Open Ballot: is it good to sue for GPL violations?


The Software Freedom Law Center has announced a lawsuit against 14 companies, including Best Buy, JVC and Samsung, for GPL violations relating to BusyBox, which is a GPL-licensed bundle of Unix tools. The SFLC said it "gave each defendant ample time to comply with the requirements of the license", but what do you think: is suing necessary in today's world, or does it reflect badly on the Free Software community? Moreover, should we be encouraging the naming and shaming of offenders, or does it generate bad feeling towards the GPL?

As per usual, the best comments will be used in our podcast, so please leave a name other than Anonymous Penguin, please state your view clearly, then back it up with some sort of logical reasoning.

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I don't think so.

I don't think so.
Mainly, GPL is a GNU license, and GNU is Freedom... What kind of a Freedom is this if you sue for it?

it's important to defend, not just freedom but also coherence

I think it's not a matter of generating bad feelings against GPL, but a matter of defending what's ours. They, if we may infringe some private licence, will with no doubt sue us, we at least shall show that free and open licences are no matter of joke, or of not-so-serious matter. Of course, perhaps, the sues may be eased by requirements of opennes, by asking them to open their code, not necessarilly economic punishments. So, by asking that, we, the community win. And also, we win if we defend licence infringements, because, as their licences, ours are also serious matter... About shameing offenders, that's another matter, I think it's enough if the open their code, but if they don't, then they are breaking law and must be sued.

Of course it is!

Think what you want about the religious decision about permissive licensing vs. copyleft, the whole point of the GPL is to be a license that actively defends your rights (or freedoms). If people like the SFLC weren't out there standing up for it, we all would have to sue. Otherwise the GPL has no point. It's a license and as such has to be enforced (if necessary in court) otherwise people would walk all over it. At that point copyleft as a concept falls down and you'd be better off using BSD-style licenses from the get go.

I think this is the right step if everything else has failed and from talking to the people at the SFLC, I trust them enough to know this really is a last resort measure for them (and it's a logical last step). If you don't want to abide by the GPL's rules, don't use GPL'ed code in your product. Simple. Otherwise, come into compliance and don't let it come to a lawsuit, the SFLC certainly provides a lot of help and guidance for doing so. It's entirely the fault of these companies that stuff like enforcement has to happen and I thank the SFLC for doing hard work like this. It's good work.

Of course, we must!

In this crazy world where patents are used to stifle rather than encourage it would be plain crazy for all of us to allow GPL violations where they have been found. The transgressor must be granted some time to comply but eventually they must be sued to protect everyone else's rights.

Definitely, just like all

Definitely, just like all the other violations out there, GPL is still a licensing and anyone who is in violation of it should be sued. If not then it means that anyone can get away will violating it and there is no point to having GPL as a license.


What a dumb question. How exactly is the GPL supposed to work if one doesn't sue?

free software != BSD license.

In an ideal world, no

But we don't live in an ideal world. The GPL was created to ensure that those who benefit from the freedoms it provides must also pass on those freedoms for others to benefit.

Those who wilfully violate the terms of the license agreement, and do not respond to polite requests to do The Right Thing, are clearly not intending to play by the rules of our community. And so we are forced to play by their rules and deal in terms they understand - just like any other license agreement, if you violate it, you will be punished.

If you don't enforce the GPL, it's meaningless.


There is no point of a license if there is no enforcement. But I guess then we could at least save some bandwidth on all those COPYING and LICENSE files.

No choice

if you don't defend your possession of the IP, the next thing you know will happen is that those that "forgot" to comply with license terms, will then try to claim ownership...

it may well be that there are better models to deal with intellectual property, but until they become usable. we have to work with what we've got

Freedom is not Free

Freedom is not free. It must be fought for. Therefore, I agree with the actions of the SFLC.


the purpose of a licence is to protect the owner. If you don't want protection don't use a licence.

Yes. And...

Other comments aside, the GPL exists for a good reason and should be enforced.

However, in addition to it, I would like to see a worldwide movement to totally abolish the idea of "intellectual property", to an extent that would make software patents and the like a legal impossibility. As many others said, ideas are mankind's. Just think, for example: what if Bhaskara's formula had been patented? And "The Onion", some time ago, carried the "news" that "Microsoft patents ones and zeros" - which is good as a joke, but tells it all.

