A blog for the enterprise open source community
Cisco settles, but why did we go here?Jay Lyman, May 26, 2009 @ 4:32 pm ET
Although we did hear some battle alarms when the FSF sued networking and IT giant Cisco late last year, others (including me) anticipated a settlement along the lines of previous resolutions between free and open source software proponents and users/vendors that needed legal action to prompt compliance.
I was fortunate enough to speak with open source licensing and legal expert Larry Rosen recently (doing research for an upcoming CAOS report on which there will be more to tell soon) and get his take on this recent settlement. First he made the point, as most legal scholars do, that 99% of the time, settlement is the most desired, most effective way to end litigation, whichever end the involved parties are on. This was part of my reasoning that, similar to what we saw with Verizon, we would see a settlement from Cisco. However, Rosen raises the question of how and why it got to the point of a lawsuit in the first place when both parties are surely aware of where things should head?
The FSF and SFLC wish to raise the profile, prominence and recognition of open source licensing and they are effectively doing so with the series of suits they have launched and subsequently settled. However, would there be just as much credibility for open source software if these FOSS-supportive groups came out with announcements that they had avoided litigation with Company X following some fairly simple steps to bring them into compliance. Perhaps that was not possible without legal action, and I must offer my praise for the reasonable approach to settlement we’ve seen displayed.
I do think the FSF and SFLC have done a good job establishing that open source software licenses such as the GPL are not so foreign and are backed up by the law. However, I also wonder if the desire to establish some actual legal precedent in the U.S., as discussed previously on our blog, is contributing to the move to file lawsuits. This also serves to remind us that while open source software and the licenses that govern it have become far more accepted and common in the enterprise, there is certainly still some lack of awareness and need for education. Developers, vendors, users and distributors of open source software would be wise to educate themselves in the ‘classroom’ setting to avoid ending up in a ‘courtroom’ setting.
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