Important GPL violation case to hit courts

For GPL watchers, a crucial case is due to be heard in Germany tomorrow. AVM produces DSL routers using firmware based on the Linux kernel. Cybits AG, produces web filtering software aimed at protecting children. It seems that one of the...

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For GPL watchers, a crucial case is due to be heard in Germany tomorrow. AVM produces DSL routers using firmware based on the Linux kernel. Cybits AG, produces web filtering software aimed at protecting children.

It seems that one of the Cybits products is a router with firmware modified to provide the filtering functionality. AVM objected to the modification to their firmware, and sued Cybits for copyright infringment.

Since the GPL's fundamental intention is to ensure that people retain the freedom to change GPL-licensed code, and at first sight, this case seems to be about a GPL licensee trying to deny that right, this litigation may well involve judicial scrutiny of some important issues.

I'm not privy to the details, but some points which could be considered (under German law) may include:

  1. Examination of the boundaries between what components are protected by the GPL (such as the kernel itself), and what components would require to be licensed under the GPL on distribution, by virtue of their interaction with that GPL code, such as linked modules and libraries (and an examination of whether the mode of linking makes any difference);

  2. Examination of whether an additionally imposed restriction on modification of GPL code is enforceable (the GPL tries to prevent the imposition of additional restrictions);

  3. Whether AVM can still assert a breach of its own copyright, even if it is in breach of the GPL; and

  4. If AVM is in breach of the GPL, what effect this has on its ability to continue to sell its Linux-based products.

Germany has seen a relatively large amount of GPL-related litigation, largely instigated by Harald Welte of GPLViolations.org, Till Jaeger of JBB Rechtsanwälte, his lawyer, and Armijn Hemel, their technical expert. Harald, as one of the copyright owners of the GPL-licensed Linux kernel is often in a position to initiate litigation directly.

In this case, GPLViolations has decided to intervene, which means that it wishes to make representations to the court as the case raises matters of importance to it.

Now read Glyn Moody's Open Enterprise: An attack that goes to the heart of free software

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