Free Software Foundation challenges Cisco in lawsuit

Alex Handy
December 22, 2008 —  (Page 1 of 2)
The Free Software Foundation isn't in the habit of suing large corporations. While the non-profit has spent some of its time in the past year working with the creators of BusyBox to bring corporate users of that software into compliance with the GNU General Public License, the FSF has favored negotiations when it comes to major technology companies. That all changed on Dec. 11, when the FSF filed a lawsuit against Cisco in the Southern District Court of New York.

At issue are products under Cisco's Linksys brand, which the FSF alleges to be rife with GPL violations, specifically products in which the included firmware is not in compliance. The 12 Linksys products mentioned in the suit include wireless routers, home network routers, IP telephony devices and a network accessible storage appliance. The FSF also accuses Cisco of violating the GPL 2 in a Linksys VPN tool.

The list of tools distributed in these products include the GNU C Library, GNU Debugger, GNU Compiler Collection and GNU Wget.

James Grimmelmann, associate professor of intellectual property and Internet law at the New York Law School, said FSF's action  was a last resort.

“The Free Software Foundation's strategy has been to negotiate. They have lawsuits in reserve as a weapon. Their goal is to have distributors come into compliance. That's exactly what they were doing for the past two years,” said Grimmelmann.

Brett Smith, licensing compliance engineer with the Free Software Foundation, said that the real crux of this case is Cisco's inability to confront the GPL with proper internal procedures. After working with Cisco for two years but failing to get the company in compliance, a lawsuit was the next step for the FSF, Smith said.

“We got to a point in our work with Cisco where we really wanted to talk about the past and the future," said Smith. "What were they going to do to mitigate the damage in the past and what would they do to minimize the damage in the future? They didn't do anything to address those [future] issues. We can't work on a system where every time someone finds a violation in a Cisco product, they tell us and we tell Cisco, and the whole thing takes a few months to resolve."

Related Search Term(s): GPL, Linksys, Cisco, Free Software Foundation

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