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Munich Court Defends GPL

Munich Court Defends GPL

A Munich district court has hit Sitecom Germany GmbH with a preliminary injunction forbidding it to distribute a wireless access router, model WL-122, unless it conforms to the GNU General Public License.

The GPL has only been the subject of a court decision once before when, in the summer of 2001, a Massachusetts federal court ruled that the license was "binding" and "enforceable" during a dispute between MySQL AB and its one-time US distributor NuSphere, a subsidiary of Progress Software.

Subsequently, IBM has based part of its countersuit against the SCO Group on the GPL, but IBM's claims have yet to be tried in court.

Anyway, the open source netfilter/iptables project, which has been going around quietly enforcing the GPL with other companies, claims the Sitecom router is based on software that it developed and licenses for free under the GPL and that Sitecom refuses to kick back any of the router's source code, or include the terms of the GPL with its products.

The head of the Netfilter Core Team, Harald Welte, who lives in Germany, says the project got the injunction after a warning notice and after Sitecom refused to sign a "declaration to cease and desist."

Sitecom, a connectivity house with the Linux penguin boldly emblazoned on its Web site, couldn't be reached for comment.

It's the project's position that "The GPL licenses software free-of-cost, but requires any redistributor to provide the full source code."

In the last couple of months, the Netfilter Project has come to out-of-court settlements with Fujitsu Siemens Computers (FSC), Asustek Computer and Allnet GmbH, which are also in the router business and were doing exactly the same thing Sitecom stands accused of.

According to Welte, FSC capitulated in early March, promised to mend its ways, inform its customers of the terms of the GPL and for its sins agreed to significant sponsorship of the Linux Kongress and a donation to the Free Software Foundation Europe.

The Free Software Foundation US of course wrote the GPL.

The Free Software Foundation Europe also got a "significant donation" from a repentant Allnet as did the Foundation of a Free Information Infrastructure.

Asustek signed a cease and desist declaration and said it won't distribute its product without adhering to the license. So did Securepoint GmbH, which had firewall and VPN server products that included the project's code.

Netfilter/iptables is the firewalling subsystem in the 2.4.x Linux kernel and the stuff runs on virtually every Linux installation.

The project and its lawyer Till Jaeger, a partner in JBB Rechtsanwaelte, a law firm in Berlin and Munich, are under the misapprehension that this is the "first case in which a judicial decision has been decreed on the applicability and the validity of the GNU GPL."

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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