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BusyBox developers file GPL infringement lawsuit against Verizon


The Software Freedom Law Center announced on Dec. 7 that it has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Verizon Communications on behalf of its clients, the two principal developers of BusyBox.

The suit alleges that Verizon has violated the GNU GPLv2 (General Public License version 2) in its fiber-optic Internet and television service, aka FiOS.

Verizon distributes Actiontec MI424WR wireless routers to FiOS customers. This router contains BusyBox, and under the terms of the GPL, Verizon is obligated to provide the source code of BusyBox to recipients of the device. According to the lawsuit, despite having been contacted by SFLC, Verizon is continuing to distribute BusyBox illegally without source code.

BusyBox is a set of tiny versions of many common Unix/Linux utilities, which are squeezed into a single small executable. By providing replacements for most of the utilities ordinary found in GNU fileutils, shellutils, etc., developers get much of the expected functionality of the GNU utilities without the space requirements. Thus, the BusyBox programs are used in many–perhaps most–embedded Linux-based devices. A non-comprehensive list of devices that rely on BusyBox range from SBC (single board computers) to DJ mixing consoles to car engine computers to music servers to Wi-Fi AP (access points).

The complaint requests that an injunction be issued against Verizon and that damage and litigation costs be awarded to the plaintiffs. A copy of the complaint, as filed Dec. 6 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, is available at the SFLC site in PDF format.

“Our clients licensed BusyBox under the GPL to ensure that all users of the program can access and modify its source code,” said Dan Ravicher, the SFLC‘s legal director. “Because Verizon chose not to respond to our concerns, we had no choice but to file a lawsuit to ensure that they comply with the GPL.”

The SFLC informed both Verizon and Actiontec of this violation on Nov. 16. According to Ravicher, ” Our only objective is to ensure our clients’ rights are respected, whether that requires litigation or not. In this case, if we just wanted to litigate, we could have also named Actiontec (Verizon’s upstream supplier) as a defendant, but we chose not to do so because they responded to our initial communications (as opposed to Verizon who has simply ignored us) and we are now in what we believe are productive conversations with Actiontec about their compliance.”

This Swiss-army knife of embedded Linux has been used illegally before in other devices. Monsoon Multimedia recently settled its GPL violation of BusyBox with the SFLC and BusyBox developers. On Nov. 20, the SFLC and the BusyBox developers also brought suit against Xterasys and High-Gain Antennas for violating the GPLv2. As Rob Landley, a BusyBox developer and a plaintiff in all these lawsuits said at the time about Xterasys and High-Gain Antennas, “We let companies do what they like with BusyBox on their hardware, and what we asked in return was that they let us reproduce what they’ve done with BusyBox on our hardware. That’s the deal embodied in the GPL.”

This makes the fourth GPL enforcement lawsuit filed by SFLC on behalf of BusyBox developers Erik Andersen and Rob Landley. The case against Monsoon Multimedia was settled out of court in October, with Monsoon agreeing to remedy its prior violation, ensure future compliance and financially compensate the plaintiffs.

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

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