of open source licenses and accepted practices, but whether they actually believe in open source and the rewards of making the code open and available. I believe that issue will remain unsettled for Cisco and for many other vendors leveraging open source software for enterprise users.
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