Be Afraid, Verizon, Be Very Afraid

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News that the Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC) has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Verizon Communications, has led some to wonder whether this might be counterproductive:

Because Verizon is distributing firmware binaries without an offer of source code, this would, in fact, appear to be a violation of the GPL.

But it seems a rather picayune and hyper-technical one—especially if the Verizon firmware uses the same BusyBox code that is already available on the manufacturer’s Web site.

But principle is principle, and if you start allowing people to ignore the terms of the GNU GPL, more will.

Still, it's interesting that the Software Freedom Law Centre has noticeably started turning up the legal heat recently. This contrasts strongly with what its boss, and general eminence grise to the Free Software Foundation, Eben Moglen, told me a few years ago when I was writing Rebel Code, which was that he much preferred having a quiet word with offenders, who tended to see the error of their ways pretty smartly.

So why the more aggressive stance? I think it's partly a recognition of the fact that the GNU GPL is well established now – both in terms of understanding, and in terms of acceptance. There's no need to walk on eggshells. Instead, this lawsuit against a company capitalised at around $130 billion is clear wake-up call to the rest of the industry. It doesn't matter how big you are, the SFLC seems to be saying: if you're infringing, we're gonna go for you, and we're gonna win. Be afraid – be very afraid.

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