HP News Desk
GNU Sues Cisco
Ironically Cisco is a major contributor to the Linux kernel
Dec. 16, 2008 07:00 PM
The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has sued Cisco for copyright infringement.
It says Cisco’s Linksys division uses GNU code and won’t honor the GPL 2 and LGPL 2 and 2.1 licenses that the GNU software’s distributed under and give customers the source code to the Cisco-modified embedded firmware that would of course let users in turn modify the software.
FSF wants the profits that Cisco’s made off of Linksys’ allegedly offending widgetry, damages on top of that doubtlessly tidy sum, and an injunction.
This is the first time FSF has ever filed suit. For the last 15 years its enforcers have been able to persuade erring companies to comply with GPL’s terms.
For the last five-and-a-half years, ever since Cisco bought Linksys for $500 million, the companies have been back and forth about compliance – FSF calls it a “running game of Whack-a-Mole” – until FSF finally threw up its hands in despair last Thursday that Cisco would ever oblige it and went to court.
According to Brett Smith, FSF’s licensing compliance engineer, “Five years later we have still not seen a plan for compliance.”
Cisco, in response, released a statement saying it believes it’s “substantially in compliance” and “disappointed by the lawsuit.” Meantime it’s “reviewing the issues raised in the suit” and “hopes to reach a resolution agreeable to the company and the foundation.”
The suit was filed in federal court in New York to make it convenient for FSF’s New York City-based lawyers at the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) and indicts Cisco for treading on FSF’s copyrighted GNU C Library (GLibC), GNU Coreutils, GNU Readline, GNU Parted, GNU Wget (WGet), GNU Compiler Collection (GCC), GNU Binutils and GNU Debugger (GDB), all stuff central to the Linux operating system.
It claims that the firmware in a dozen or so Linksys products and in its Quick-VPN router software “contain one or more of the programs, or modified versions of the programs that are substantially similar to the programs” and that since at least May of 2006 Cisco distributed the widgetry “without providing complete and corresponding source code or an offer for source code as required by the licenses.”
According to the terms of the GPL and LGPL, not distributing source code terminates your GNU distribution rights and means that Cisco hasn’t had distribution rights “under any circumstances or conditions” since the first violation 31 months ago.
The widgetry at issue embraces Linksys storage, telephone gateways, wireless routers, wireless media adapters, wireless modems and wireless phone.
FSF says Cisco inherited the problem when it bought Linksys and its GPL-flaunting WRT54G wireless “G” network router.
And “while we were working on that case,” it said, “new reports came in. Other Cisco products were not in full compliance either. We started talking to the company about those as well…New issues were regularly discovered before we could finish addressing the old ones.”
Smith said on a blog that “During this entire time, Cisco has never been in full compliance with our licenses. At first glance, the situation might look good. It’s not difficult to find ‘source code’ on the Linksys site. But you only have to dig a little deeper to find the problems. Those source code downloads are often incomplete or out-of-date. Cisco also provides written offers for source, but we regularly hear about requests going unfulfilled.”
The suit says FSF wants Cisco to notify its past customer base of its violations and that source code is available, something FSF says Cisco doesn’t want to do, and install a compliance officer, something SFLC always asks of the recalcitrant.
“We…have serious reservations about their ability to ensure that they comply with relevant free software licenses in the future,” Smith said. “Addressing these issues is every bit as important as fixing the existing violations, but in our discussions Cisco seemed uninterested in doing so.”
Ironically Cisco is a major contributor to the Linux kernel.
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