Tuesday 3 August 2010 by Bradley M. Kuhn
LWN is reporting a GPL enforcement story that I learned about during last week while at GUADEC (excellent conference, BTW, blog post on that later this week). I wasn't sure if it was really of interest to everyone, but since it's hit the press, I figured I'd write a brief post to mention it.
As many probably know, I'm president of the Software Freedom Conservancy, which is the non-profit organizational home of the BusyBox project. As part of my role at Conservancy, I help BusyBox in its GPL enforcement efforts. Specifically and currently, the SFLC is representing Conservancy in litigation against a number of defendants who have violated the GPL and were initially unresponsive to Conservancy's attempts to bring them into compliance with the terms of the license.
A few months ago, one of those defendants, Westinghouse Digital Electronics, LLC, stopped responding to issues regarding the lawsuit. On Conservancy's behalf, SFLC asked the judge to issue a default judgment against them. A “default” means what it looks like: Conservancy asked to “win by default” since Westinghouse stopped showing up. And, last week, Conservancy was granted a default judgment against Westinghouse, which included an injunction to stop their GPL-non-compliant distributions of BusyBox.
“Injunctive Relief”, as the lawyers call it, is a really important thing for GPL enforcement. Obviously our primary goal is full compliance with the GPL, which means giving the complete and corresponding source code (C&CS, as I tend to abbreviate it) to all those who received binary distributions of the software. Unfortunately, in some cases (for example, when a company simply won't cooperate in the process despite many efforts to convince them to do so), the only option is to stop further distribution of the violating software. As many parts of the GPL itself point out, it's better to not have software distributed at all, if it's only being distributed as (de facto) proprietary software.
I'm really glad that a judge has agreed that the GPL is important enough a license to warrant an injunction on out-of-compliance distribution. This is a major step forward in GPL enforcement in the USA. (Please note that Harald Welte had past similar successes in Germany, and deserves credit and kudos for getting this done the first time in the world. This success follows in his footsteps.)
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