In the meantime, we have to make do with what we got. Let freedom win!

Yes, I feel it's important

Who's generating bad feelings over suing companies the size of countries.

However the naming and shaming of others? Well not so much. I can't help but feel if your going to target individuals then this is how you would do it:

First ask them nicely
Then ask them very nicely
Then very very nicely
Then REALLY nicely
Then ruin their lives.

It is immoral not to defend

It is immoral from almost any point of view to refuse to defend yourself and others from very grave and terrible threats, even as there are limits to the means that can be used in such defense.
~Herman Kahn

Freedom is not free and I am a strong supporter of the (SFLC) Software Freedom Law Center!!

If the freedom of Open, GNU, GPL, etc. like protections is taken away then what have we?

How corporations do it.

@ Qjet:

Corporations go straight to the last step: they ruin an individual's life. They are predators.

And let's not forget about the individual patent trolls, intellectual parasites that also should be eliminated from any self-respecting society.

On a separate, but similar, train of thought and complementing my previous post: corporations sponsor laws that legalize their stealing of other people's ideas and charging for the use of those ideas.

The GPL is but a small spark of hope, but a spark can light a fire. Let's fan it, in name of freedom.


I agree with all, especially Fab(LO). A law suit should not be the first action, but if conditions don't change, then sue away. Without enforcement, everything the developers of free software have worked for will be for not.

I, for one, don't get why these companies wont post the source code. What can they possibly lose? If they use proprietary drivers, so what? Don't provide source for that. The people who were going to buy it still will, and people like myself will be more likely to buy it over another item that doesn't have/provide OSS.

Is this a real question?

Is this a real question? People worked hard to write GPL code and they licensed it under the GPL for a reason, if third parties are not going to comply with the GPL they should not use the code. Free software is meant to better society so that we all work together rather than starting from scratch for everything that we want to develop. If a selfish person doesn't like this idea then they can go start from scratch and die in their little corner, but if they violate the GPL it should be considered theft. They are depriving the developers from proper attribution and depriving the public from their freedoms that the GPL has aimed to give to them.

Why not.

Someone write code and give it away with GPL. GPL have some conditions. If you don't meet conditions it's a crime or not?


One more vote for Yes. I cannot think a new argument for it :-(


If you don't like the GPL and you don't want to agree to its condition, don't use code released under that license. It's as simple as that. Otherwise you simply steal somebody's else work. So you should be prosecuted. Definitely!

No, I don't think so

Attempting to sue companies who violate the GPL is going to reflect badly on the Free Software community. People are still sceptical of Free Software, how will this improve the situation

If it is open, honest and ethical . . .

"Is suing necessary in today's world, or does it reflect badly on the Free Software community?" -->

Suing wouldn't have been necessary, but became a final resort after several steps were taken first to resolve the issue according to the official complaint. Section 29 states "Prior to the filing of this complaint, Plaintiffs notified each Defendant of its unlawful conduct in writing. Each Defendant has either ignored or refused to meaningfully respond to Plaintiffs".

The reality is that some companies, especially large ones in the US, don't speak a language with the rest of us unless it is first translated into suitenese for them. The companies blatantly ignored the requests of the SFLC. The general public may not like lawsuits, but it is our civilized way to deal with it, as opposed to having the Free Software Mafia walk into to Best Buy with cricket bats and shotguns.

As SFLC states, their mission is "to ensure the freedom of FOSS code" and "to see that BusyBox's users get the full benefit of the software". The GPL gives us a wealth of natural resources that requires very little but to respect the wishes of the developers and to give back to the community.

As long as it is open, honest, and ethical, it shouldn't reflect badly on the FSC . . .

. . . but for those who think that it does regardless, you have some scum to clean off your mirrors.


Suing a company that violates the GPL is very important - not so much because of that particular company, but because it sends a message to everyone to comply with the GPL.

It"s not a very restrictive license - you are allowed to use code, make money with it, etc. The only thing you have to do is publish the new source code - suing some ensures that everyone will do that...

Yes - the SFLC were being perfectly reasonable

I don't see why the SFLC's actions should reflect badly on free/open source software, given how the defendants failed to respond. If legal action weren't used in these circumstances, other companies could easily follow their example and violate the terms of the GPL with impunity.

