Open-source legal group strikes again on BusyBox, suing Verizon

SFLC claims telecom vendor is violating GPL terms as part of its broadband service

A group that provides legal services to open-source software developers announced today that it has filed a copyright-infringement lawsuit against Verizon Communications Inc. alleging that the company is violating the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL) in distributing wireless routers to users of its FiOS fiber-optic broadband service.

The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) filed the lawsuit (download PDF) on Thursday in U.S. District Court in New York on behalf of the developers of BusyBox, a lightweight set of open-source Unix utilities that is commonly used in embedded systems. The New York-based SFLC had previously filed BusyBox-related lawsuits against three other companies, but Verizon is by far its largest target.

The lawsuit against Verizon says that BusyBox code is used in wireless routers made by Actiontec Electronics Inc. that are part of the technology bundle given to FiOS customers. But, the SFLC alleges, Verizon doesn't provide the source code for BusyBox to customers of the fiber-optic service, as it is obligated to do under the GPL.

BusyBox's developers license the software under the GPL "to ensure that all users of the program can access and modify its source code," said Dan Ravicher, the SFLC's legal director. He added that Verizon hasn't responded to the SFLC's attempts to resolve the issue. "We reached out to them three weeks ago," Ravicher said. "They never responded in any fashion."

The SFLC has also contacted Actiontec, which did respond, Ravicher noted. "We are in what we believe to be productive discussions with them about their issues," he said. "This is why we purposefully did not name them as a defendant in the lawsuit. To the contrary, Verizon has simply ignored us, which leaves us with no option other than litigation to get them to address our clients' concerns."

Verizon spokesman David Fish said the telecommunications company is aware of the lawsuit and isn't ducking the issue. "This matter is being dealt with," Fish said. "We've referred it to the responsible third-party vendor" -- a reference to Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Actiontec.

But Ravicher claimed that both Actiontec and Verizon have to adhere to the requirements of the GPL as distributors of BusyBox.

"When Actiontec distributes to Verizon, Actiontec has obligations," he said. "When Verizon turns around and redistributes to customers, Verizon has obligations. Even if Actiontec fulfills its obligations when it distributes to Verizon, that does not fulfill Verizon's obligations when it distributes to its customers."

The SFLC provides legal assistance to nonprofit open-source and free software projects. The group's founder and chairman is Eben Moglen, the longtime general counsel for the Free Software Foundation.

One of the three BusyBox-related lawsuits filed previously was settled out of court on Oct. 30. According to the SFLC, the company targeted by that suit, San Mateo, Calif.-based Monsoon Multimedia Inc., agreed to comply with the GPL's requirements and financially compensate the developers of BusyBox.

Lawsuits are still open against High-Gain Antennas LLC in Parker, Colo., and Xterasys Corp. in City of Industry, Calif.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon