Settlement reached in Busybox-Monsoon GPL case


Author: Bruce Byfield

A settlement has been reached in the case filed last month against Monsoon Multimedia by the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) on behalf of two BusyBox developers.

BusyBox is a collection of lightweight, standard utilities that is often used in embedded devices — and has also been the victim of at least 18 possible license violations in the past. As reported earlier on, the case concerned Monsoon’s shipment of code borrowed from BusyBox, in a product called Hava — without any accompanying offer of source code, as required by the GNU General Public License (GPL), under which BusyBox is released.

When the case was filed on September 20, SFLC Legal Director Daniel B. Ravicher referred to the case as “the first time that either myself or anyone else that I know of in the United States has actually had to go to court to force compliance with the GPL.”

However, the prospects for a landmark case quickly faded as Monsoon announced a few days later that it was in settlement negotiations with the SFLC. At the time, many media reports assumed the case was over, but Ravicher noted that although Monsoon had implied in its public statements that it would come into compliance, “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.”

As implied by Ravicher’s comment, the announced agreement includes an undisclosed financial settlement to Rob Landley and Erik Andersen, who filed the case on behalf of BusyBox.

Since BusyBox is not a legal entity, and its contributors retain the copyright on their contributions, the two had to file the case as individuals in order to protect BusyBox as a whole. However, whether the settlement will go to the plaintiffs or to Busybox as a whole is unknown.

In addition, in return for dismissal of the case and the right to continue to distribute BusyBox, Monsoon will appoint an open source compliance officer and publish the source code for the version of BusyBox it was distributing on its Web site. Monsoon also promises “to undertake substantial efforts” to notify those who obtained BusyBox from the company of their right to the source code.

The announcement goes on to quote Landley as saying “we are extremely pleased that [Monsoon] worked so hard and fast to come into compliance.”

“Going forward,” Andersen adds, “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.”

Graham Radstone, chairman and CEO of Monsoon, suggested that the agreement “shows that settlement is far better than costly litigation.” Radstone also promised to “ensure that we are in compliance with the agreement in the future” and expressed the hope that Monsoon would “set an example for compliance for others.”

Talking to on behalf of the SFLC, Ravicher characterized the outcome of the case as typical of previous GPL violations in the United States. “Settling the BusyBox case against Monsoon Multimedia is the latest testament to the enforceability of the GPL,” he said. “In all of our years of doing open source license enforcement work, we’ve never come across any party that thought it was in their best interest to test the GPL in court, and Monsoon was no exception.”

Ravicher then went on to note that “Undertaking the effort to ensure license compliance is critically important to free and open source software. Licenses, regardless of what terms they may contain, can lose their meaning and effect within the community if they are not properly enforced.”

From these comments, it seems clear that, while the SFLC and its clients might have seen the financial settlement as a warning to possible violators of free licenses, the real concern was compliance itself, both now and in the future. And, from this perspective, the SFLC and its clients accomplished all that they set out to do.


  • News
  • Legal
  • Free Software