Yeah but no but yeah

Sue for License violations that have been followed up and ignored repeatedly

but no...
"is it good to sue for GPL violations?" not really

but yeah...
sometimes it is necessary to show corporations that freedom does have strings attached, particularly in this world of software licensing

but no...
it doesn't necessarily help the FOSS image in the eyes of corporations

but yeah...
it does help the image of those doing the hard yards in writing and supporting FOSS to know that everyone is being asked to play by the same rules

but no...
the cost, time and effort makes it difficult to pursue

but yeah...
naming and shaming helps to highlight that this license is a valid model just like other restrictive licenses and corporations are ever-so keen to name and shame individuals that ignore their DRM/licensing (besides it has worked recently with Microsoft)

So in the words of Vicky "wat eva!" but YEAH!

Yeah but no but yeah

Sorry for got the specify my name in the last post!


It is absolutely necessary to defend GPL. If no one cares if people obey GPL rules the licence will become obsolete in a blink of an eye. It is the most important part of GPL that you have to show your code, otherwise it won't have any sence. You receive but you must also give sth back.

It is imperative to defend the GPL, or get rid of it.

If this were a rational world, it would not be necessary to have courts for the redress of grievances. Unfortunately, there are those who would seek to put one over on others, without conscience. If the GPL can be successfully defended here, then it will be less likely to need to be defended later. The cricket bats and shotguns concept does have considerable merit however.


Another thought occured. I don't know what precedence exists in Courts, but if SFLC does not sue after all attempts to reconcile have failed then laches may apply and BusyBox is no longer under GPL.

The license says that the

The license says that the things must be available freely and not charged for, if best buy is selling the products then it is a direct violation of the license and is undermining the attempt of the GPL GNu etc attempts to allow computer users access to software to perform any task for free, It is also immoral and is praying on the ignorant to sell free things to them. that ladies and gentlemen is fraud

I don't see any reason why

I don't see any reason why this should generate any bad feeling towards the GPL. If anything it will make people start taking it seriously. Developers who choose to use it will know that it gives real protection of their work and companies that wish to use GPL software will learn to respect the license. If they don't do anything about this it will give people the idea that the GPL is just a make-believe-just-for-fun-empty-word license and be an open invitation for anyone and everyone to ignore it. They need to be firm on this point.

As for naming and shaming, I thought that once you file a lawsuit it becomes public. I might be wrong, but either way, this may give the companies in question an added incentive to fix their lack of compliance, at least for the future. And besides, they brought the shame on themselves. Don't victimize these people, the license is very easy to read and understand compared to other and they seem to manage those pretty fine. They even manage to write some long and wonky ones themselves. There really is no excuse for this, except maybe "I tripped and the software slipped out of my hand and into a wide range of products".

Will it reflect badly on the Free Software community? Common sense dictates that it shouldn't, but I've been around the net for some years and sense really isn't as common as it should be.

If you don't defend...

If you don't defend the GPL by suing transgressors of the license terms and conditions then, there is no point in having the licence in the first place.

Only as a last resort...

which is how I think the SFLC tends to do things anyway, the first course of action should be education and asking the company to release the code, followed by a number of communications. If the company refuses or fails to respond then yes they should be sued.

In this case I understand that the SFLC is hoping that the companies in question will settle out of court as others have done so in the past.

Without someone like the SFLC taking this kind of action how can we hope to show that licenses such as the GPL are valid end enforcable? Without this the GPL would just be a doormat license.

You've just lost a potential re-subscriber.

So what good is a license if you don't provide some means of enforcing it? Why have a license? Why not just use Public Domain?

There are going to be people who will always look upon free software (and the defence of it) with hostility - hell, I know of one or two people like that. Ignore them, do what's right.


I agree with defending the licence. The FOSS movements whole philosophy is that the work of others can be used and even sold on as long as any changes/improvements to the code are also freely shared for others to benefit from and pass on freely. It may then be used for commercial gain as long as they too pass on any changes back into the community. In this way we all benefit from developments of both community and commercial coders work. This Freedom can ultimately only be protected if the community is prepared to take action to enforce those licence conditions, if the last resort is court action then so be it.

