a couple notes on the new Busybox GPL lawsuit

Just read the complaint in the GPL violation lawsuit filed today on behalf of Busybox. Couple things jumped out at me:

  • This is exactly what you think it is: a very straightforward “you are distributing binaries without the source, which you are not licensed to do” case. Nothing complicated here; if the license is valid, Busybox wins, if the license is not valid, Busybox does not win. As a result, the complaint is also a very straightforward document- here is what the license says, here are their options, here is what the license says must occur if the distributor of the copyrighted work doesn’t comply.
  • Traditionally FSF and others who have encountered GPL violation issues have taken the slow and patient approach- working with the various parties over a period of time to come to an amicable conclusion. In contrast, this lawsuit is not only very public, but happened incredibly quickly- the complaint says that the Defendants were first notified that they were in violation on August 28th- not even a month ago. It looks like the defendants have not responded at all, which if I had to guess would be the reason the lawsuit was filed. Still, sort of surprising (given how these things have gone in the past) that it has happened so quickly- I would be interested to see if SFLC or Busybox comments on why it worked out this way.
  • You can see a hint of how SFLC will pursue this in the very first paragraph of the ‘Factual Background’- besides the obvious legal arguments about the validity of the license, the paragraph notes that “BusyBox is … used in countless products sold by more than
    100 manufacturers all over the world, including IBM, Nokia, Hewlett-Packard, and Siemens.” If this actually goes to trial, it is almost certain that those in the courtroom will hear it noted repeatedly that many Fortune 500 companies use Busybox under the terms of the GPL, and profit from it. A decision in favor of the GPL will be portrayed as being a decision in favor of commerce and industry, not just a decision in favor of an abstract license. Is this supposed to matter? No. Does it? Often, yes, it does- judges and juries are only human.