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Open Source Advocates Slap Verizon With GPL Lawsuit

Open Source Advocates Slap Verizon With GPL Lawsuit
By Sean Michael Kerner

UPDATED: U.S. telecom giant Verizon is coming under fire for allegedly violating the open source GNU General Public License (GPL).

The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) yesterday filed a lawsuit in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against Verizon on behalf of open source software developer BusyBox.

The suit alleges that Verizon has infringed on BusyBox’s copyrights in distributing the Actiontec MI424WR wireless routers to Verizon’s FiOS broadband customers.

BusyBox is a collection of Unix utilities optimized for size, and which are most commonly used in embedded environments. The SFLC claims that the Actiontec router includes BusyBox code, which under the GPL means that Verizon is obligated to distribute source code with the router. The suit charges that the company fails to do this.

“We are aware of the suit,” Verizon spokesman David Fish told InternetNews.com. “This matter is being dealt with.” Fish did not elaborate.

SFLC Legal Director Dan Ravicher earlier told InternetNews.com that the lawsuit came about as a result of not having received a response from the carrier.

“We sent initial communications to Verizon three weeks ago,” Ravicher said. “They never responded. Thus, there are no negotiations underway with them. That is what forced us to file the lawsuit, because it was our only last option to get Verizon to address our clients’ concerns.”

The SFLC is seeking an injunction against Verizon as well as damages. At this early stage, the SFLC had not yet put a figure on the amount it’s seeking.

“We can’t calculate adequate damages until we know the extent of the infringement, which somewhat relies on information we would have to get from Verizon through the discovery process,” Ravicher said.

Once served with the complaint, Verizon will have 20 days to respond in court.

The legal action against Verizon come as the fourth action that the SFLC has undertaken this year on behalf of BusyBox on GPL issues. The GPL is a reciprocal license that requires users of GPL-protected technology to make their source code available to end-users.

To date, the SFLC has settled with one defendant out of court. Two actions, facing Xterasys Corporation and High-Gain Antennas, are ongoing and Ravicher said he’s optimistic about negotiations resulting in a resolution with each.

However, with more than 200,000 employees and 2006 revenues of more than $88 billion, Verizon represents a significantly larger challenge than any other vendors previously challenged by the SFLC.

Ravicher said he isn’t worried about Verizon’s size being an issue.

“We see no significant legal or factual challenges, as both the law and facts in these cases are overwhelmingly on our side,” Ravicher said. “Verizon’s capability to afford litigation may make it more likely that the case proceeds for some time, but that’s not a disadvantage or challenge, as we at the Software Freedom Law Center have a legal staff of sufficient size and expertise to do the same.”

 

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