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In a case reminiscent of the SCO lawsuit, startup application service provider Furthermore claims its intellectual property was stolen by contractors, and released as open source.

InformationWeek Staff

September 13, 2004

3 Min Read

A small but nasty open-source battle is brewing involving a startup application service provider called Furthermore over what the company claims is the stealing of its intellectual property.

Furthermore is an online service resembling a newspaper. It's a wholly owned subsidiary of the Literati Group, in Chicago. Furthermore President Brian Connolly said he used two open-source developers to create parts of the service. When the project was finished, "code was taken without our permission by a lead member of the Mambo Development Team and put into Mambo's core program," Connolly said. Putting the code into Mambo's core program violated a contract he has with a developer, Connolly said. The Mambo Development Team vehemently disagrees with Connolly's claims, posting a lengthy statement on its Web site. The statement reads, in part: "We have investigated these claims and believe that: 1. The dispute relates to an alleged breach of contract between Mr. Connolly and the privately commissioned developer and is thus nothing to do with Mambo. 2. The code in question is a derived work of existing GPL code and therefore must remain GPL. We therefore take the view that these claims are frivolous and without substance. This matter is now in the hands of our legal advisors and we will be making no further public statements, nor will we permit any further discussions on this matter to take place in the official forums as they have only resulted in further personal abuse." Since his code was added to Mambo's core program, Connolly said a number of other companies have since made exact copies of his servers and, in one case, only changed the copyright information on the page and the title. After a recent article about Furthermore appeared in LinuxWorld, "the thieves were the first to arrive," Connolly said. Huge amounts of code were downloaded from his servers, he said. Since then, the issue appeared in two Mambo forums with the exchanges quickly turning nasty, to the point where Connolly received numerous "creepy notes and one death threat." Connolly said the issue is not even close to the magnitude of the SCO Group controversy. SCO has famously sued IBM, claiming Big Blue illegally incorporated into its Linux program some source code from the Unix operating system, which SCO claims to control. The case has since grown into a wide-ranging attack on Linux, the freely exchanged open-source operating system. Connolly said the Furthermore issue is, for now, far less significant than the SCO litigation, although it could become more significant over time. In the middle of the issue is John Weathersby, executive director of the Open Source Software Institute. Weathersby said he is still hearing from both sides, but that, "what we want to do is see a win-win resolution. I don't know what that will look like--something to where the integrity of an open-source project or program is maintained, but also the rights of original creations are maintained." Weathersby termed the whole controversy a "sticky wicket. We've got to start dealing with those issues. And we have to start dealing with how you walk through them." Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group, sees this type of issue as a potentially a significant problem in the future. "This may happen a few more times," he said. "I think Linus [Torvalds] knows they have an issue. They recognize that there are issues that need to addressed." For the time being, Enderle said the problem is that "there is no mechanism for [Connolly] to file a grievance. Short of litigation, there should be a process that [developers] can go through." Connolly said he hopes the matter can be resolved amicably, but that "tensions are fairly high right now." Tom Dunlap is a freelance journalist.

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