FSF v Cisco

A court action has been filed in the long-running dispute between the two organisations alleging violations of the GPL and the LGPL. If the action comes to trial, it will lead to a major ruling on open source principles.

The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) filed a lawsuit on 11 December on behalf of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), against Cisco Systems, Inc. The lawsuit alleges that Cisco violated the GNU General Public License (GPL) and Lesser General Public License (LGPL) in its distribution of FSF software.

The complaint asserts that Cisco distributed several FSF-copyrighted programs without providing complete and corresponding source code as required by the GPL and LGPL, including GNU C Library, GNU Coreutils, GNU Readline, GNU Parted, GNU Wget, GNU Compiler Collection, GNU Binutils, and GNU Debugger. FSF requests that an injunction be issued against Cisco and that damages and litigation costs be awarded to the FSF.

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Cisco. The FSF's complaint alleges that in the course of distributing various products under the Linksys brand Cisco has violated the licenses of many programs on which the FSF holds copyright, including GCC, binutils, and the GNU C Library. In doing so, Cisco has denied its users their right to share and modify the software.

Most of these programs are licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL), and the rest are under the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL). Both these licenses encourage everyone, including companies like Cisco, to modify the software as they see fit and then share it with others, under certain conditions. One of those conditions says that anyone who redistributes the software must also provide their recipients with the source code to that program. The FSF has documented many instances where Cisco has distributed licensed software but failed to provide its customers with the corresponding source code.

‘Our licenses are designed to ensure that everyone who uses the software can change it,’ said Richard Stallman, president and founder of the FSF. ‘In order to exercise that right, people need the source code, and that's why our licenses require distributors to provide it. We are enforcing our licenses to protect the rights that everyone should have with all software: to use it, share it, and modify it as they see fit’.

‘We began working with Cisco in 2003 to help them establish a process for complying with our software licenses, and the initial changes were very promising,’ explained Brett Smith, licensing compliance engineer at the FSF. ‘Unfortunately, they never put in the effort that was necessary to finish the process, and now five years later we have still not seen a plan for compliance. As a result, we believe that legal action is the best way to restore the rights we grant to all users of our software.’

‘Free software developers entrust their copyrights to the FSF so we can make sure that their work is always redistributed in ways that respect user freedom,’ said Peter Brown, executive director of the FSF. ‘In the fifteen years we've spent enforcing our licenses, we've never gone to court before. We have always managed to get the companies we have worked with to take their obligations seriously. But at the end of the day, we're also willing to take the legal action necessary to ensure users have the rights that our licenses guarantee.’

A statement from Cisco in response to the suit reads as follows:

‘Cisco is a strong supporter of open source software. Cisco takes its open source software obligations and responsibilities seriously and is disappointed that a suit has been filed by the Free Software Foundation related to our work with them in our Linksys Division. We are currently reviewing the issues raised in the suit, but believe we are substantially in compliance. We have always worked very closely with the FSF and hope to reach a resolution agreeable to the company and the foundation.’

The complaint was filed on 11 December in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York by the Software Freedom Law Center, which is providing representation to the FSF in this case. The case is number 08-CV-10764 and will be heard by Judge Paul G. Gardephe. A copy of the complaint is available on the FSF web site.

The Free Software Foundation promotes the development and use of free (as in freedom) software -- particularly the GNU operating system and its GNU/Linux variants. Under the GNU General Public License (GPL), when a program is released under its terms, every user will have the freedom to share and change it, no matter how they get it. The GPL is the most popular free software license in the world, used by almost three quarters of all free software packages.

Published: 2008-12-18T16:04:37

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