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By | Gavin Clarke 24th September 2007 22:28

Premature exit for GPL test case?


A GNU General Public License (GPL) test case in the US looks dead in the water after a start-up promised to abide by the GPLv2 rather than duke it out in court with the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC).

The SFLC last week filed suit against Monsoon Multimedia, alleging the Silicon Valley start-up had breached GPLv2. It said Monsoon had shipped media products without making available the machine-readable source code for BusyBox, a set of Unix utilities licensed under open source. The BusyBox developers subsequently withdrew permission for Monsoon to use their source code.

Monsoon has promised to make source code to BusyBox available on its website "in the coming weeks" to fully comply with "all open source software license agreements".

It's unclear at this stage if Monsoon's peace offering means the SFLC's case is still on.

Critical factors in settling the case out of court will likely be when code is made available and the size of any settlement for BusyBox’s developers. The SFLC couldn't be reached for comment.

When announcing the suit, the SFLC expressed skepticism over Monsoon's willingness to comply with the GPL. According to Dan Ravisher, SFLC senior legal director, Monsoon was notified through its support forums of the need to make the code available, but the attitude had been: "We'll get around to it when we get around to it."

In a statement today Graham Radstone, Monsoon chairman and chief operating officer, said: "Since we intend to and always intended to comply with all open source software license requirements, we are confident that the matter will be quickly resolved."

So it looks like that this is not the case that will establish GPL as a precedent under US law. That may be a disappointment to the Free Software Foundation (FSF), founder of the SFLC, and guardian of the GNU General Public License. It is locked in a battle of wills with Microsoft over whether the company is bound by the terms of the GPL through a deal struck last year to exchange intellectual property with Linux vendor Novell.

Establishing GPL as a legal precedent could help prosecutors convince a judge in any future case that Microsoft must accept and adhere to GPL.®

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