back to article Start-up sued in US courts over GPL 'violation'

The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) has filed the first US infringement case to defend the General Public License (GPL) version 2. The case has been brought against Monsoon Multimedia, a specialist in video viewing and capturing devices, which has offices in Silicon Valley and in New Delhi. SFLC legal director Dan Ravicher …


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  1. Simpson

    First ever?

    We already have precedent.

    They may be able to make then stop using the software. But if something is given away for free, how can there be damages? If the value of the software/IP is $0, what has the developer lost? His innocence?

    I can see where the GPL would be a threat to a big company, but if you are a startup, you have nothing to lose.

    Unless the GPL spells out specific monetary damages for each copy distributed, I do not see the risk for a company. $0 X 100 copies or $0 X 1,000,000 copies still = $0

    It is like suing someone for being rude. You might win, but you will only get satisfaction out of it.

    why aren't they going after VMware instead. That would surely get more headlines.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Simpson doesn't get it

    It is the same thing again and again and again. Because people are so keen on making money they don't get what the free source people really want. Simpson above is no excuse. Only money in his brain. Probably an insurance salesman.

    The free source people want

    1/ Respect. Respect for their work and acknowledgment that it is good stuff

    2/ Source code. Share and share alike. A business taking GPL code, ignoring the license, and not sharing the changes to the GPL code exhibits anti-social behavior from the free software point of view.

    3/ The right to tinker. Doing whatever they want with hardware they own, under their full control. Source code is an important building block for doing so, but specifications and the absence of restriction technologies are others.

  3. Alan Donaly


    It does have value plenty of companies already using it in products to sell so how much money do you think they saved by not developing their own code how much it's worth could be calculated to the penny. Getting something for free doesn't give you the right to sell it I would have thought that was fairly well established.

  4. John A


    I'd say it was simple... it's a nice clearcut case against a small company which will enable them to set some legal precedent.

    When it comes to a fight against a larger entity down the line, that precedent may carry some weight. And if it teaches those startups to play fair then that is by no means a bad thing.

  5. Mountford D

    Even start-ups have a lot to lose

    Even with start-ups, a lot of investment would have gone into bringing out a product. In the UK, winding up a business is big hassle and there are negative implications for the directors, ranging from loss of face to disqualification from being a company director for years. Not something to be taken lightly.

    If they are compelled to stop distributing their product, then it could mean death for the company. It would cheaper and infinitely less hassle for them to allow access to the GPL code - and only the GPL portion, not their proprietary added stuff.

  6. davcefai


    The *price* is zero. The *value* of BusyBox is substantial. Monsoon took the value of BusyBox without adhering to the licence conditions.

    In a just world they should be liable for the money they saved by not writing their own software or licensing some other package.

  7. Giles Jones Gold badge


    There can be damages simply because writing software can cost time and money. If someone improves a product you give the code away for which makes it more useful to a commercial supplier of that product then you can argue that if they don't give the code back they have lost you that potential revenue stream.

    GPL is a licence, if you don't agree with it then don't use GPL code, simple as that.

    We're not talking about someone at home hacking away at Linux for personal use, we're talking about companies passing off the work of others as their own.

  8. alex dekker

    Sue the hell out of them

    If you do business "without a firm understanding" of what the GPL means, you don't deserve to be in business. I'm neither a lawyer or a developer; yet I know exactly what the GPL means. For a business build around GPL code, not having a firm understanding is inexcusable.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Even if they went ahead and released the GPL'd source code, other than the recognition (which is rightly deserved), how useful is it? Monsoon's products are embedded and unless they provide a method to gain access to the system (ignoring the fact that the system can be hacked), what can one do with the released information?

  10. Tom

    Skirmish before Microsoft battle?

    Microsoft will never come out face to face with Linux/GNU -too much to lose. They sponsored SCO and have lost.

    They may have sponsored this lot.

    You have to ask yourself why a teeny weeny startup wants to go to court when for the price of an hours litigation it can make its code available to everyone.

    Or are they really fighting for their principles? i.e. the right for companies to effectively steal other peoples work, work they gladly gave away in the first place.

