The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) triumphantly announced that it has just filed what is apparently the first U.S. copyright infringement lawsuit based on a violation of GPL V2. The perpetrator, Monsoon. The plantiff, BusyBox. Apparently Monsoon forgot to re-distributors the BusyBox code to make sure each downstream user had access to the BusyBox source.
As is increasingly the way in the good old USA, the plaintiffs, after failing to hear back from Monsoon's forum autobot -- yes, they apparently made their initial concerns known to an artificial life form on September 5th -- immediately set the wheels of litigation in motion. Now, don't get me wrong. The GPL is a binding contact, utilizing very clearly defined and understood rules of copyright and derivation. Monsoon was wrong. And BusyBox was right to sue.
But honestly, didn't we learn anything at all from the SCO debacle? Litigation should be a last course of action, not a frenzied first option. You don't want to scream bingo unless you're sure you've got all of your boxes checked.
The SFLC filed the suit on Wednesday in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against Monsoon Multimedia Inc., on behalf of the developers of BusyBox, Erik Andersen and Rob Landley. The suit charges Monsoon with using BusyBox under the GNU General Public License version 2 but failing to publish its source code. Under the terms of the license, distributors of software that uses the licensed software must make their source code available. Failing to do so is considered copyright infringement.
Despite reminders from BusyBox, members of the public and the SFLC legal team notifying Monsoon of its responsibilities, the requisite code has yet to be published.
Says Dan Ravicher, legal director of SFLC, "While it is relatively common for licensees to neglect to share their code, parties typically work through the issues without having to go to court."
From a legal perspective, he adds that the suit is necessary since copyright owners can start to lose rights if they don't act to protect them. He believes this is the first ever such case filed in the U.S. in order to enforce an open-source license.
With the increasing prevalence of open-source, it is a near certainty that this case will be closely watched from various quarters.