informa
/
Commentary

Verizon Vs. The GPL

And now Verizon seems to have run afoul of the requirements of the GPL, although I'm betting this won't play out anywhere nearly as smoothly as Asus's kerfuffle with the Eee PC's source code.

And now Verizon seems to have run afoul of the requirements of the GPL, although I'm betting this won't play out anywhere nearly as smoothly as Asus's kerfuffle with the Eee PC's source code.

According to a lawsuit filed by the Software Freedom Law Center (the full complaint is here), the Actiontech MI414WR wireless router Verizon supplies for its FiOS broadband service contains a modified version of an open source application called BusyBox. According to the BusyBox site, this app "combines tiny versions of many common Unix utilities into a single small executable" -- a sort of command-line Swiss Army knife. Since BusyBox is licensed under the GPL version 2, anyone who ships BusyBox as part of a larger product is obliged to distribute the source code for BusyBox with it. The suit alleges that Verizon distributed the firmware for the router, but not the BusyBox source.

BusyBox has been licensed properly by many people. It's also been licensed improperly by quite a few others -- and while the authors of BusyBox used to just shame offenders publicly, they now turn the culprits over to the SFLC. I read over the list of shamed offenders, and much to my dismay a few of the names stood out: Monsoon Multimedia, Sigma Designs, Lite-On, Happauge . . . .

I say "to my dismay" because, frankly, I'm amazed that any company making a product -- and that has a legal team -- would try to get away with something like this. But it does happen. As with Asus, I'd like to think that when it does happen, it's not something malicious -- it's an oversight, a misunderstanding stemming from the way open source in general can be misunderstood.

But maybe not this time.  In the text of the suit, the SFLC claims it tried to contact Verizon about the problem and hasn't yet received an answer. If it takes a lawsuit to make Verizon realize the GPL isn't simply for show, then maybe that's what it takes. That or they're just really slow to come up with an answer. There's no reason both of those things can't be true at once.