back to article GPL scores historic court compliance victory

Open sourcers have scored a major victory in a US court over violation of the GPL. The Software Freedom Conservancy has secured $90,000 in damages for willful infringement of GPLv2, plus nearly $50,000 in costs from Westinghouse Digital Electronics over its illegal distribution of the Unix utility BusyBox. The company has also …


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  1. Ed Deckard


    Add three zeros and it -might- have deterred other violators.

    How many MP3s do I have to share to get fined that much?

    1. Goat Jam

      A 12 Second Ring Tone

      should do it.

    2. Anonymous Coward


      Quite agree, the figure is a pittance to someone like JVC or Samsung who work in terms of billions.

      The GPL mob need to now start making more of a fuss, ignore the money and captialise on the success of the case through PR. Although somehow Joe Public probably couldn't give a monkey's quite frankly, so somehow this really only bothers the GPL mob.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Way to go SFC!

    <--BusyBox tee-hee

  3. Herby

    Is being unemployed qualify as "Charity"

    Then sign me up. I need an HDTV.

    This all begs the question: Why does an HDTV need busybox at all? I mean it is a simple display device (last I heard).

    At least they aren't using windows, or we would all get Blue Screens of Death at critical points in the Bourne movie(s).


    1. copsewood

      My telly has an ethernet port

      "Why does an HDTV need busybox at all?"

      The manufacturer of just about any electronics that talks TCP/IP has the choice between:

      a. developing software from scratch.

      b. paying for a license to use a proprietary software stack.

      c. using readily available open source.

      Obviously c. is generally the most cost effective option, but if the variety of open source license is copyleft, then it comes with a legal obligation to make available source code including any modifications made to it to those to whom the software embedded in the hardware is distributed.

      It's true that cheap display devices don't need to talk TCP/IP, but more expensive ones do nowadays and people paying money for HD generally want their tellies to be able to select and display from a variety of media, including media deliverable over a home network.

      1. ThomH

        You would have thought they could just drop a CD into the packaging

        Put it somewhere inside the manual and probably no-one will ever find it anyway.

  4. Combat Wombat
    Thumb Up


    kind of a hollow victory there.

    Company is in the process of going titsup, so they didn't bother to defend and the GPL guys are unlikely to see a penny from them once the vultures have picked the corpse clean for the other creditors in the queue

    A for effort though guys.

    1. Jon Double Nice

      One big benefit

      could be that it sets a precedent in case law? It might make it easier to make cases against other people/organisations that break the GPL rules.

    2. copsewood

      Sure they were bankrupt

      Companies that want to stay in business have invariably been willing to negotiate suitable terms including coming into compliance soon after the libre software lawyers come knocking. When they get a lawyers letter, their own legal advisers read the software licenses and tell them to settle the case out of court. What the libre software lawyers are working to obtain is license compliance, so that those being provided with software binaries are able to study and modify how the software they have been distributed works, as well as being able to make use of any modifications the distributor has made and included.

      No sane lawyer looking at GPL license terms with any knowledge of copyright law would advise their clients to do otherwise. So while this case law may serve "pour encourager les autres" it probably wasn't strictly needed as such, other than arguably for those legally ill advised.

  5. Adrian Midgley 1

    Good news, but a tiny grating element...

    GNU General Public Licence. GPL.

    <s>GPL Licence</s>

  6. Steen Hive

    Fer chrissake

    How difficult is it to comply with GPLv2?

    Anyone that knows enough to modify busybox, understands full well what the terms of the GPL are.

    1. Goat Jam

      Most Likely

      the coders were not the problem.

      More likely is that some PHB read a magazine article about how you can take OSS for free and modify it however you want but when the coders explained that they also had to make available their changed code to anyone who bought the product they were brushed off and told to get back to coding and let the PHB's worry about running the business.

    2. Displacement Activity

      Type your comment here

      Yeah, dumb. I've done some work for a company that uses BusyBox in a networking product. There's nothing on their website about using any open-source or GPL code - nada. What makes it particularly dumb is that (a) you can get copyright messages out of the kit without trying too hard, and (b) they don't pay their bills.

  7. Tom 79


    So how were they not compliant? I'm afraid this may hurt the FOSS image more than the settlement help it.

    1. Dr. Mouse


      They were not compliant because they modified the code, distributed it, but did not make the modified source code available (to those they distributed it to).

