November 21, 2007

Two new alleged license violations against Busybox

Author: Bruce Byfield

The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) has filed another two cases on behalf of BusyBox developers Erik Andersen and Rob Landley against High Gain Antennas, LLC of Parker, Calif., and Xterasys Corp. of City of Industry, Calif. The cases follow a similar case against Monsoon Multimedia, which was recently settled out of court.

BusyBox is a free software project that produces small footprint versions of standard Unix utilities. Widely used in embedded systems, it has also been the frequent victim of violations of the GNU General Public License version 2 (GPLv2). In fact, the project once maintained a Hall of Shame listing more than 18 products or companies that apparently violated the project's license.

More recently, as the Hall of Shame page says, instead of hoping to shame violators into compliance, "these days we forward this sort of thing to the Software Freedom Law Center." However, since the project is not a legal entity, Andersen and Landley have filed the recent cases as individuals on behalf of the project.

Filed in the Southern District Court of New York on November 20, the case against High Gain Antenna claims that, since August 4, 2006, the company has been distributing firmware for the HGA-8186HP-1 wireless router that contains BusyBox code, but has not included any offer of the source code to customers, as required under Section 3 of GPLv2. The case alleges an unnamed third party notified High Gain Antenna about the violation soon after distribution began, and that the company, when served with notice of the infringement by SFLC legal director Daniel B. Ravicher, "immediately manifested a refusal to productively resolve the matter with Plaintiffs and continues to distribute the Infringing Products and Firmware." Andersen and Langley are asking for an undisclosed amount for damage and recovery of their litigation costs, as well as a restraint of High Gain Antenna's distribution of the product and firmware involved.

Filed at the same time and place, the case against Xterasys is similar to the one against High Gain Antenna. According to the defendants, Xterasys has failed to provide source code in the firmware for its BM-200, WAP257, XA-2611B, MH350, XR-2408GU, XR-3106, XR-4106, and WR-254 products. An unnamed third party informed Xterasys of the apparent violation on May 23 via email. Steve Yang of Xterasys requested more information on the same day, and received it the next. Since then, Xterasys has not responded to communications by the SFLC and continues to distribute the products in question, leaving the plaintiffs to ask for the same remedies as with High Gain Antenna. was unable to contact anyone at High Gain Antenna, which is closed for the week of Thanksgiving. Steve Yang, whose position at Xterasys is unclear, was contacted, but would only say, "We're looking into this case ourselves. So there isn't anything we have to say right now."

If either case goes to court, it will be the first court case in the United States that attempts to force compliance with the GPL. Otherwise, Ravicher said when contacted by, "There's not too much unusual about these cases. Both are cut and dry instances of redistribution of BusyBox without complying with the GPL. Both companies were notified by us and others about the matter, but yet they weren't willing to resolve it privately. So, our only and last recourse was to go to court."

In a comment that seems intended to warn other possible violators as much as to respond to the current two cases, Ravicher stresses that litigation "is a method to protect the interests of our clients, but [it is] truly our last resort. It is not only more efficient, but it is 10 times more desirable for our clients, if violators would just work with us to quickly come into compliance and remedy their past violations when they first hear from us, rather than trying to stonewall or ignore us in the hope that we'll just go away.

"Failure to enforce the the GPL, or any other open source license for that matter, threatens to undermine its meaning and effect, which would have negative repercussions on the community as a whole."


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