GPL Has Some Bite Behind It

Ruling in the BusyBox suit shows that GPL has legal teeth to enforce violations

For many years there was a question about how the court system would view the provisions of the GPL license in regard to the use of open source software. Frankly many cases were settled prior to a decision being rendered in order to lessen the possibility of an adverse ruling. But a Federal Judge in the Southern District of NY has issued an order that shows the GPL is not only enforceable, but packs a big bite.

In the case of Software Freedom Conservancy vs Best Buy, Samsung Electronics America, Westinghouse Digital, JVC America, Western Digital and Zyxel, the court has issued a default judgement against Westinghouse Digital. The damages were based on the courts finding that the use in violation of the GPL of the BusyBox open source software by defendant was willful. Therefore she awarded treble damages (3 times the actual amount). Additionally the court awarded attorneys fees to the plaintiffs, issued a permanent injunction against Westinghouse and ordered all of the products with the infringing code in them turned over to charities (there should be some good HDTV's available at some lucky charity soon).

This really represents a harsh penalty to the defendant, but shows that using open source software in violation of the GPL can carry significant risk and penalties. It should be noted that this judgement was only against Westinghouse and not the other defendants. It was a default judgement because the defendant had stopped participating in the discovery process when the filed bankruptcy. The court may have been sending a message with the default judgement to make sure other defendants comply with discovery, as well as what it thinks of the enforcement and penalty remedies in the GPL.

In any event everyone should be on notice. If you are going to use open source software, be sure you read and comply with the provisions of the license it is issued under. It may be free, but if you don't follow the license you could wind up with a bite being taken out of you too.

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