  11. charlie wallace

    Not first ever

    The GPL was tested ages ago in the USA with Drewtech and the SAE.

  12. Chris

    No precendent already

    @Simpson, the case which you refer to is not a precedent because the software in question was not GPL, but some other poorly written licence which didn't enforce copyright. Hence, in that case the breach of Open Source was limited to breach of contract where damages are calculated on lost revenue.

    GPL is a much stronger licence which explicitly retains the copyright of the original authors. Copyright theft is a much more serious crime than breach of contract and thus punitive damages are determined differently.

    This is going to be a very important case for the FSF and will determine the future of Open Source Software. I do hope they win convincingly.

  13. Mark Levitt

    Copyright law defines the damages owed

    Simpson wrote "Unless the GPL spells out specific monetary damages for each copy distributed, I do not see the risk for a company. $0 X 100 copies or $0 X 1,000,000 copies still = $0"

    Wrong. The GPL (and any other copyright license) does not need to spell out damages for distributing the code without permission. The US copyright law allows copyright holders to collect $750 to $30,000 per work distributed. If the copyright holder can show that the infringement was wilful, the amount rises to $150,000 per work. This amount is unrelated to the cost of the actual copy.

    Given that a representative of the company admited on their forum that they were distributing the blackbox software without compliance with the license, they are going to have a hard time arguing that their infringement wasn't wilful. (Wilful means they knowingly did it).

    Put simply, the GPL grants permission to distribute the copyrighted work. In absence of permission, copyright law says you have no right to distribute a work and, if you do, you owe at least $750 per work distributed.

  14. BitTwister


    > what can one do with the released information?

    Simple: by sharing it, as the license requires, everyone studying it gets to learn about more aspects of utilisation - which in turn, can benefit changes or additions *they* might want to make.

    Everyone wins - unless some commercial cheapskate decides to not abide by the license which allowed full access and use of the source in the first place.

  15. foxyshadis

    Re: Skirmish before Microsoft battle?

    Tom, the paranoia is unjustified - Microsoft can't possibly be funding all of the thousands of GPL violators out there, and this has nothing to do with whether Monsoon wants a court battle or not. They tried to brush off the SFLC, so the SFLC filed the lawsuit, Monsoon's desires be damned. Filing lawsuits doesn't mean things won't end in a settlement.

    I see Simpson's comment as pragmatic, and not insulting, as well - the problem is not convincing geeks of the value, it's convincing a judge and finding enough legal precedent to assign a value to work that is conditionally given away. But I assume the SFLC has been working on a legal strategy for a long time, and has decided it's time to start proving it in court against the more flagrant offenders.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Some observations...

    Just had a quick look at the Monsoon websites. Two things struck me;

    1/ Their head honcho is a lawyer

    2/ They are partnered with M$

    Draw your own conclusions.

  17. Kwac

    Gave away?

    Tom says " work they gladly gave away in the first place."

    The law case is brought by the authors of Busybox, the guys who own the copyright; their lawyers are the 'Freedom Software Law Centre". That they released it under GPL doens't mean they gave anything away; merely made it availabe to others free of charge IF they adhered to their conditions.

    BTW Mountford D. if it's based on Busybox there isn't any 'proprietary added stuff' - the GPL says the GPL applies to the new code, any changes Monsoon are required to make public the source of any changes they make.

  18. Andre Jolivet

    Some observations

    I wish to comment on the last post ...

    -Many companies have lawyers or financers as CEO, which I regret since I'm technical, but ...

    -Many companies work with Microsoft and this is not the problem I have with Microsoft. I am in favour of open standards and industrial cooperation.

    So, drawing conclusions from that is very short minded.

    By the way, I know the blokes at Monsoon and I am certain they were simply too busy(box) to answer. No intention at all.

    As a Linux enthusiast, I'm ashamed that there is this lawsuit after Monsoon. Why go after these small people who struggle to survive ? It is very irresponsible to go after people without at least speaking with them. What if this fuss worries investors and put them belly up ? This is going against the interests of Free software because it will make everybody worry. Better use Windows CE or Windows Mobile in embedded in this case ! I already know guys considering the move back to Microsoft because of the GPLV3. Be careful, the best ennemies of Free Software is not Microsoft et al, it is the Free Software people themselves.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    oh puhleeze


    >By the way, I know the blokes at Monsoon and I >am certain they were simply too busy..

    They're freeloading.

    Too busy to put a zip file on the web?

  20. Adrian Midgley

    Invert "What can you do with it"

    Turn it around, rather than "what can the reader do with it" consider what the company could lose.

    Nothing, so far as I can see.

    Therefore their reason - if it is reasoned rather than simply an inability to deal with a demand they conform to a licence condition of software they are using which would carry its own message about the wisdom of dealing with them as a business partner or investor - appears to be something else.

    IE they are incompetent as a business, or they are deliberately picking a fight over something which has no value to the company.

    The latter also might interest actual or potential shareholders, if the company management can't show an income for picking that fight, and an expectation of profit from it.

    It seems too stupid to not be malign.

  21. Dam

    An example of a GPL using company that doesnt suck

    These guys make external boxes for hard drives, with support for FTP, HTTP, BT, SMB... and of course it all runs on linux.

    I've bought a DS207 from them recently and I must say I'm very happy with it.

    It sucks that they ask for $20 for the source code (shipping/handling, as allowed by the license) but at least they're not trying to hide that they use GPL'd code.

    24/7 support, good product, buy from them \o/

    Now more related to the news at hand, let's hope they win because if the startup wins, it won't do the GPL any good, none at all...

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Some observations

    "This is going against the interests of Free software because it will make everybody worry."

    What the hell are you talking about? Free Software's interest is to stop people worrying? As nickj says - put the source on the web. Not difficult. "Too busy" to comply with the GPL's incredibly simple licensing - that's not a reason, it's a crappy excuse. Why don't they just release the necessary source and be done.

  23. Chris

    And that's the end of that chapter

    "Monsoon Multimedia today announced efforts to fully comply with the GNU General Public License (GPL). Monsoon is in settlement negotiations with BusyBox to resolve the matter and intends to fully comply with all open-source software license requirements. Monsoon will make modified BusyBox source code publicly available on the company web-site at in the coming weeks."

    Some conspiracy, huh?

  24. james


    This is why Apple went with the BSD license, and I imagine that the BSD license is looking much more appealing to the start-up crowd at this point.

    That is the ONLY place I would be looking if I wanted to make money on software I did not create myself.

    Nothing wrong with the GPL if that is what you are looking for (recognition, tinkering ability, etc.). Great for a new programmer to use to get his/her name out there.

    Financial returns for code are easier to get using the BSD--of course, the financial return the programmer may be wanting is that for a job. To each their own...

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Efforts to Comply

    Anyone know why its taken them so long to comply with the GPL or are they so stupid/arrogant that they decided they didn't need to comply with the GPL until someone notice?

  26. Greg

    Poor small people struggling to survive...

    >This is going against the interests of Free software because it will make everybody worry.

    The interest of Free Software is that their will is respected. Their will is to let everyone have a shot at their code for free IF and ONLY IF people redistribute the code based on the erstwhile code.

    I fail to see how saying "if you don't respect my only condition to spare a huge amount of money, don't worry, please, pleaaaaase don't worry, I would so much hate that people worry about having to respect my only desire. I'd rather give up my only condition than have people 'worry' " would actually go against their interest.

    I'll let you borrow my car for free for the week-end. All I ask of you is to give me a picture of the oh-so-nice place you needed it to go.

    But if you don't give me the picture, sure I'll keep letting you have my car, as it would obviously be against my interest. If I insisted on having the picture, my other friends might worry and not ask me to borrow my car for free anymore. Ouch, how I'd hate that.

    > Why go after these small people who struggle to survive ?

    Because people never struggle so much to survive that they can't add

    <AHREF="">Click here to get the code</A>

    on the main page of their website.

    Even I can do it on my website in about ten minutes.

    When you save hundreds or thousands of men-days of work by using the work of others, the least you can do is spend ten minutes on it when the authors come by and ask you for those ten minutes of your time (OK, let's make it a few hours to go through the buraucracy of the start-up).

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "machine readable"?

    I think you mean "human readable", as in source code, Gavin.

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