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The Best Things In Life Are Free: GPL Lawsuit Filed in NY

By Minara El-Rahman | Last updated on

A General Public License (GPL) lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York this week. According to ARN, this lawsuit will feature a particularly large number of named defendants.

The GPL is a software license which cover much of what is commonly called "open source" software. It allows other to use the covered software, but under specific terms, including that modifications of GPL covered source code, if released to the public, be made openly available themselves.

Because a GPL work is copyrighted, a licensee has no right to redistribute it, not even in modified form (barring fair use), except under the terms of the license. The terms of the license require that users keep the software available for free.

A user is required to adhere to the terms of the GPL if the user wishes to exercise rights normally restricted by copyright law, such as redistributing the covered software or modifications of it.

If a user distributes copies of the work without abiding by the terms of the GPL (for instance, by keeping the source code secret), he or she can be sued by the original author under copyright law.

The software that is at issue in this partcular lawsuit is BusyBox software which is licensed under Version 2 of GNU General Public License version 2 (GPLv2).

The defendants named in the lawsuits use this code, but allegedly do not make the code available as outlined by the GPL. Some of the defendants named are: Best Buy, JVC, Western Digital Technologies and Westinghouse.

Some of the electronics that they sell that utilize this particular software are: Best Buy Insignia-branded DVD player, a Samsung high-definition television and a Western Digital media player.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of BusyBox lead developer Erik Andersen and Software Freedom Conservancy by the Software Freedom Law Center. Their press release about the lawsuit can be found here.

According to SFLC counsel Aaron Williams, this lawsuit was a last resort: "We try very hard to resolve these types of issues privately with companies, as we always prefer cooperation. We brought this suit as a last resort after each of these defendants ignored us or failed to meaningfully respond to our requests that they release the source code."

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