The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) has settled its GPL lawsuit with telecommunications and wireless giant Verizon, bringing to a compliant close all four recent U.S. lawsuits filed on the basis of the free and open source software license. In its suit, the SFLC alleged Verizon, which distributes GPL-licensed BusyBox software to customers via wireless routers from Actiontec Electronics, had failed to provide the source code as obligated by the GNU GPL.
As in other cases, the settlement consists of Actiontec’s agreement (likely encouraged by their larger partner) to appoint an open source compliance officer, to publish the BusyBox source code as required and to notify recipients of the software, including Verizon, of their GPL rights to the code. Also similar to the previous three settlements, Actiontec is paying an undisclosed sum to the BusyBox developers who were the plaintiffs.
I thought this would be the case, based on a few things. First, the GPL is not some exotic, first-of-its kind license, document or legal doctrine. Actually, it is based largely on U.S. copyright law, particularly in the case of GPLv2, which is the BusyBox license. It amazes me that some people think the GPL will be refuted, defeated or ‘thrown out of court.’ That would mean ‘throwing out’ U.S. copyright law, and I don’t see that happening, ever. Second, when considering the cost of compliance (actually sharing the code, a compliance officer and a payment to the BusyBox developers) to the cost of court, it surely makes sense to settle. Third, and perhaps most important, Verizon did not stand to gain by protracting the case. Nor did the company have much stake in defending itself on principle. It’s much easier to simply work with the people suing you to find out how you can come into compliance. Besides, who wants to be the next SCO?
The GPL lawsuits and subsequent settlements and compliance, which came from some of the smallest GPL violators and now, from one of the largest companies in the world, all serve to bolster the GPL. More companies large and small are now on GPL notice and if they’re smart, are making sure they are complying with the rules and regulations of free and open source software.