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Biggest legal victory ever for GPL

For decades, almost no one challenged the General Public License in legal matters. In fact, no one has even dared to try to break it in court. That record remains unsullied as the biggest company to date–Verizon–that had been accused of a GPL violation opted to settle out of court.

The Software Freedom Law Center filed a copyright infringement lawsuit on Dec. 6 against Verizon Communications on behalf of its clients, the two principal developers of BusyBox. The suit alleged that Verizon violated the GNU GPLv2 by distributing Actiontec MI424WR wireless routers–which contained unsanctioned GPLv2 code–that were used with Verizon’s fiber-optic Internet and television service, aka FiOS.

On March 17, the SFLC announced that Verizon has come to an agreement with the SFLC and the BusyBox developers, which enables them to dismiss the GPL enforcement lawsuit. BusyBox is a lightweight set of standard Unix utilities commonly used in embedded systems. The popular development tool kit is licensed under GPL. Verizon and Actiontec violated the GPL condition that redistributors of BusyBox are required to ensure that every user of the code, or a device containing the code, must be provided access to the program’s source code.

In return for the SFLC and the BusyBox developers dismissing the lawsuit and giving Actiontec and its customer, Verizon, the right to distribute BusyBox, Actiontec will appoint an open-source compliance officer; publish the BusyBox source code on its Web site, and, according to the press release, “undertake substantial efforts to notify previous recipients of BusyBox from Actiontec and its customers, including Verizon, of their rights to the software under the GPL. The settlement also includes an undisclosed amount of financial consideration paid to the plaintiffs by Actiontec.”

“We are happy to have settled this matter in a way that upholds the GPL and the interests of our clients,” said Dan Ravicher, the SFLC’s legal director, in a statement.

“Actiontec takes great pride in providing innovative, quality products to its customers, while respecting the intellectual property rights of third parties,” said Dean Chang, Actiontec’s president and CEO, in a statement. “We appreciate the value of the technological contributions of the open-source community, and look forward with renewed commitment to working cooperatively with them.”

In an interview with Linux-Watch, Jim Garrison, the SFLC’s public relations coordinator, added, “The settlement also includes an undisclosed amount of financial consideration paid to the plaintiffs by Actiontec.”

A version of this story was published in Linux-Watch.