The BusyBox Case

The Software Freedom Law Centre are bringing a case against a manufacturer of multimedia boxes, Monsoon Multimedia, on behalf of the BusyBox developers. Monsoon are distributing BusyBox in their firmware without providing source code, which is required by the GPL v2 license which BusyBox is released under.

This case is significant because it’s the first of its kind, from what I understand. That is, it is the first time a party has been the subject of a law suit for violation of the GPL. This makes it significant because the GPL is one of the corner stones of Free Software and Open Source, but one which has not yet had serious testing in court.

To reiterate, from my reading of the complaint — which is necessarily stunted by my limited legal knowledge — it looks like a simple enough problem. The GPL says you must make source available, Monsoon haven’t; therefore the case seems to stand or fall on the validity or not of the GPL. Hence the importance of the case.

In stark terms, if the case were to be lost, it is very likely there would be severe repercussions across the Free Software and Open Source worlds, caused by a sudden uncertainty over the license.

BusyBox itself is one of the core pieces of software powering many embedded linux systems; it is a set of system utilities optimised for embedded devices. It’s been used in several projects I’ve been involved in over the years. The software itself isn’t under any threat, the case is purely over Monsoon Multimedia’s apparent failure to comply with the GPL when using BusyBox.

It is reasonably likely that a settlement will be reached before the case makes it to a courtroom. If it does go that far, however, it will be a case that must be watched.

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