Is it imortant to sue

Yes, I think it is. What is the point in having a licence at all if people can walk all over it! The licence is there for a reason and by sueing (after nogation has failed) sends a message to those that use GPLed code recklessly that those that create this code are not going to lie down and be trampled on. Respect should be shown for those who do this work, even if they don't get paid for it!!


"is it good to sue for GPL violations?"

Yes, I think it is.

If we don't, then the GPL is just yet another license that may or may not hold up in court. It means nothing. Additionally, if the GPL code is going to have the source code available on the internet, the protection of that code should be made apparent - people, this is not the BSD license, you can't jsut do whatever you want with it.

There's a difference between being overzealous about the issue and just protecting your copyrighted code, of course. But in the manner of protecting your copyright on the code, and protecting the validity of the GPL, absolutely.


There's an Anonymous Pengiun above that says that the GPL states that GPL software cannot be sold, and to do otherwise is fraud.

This is false. You can indeed sell GPL code (Red Hat, hello?), and doing so it a common practice. You just need to have the source code available to anyone who wants it.

If we have to

If we can get someone into compliance without a lawsuit we must try it, but if we don't fight to defend the GPL it will die. There will be those who don't care, and the GPL will become useless if they aren't forced to care.

Name and shame is a bad idea. Many violators are not knowing violators. For someone who we know for __certain__ are willing infringers and don't even try to do something about it, we can maybe do it.

(i apologize for my bad english)

Defend your freedom or lose it.

But why Best Buy?

I understand the logic of Enforcing the GPL terms especially on manufactures of devices. But why include Best Buy? I am certainly not privy to the level Best Buy was or is involved in the design of their store brand items, perhaps they were insistent on adding the BusyBox functionality to the devices they sold. In that case they would be culpable and a valid target of a suit. But if BestBuy is merely a reseller and NOT involved with the manufacture or design of hardware in question then legal suit against them appears to be aiming at the most and deepest pockets. Does it also not set a bad precedent? There is concern that this might be is a slippery slope to start to descend? As example if a home owner resells a device with BusyBox in it without CDs etcetera are they not TECHNICALLY in violation of the GLP the same as BestBuy?

Sue BestBuy out of existernce!

Everytime I go into a BestBuy they keep kicking me out, saying that I drag lots slush and snow in, that people keep bumping into me because they don't see me and that parents are distracted from their shopping by their kids wanting to pet me.

I say sue their ass out of existence. I really don't care that whether they violated copyright or not.

We should definitely sue

With the money we could hire programmers to replace all the people Linus Torvalds insults and keep the kernel effort going.

Yeah, of course

We should definitely sue. If we don't, then people will just walk right over us as though we weren't there, kind of like that high school teacher that is too nice to his/her kids and gets walked all over.


"Suing", not "sueing".

If we don't, it will not be honored nor respected.

Just like any other freedom, if it's not used, protected, and defended, we will lose it. We must sue the pants off of those jerks who think it's okay to stand on the backs of others without giving them the respect they deserve.


If you look above I agreed with the general principle that when all other means are exhausted the GPL should be enforced by lawsuit. I am just pointing out that this is not a very good example on which to base the question.

Apparently Perens thinks that all options have not been exhausted. I never understood what Landley's argument was just that he also objects. Frankly their debate gives me a headache.

Aside from the fact that major authors do not want to sue, I would rather not have the petty squablings of FOSS developers dragged into open court.

@ BubbaT

"Aside from the fact that major authors do not want to sue, I would rather not have the petty squablings of FOSS developers dragged into open court."

I agree entirely!
No personal issues mixed with arguing a legal issue!

Now, just out of curiosity (I am confused): is HandyGandy BubbaT's secret identity (or vice-versa)? :-)




Yes! The only way to keep the GPL enforced: enforce it LEGALLY!

How are we going to get developers to abide by the GNU Public License if no one does anything when they violate it? The answer is, we're not.

It might seem harsh, but let's not forget that this is a license - a permission that comes with legal trappings. Violating a license is breaking the law, and if you break the law, you should pay the consequences.

If no one sues for the sake of the GPL, then it might as well not exist.

his nobleness

only for as long as the companies producing proprietary sue for violations of their intellectual property.

Just because a developer makes his work available to the community to use and develop doesn't mean that he/she should be deprived of the recognition of their ownership.

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