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First U.S. GPL lawsuit heads for quick settlement


The first U.S. GPL-related lawsuit appears to be headed for a quick out-of-court settlement. Monsoon Multimedia admitted today that it had violated the GPLv2 (GNU General Public License version 2), and said it will release its modified BusyBox code in full compliance with the license.

Monsoon Multimedia has stated that it is currently in settlement negotiations with the BusyBox project to resolve the matter without going to court. The company also said in a statement that it intends to fully comply with all open-source software license requirements. The company plans to make its modified BusyBox source code publicly available on on its website in the coming weeks, it said.

This matter came to the public attention when the SFLC (Software Freedom Law Center) announced on Sept. 20 that it had just filed the first-ever U.S. copyright infringement lawsuit based on a violation of the GPL on behalf of its clients, BusyBox’s two principal developers. GPLv2-licensed BusyBox is a small-footprint application that implements a lightweight set of standard Unix utilities. It is commonly used in embedded systems.

The developers of BusyBox came to the SFLC after unsuccessfully trying to resolve the issue with Monsoon into on their own. One of the conditions of the GPL is that re-distributors of GPL-licensed software are required to ensure that each downstream recipient is provided access to the source code of the program. On the company’s own website, Monsoon Multimedia had publicly acknowledged that its products and firmware contain BusyBox. However, the company has not provided access to the underlying source code.

While not well known in most open-source circles, BusyBox is used in virtually all Linux-based devices. First created by Bruce Perens, the well known open-source software advocate and developer, it combines tiny versions of many common Unix/Linux utilities into a single small executable. By providing mini-replacements for many of the GNU utilities, embedded developers get much of the expected functionality of the GNU utilities without the space requirements.

Monsoon makes consumer devices primarily for home multimedia users. Its line includes such products as Hava, a place- and time-shifting TV recorder. This is an embedded Linux device that’s similar to the Slingbox. The company also offers SnappySoft, Windows Media Center video capture software.

The original SFLC complaint (PDF Link) on behalf of the BusyBox developers requests that an injunction be issued against Monsoon Media. It also requests that damages and litigation costs be awarded to the plaintiffs.

However, in a statement, Eben Moglen, Founding Director of the SFLC, explained, “Free software licenses such as the GPL exist to protect the freedom of computer users. If we don’t ensure that these licenses are respected, then they will not be able to achieve their goal. Our goal is simply to ensure that Monsoon Multimedia complies with the terms of the GPL.”

“Since we intend to and always intended to comply with all open source software license requirements, we are confident that the matter will be quickly resolved,” Graham Radstone, chairman and COO at Monsoon Multimedia said today in a statement.

The SFLC was unable to comment about Monsoon’s announcement since Daniel Ravicher, the primary attorney working on this case, is traveling today.

A version of this story was first published in LinuxDevices.

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