Multiple consumer electronics companies hit with GPL lawsuit

Best Buy, Samsung and 12 others violate GPLv2, an open source law firm charges

The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) has brought a copyright lawsuit (PDF) against 14 consumer electronics companies for allegedly violating GNU General Public License (GPL) in the use of GPL-licensed software in their products. Among those named in the suit are Best Buy, JVC, Western Digital Technologies and Westinghouse.

The case has the largest number of defendants ever named in any single GPL-enforcement lawsuit, according to SFLC counsel Aaron Williamson. SFLC filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

At issue is the reuse of BusyBox software, which is licensed under version 2 of the GNU General Public License version 2 (GPLv2).

BusyBox is a compact set of Unix-based command line tools widely used in embedded systems. GPLv2 stipulates that the program code it covers can be free to reuse as long as the code, and any modifications, are made available to the users or customers of the product containing the code.

Among others, a Best Buy Insignia-branded DVD player, a Samsung high-definition television and a Western Digital media player all use the code, according to SFLC. But none of the companies have made the code available as per the conditions set forth by GPLv2.

"You have to provide the source code, whether or not you modified the program," Williamson said. "Just distributing the program, even if you haven't made any changes yourself, you still have an obligation to provide the source code."

Best Buy and Western Digital did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

SFLC found BusyBox used in 20 separate products across 14 different companies, without the corresponding code being made available. The law firm tried to contact each of the 14 defendants, but the companies were unresponsive, or did not take the claims seriously, in SFLC's view, Williamson said.

SFLC filed the suit on behalf of the Software Freedom Conservancy and BusyBox lead developer Erik Andersen.

The lawsuits are part of an ongoing SFLC project to police misuse of BusyBox, which has been in operation since 2007.

The BusyBox Web site provides an e-mail addresses for users to report products that seem to use BusyBox but whose manufacturers do not supply the source code. After the SFLC verifies the source code is not available, it contacts companies through multiple means, usually by overnight-mail, fax and e-mail, Williamson said.

This lawsuit includes a compendium of companies that did not respond, Williamson said.

Astak, Best Buy, Bosch, Comtrend, Dobbs-Stanford, GCI Technologies, Humax, JVC, Phoebe Micro, Samsung, Versa Technology, Western Digital Technologies, Westinghouse Digital and ZyXEL Communications are all named as defendants in the suit.

"Our hope is that all of these cases will settle rather than continue through the litigation process. But we're prepared to carry the lawsuit through as far as necessary to bring companies into compliance," Williamson said.

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Tags open sourcelegallicensinggpllawsuitsFree Software FoundationSFLCsoftware licensingGPL violation

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Joab Jackson

IDG News Service
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