      The GPLv2 is very simple. Anyone can use the stuff, or modify it. But as soon as you distribute the modified code you MUST make the source code available to those you distribute it to, under the terms of the GPL (so they can then distibute the code freely or modify it).

      It's not an unreasonable requirement. People are doing a lot of work and letting you use it for free. All they ask in return is that you follow the spirit of FOSS development. If you don't want to do that, use something else (same argument as with any software license really)

  8. DrXym

    Not surprised but at the same time

    I've developed set top boxes. Typically you get an SDK from the chipset manufacturer (e.g. from Broadcom, Sigma) which contains a GNU toolchain, busybox etc. plus some proprietary libraries and headers. Development might also involve further proprietary tools (e.g. a JVM of some kind, crypto libraries, hardware drivers etc.) which together becomes your runtime environment upon which a user interface is developed. The runtime would be a separate executable so there is no "pollution" between GPL and non GPL code. It means you can release the GPL stuff without revealing your application code.

    I don't understand why Westinghouse would be so belligerent about the matter. Busybox should be separate from their application code anyway so who cares if its released. Perhaps they were stupid enough to link their proprietary application straight into the busybox executable. If so they deserve what's coming to them. Otherwise I don't get it.

    1. Displacement Activity


      I don't think they were being belligerent - they're bust. I don't imagine assembling a legal team and sending them to New York to fight a software licensing case is going to be high on the administrator's list of priorities. Just getting one lawyer to plead ignorance would probably have cost as much as the entire settlement.

      I'm pretty sure that the kit I was working on (above) didn't modify the BusyBox source, or link anything directly into it; the code only needed a TCP/IP stack and some system calls. It's hard to understand why the company involved doesn't just redistribute the BusyBox source on their website. Possibly they just can't be arsed, but my guess is that they think an admission that they use OSS would lead to a loss of credibility in the marketplace.

      1. DrXym

        They shouldn't need to fight a legal case

        The usual course against GPL violations are generally helpful emails by the likes of FSF to bring violators back into compliance. Westinghouse could have shoved a bunch of tarballs up on their website somewhere to be compliant. The fact that it got to the stage of litigation shows something was seriously broken in that company. Perhaps they did something really dumb and link their application to busybox, but otherwise I don't know what the problem was.

        We used busybox and had to recompile it to get some extra things in it but didn't need to modify any of the sourcecode. I'm not sure what possible reason an app in a TV would need to either.

  9. edwardecl

    Toshiba HDTV's also use busybox...

    And I assume they comply.

    They probably didn't include the separate book with the 10 pages of GPL licence in it and a link to the source code like Toshiba do ^^.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    Shopping delivered to Great Grandma, by Ubuntu Linux

    Shopping delivered to Great Grandma, by Ubuntu Linux

  11. JaitcH

    As Rodney Dangerfield used to say: "I don't get no respect"

    What is good for the big boys is now demonstrated to be good for the 'little' guys.

    That arrogant Westinghouse lawyers chose not to appear no doubt made success easier but in gaining this judgement you can be guaranteed that GPLv2 terms will command one hell of a lot of respect, now.

    1. midcapwarrior

      Not arrogant, bankrupt

      do you not understand what bankrupt means?

  12. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Asking too much?

      You want all the code from the TV? What about hardware design? Do you also want the code that BBC uses to put up the show you watch on the TV?

      Seriously, GPL terms are clear. We get the code that extends GPL'd work, and all the code that links to GPL'd work. That is enough. Proprietary program that just runs on top of GNU system is out of scope because glibc and most of other libraries are LGPL.

      GPL is not about bullying companies and make them give us everything (if it was about that, we would have less Free software today). It is about protecting what's ours from scumbags and PHBs.

      1. Displacement Activity

        GPL v3

        Yes, but it's worth remembering that v3 is different. If you have an embedded device licensed on v3, then you have the right to any proprietary information required to load the OS on to your device, so that you can replace/tinker with the OS. This gives you carte blanche to break any DRM on that device. No HDTV manufacturer is going use any code that even smells of v3. If v3 becomes popular it'll probably be the end of the line for Linux on embedded devices. Probably not a big deal; I worked on a system that distributed DRM'ed TV content some years ago, and we used a home-brew Unix-based OS.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Victory?

      "Now if you have one of these TVs you still don't get the rest of the source code which is what GPL is about."

      Whereas otherwise, with no judgement against them...

      Wear the FAIL badge with pride, "-tim".

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