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GNU is Not Unix Hardware Hacking Software The Courts Build

Bell, SuperMicro Sued Over GPL 273

Posted by timothy
from the if-it-wasn't-for-your-meddling-hippies dept.
Markus Toth writes "The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) has filed two more copyright infringement lawsuits on behalf of the developers of the Linux-based BusyBox utility suite. The suits allege that Bell Microproducts and SuperMicro Computer each violated redistribution stipulations of the GNU General Public License (GPL).The Bell Microproducts suit pertains to the Hammer MyShare NAS (network-attached storage) appliance, which is sold by Bell's Hammer Storage division. I was the one who alerted the busybox developers about the GPL violation after providing a script for disassembling the firmware and instructions about mounting the contained initrd. As you see in my first post at the gpl-violations.org mailing lists where I posted all mails that I sent to and received from Hammer Storage, they refused to provide me the GPL sources several times. Looks like they will have to provide them soon; I will post any updates in the nas-central blog."
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Bell, SuperMicro Sued Over GPL

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  • by Marcion (876801) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @02:52PM (#23843131) Homepage Journal
    I assume someone had to go and evaluate the software for inclusion in the product. Is is that hard to whack a tarball onto a server and give out the link.

    We hear so many of these large companies have problems with this. Why?
    • I'll guess "money". (Score:4, Informative)

      by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @02:57PM (#23843219)
      It's cheaper to use the "available" code when the executives in charge of the project cannot be bothered to familiarize themselves with the project AND stand to make a bonus the sooner it ships.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by CastrTroy (595695)
        Yeah, but if you're going to use the cheap route and just use GPL'd code, why not just put a tarball up on your website?
        • Fear. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @03:15PM (#23843439)
          Fear that your competition will download it and leap-frog all "your" development "efforts" by using "your" code in their device.

          I'm serious. If they UNDERSTOOD the process, they would ANNOUNCE that it was GPL'd and that anyone who wanted to could modify it or add features, etc.

          Just like LinkSys found with their wireless routers.
          • Re:Fear. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by LehiNephi (695428) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @03:42PM (#23843893) Journal
            If another company uses your code to make their product better, they're still bound by the GPL. Thus, once you have their source code in hand, you're in a nice position to leapfrog their development.
            • Re:Fear. (Score:5, Insightful)

              by strabes (1075839) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @04:08PM (#23844415)
              And that's exactly why open source is so powerful.
            • by raehl (609729) <raehl311@@@yahoo...com> on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @06:40PM (#23846713) Homepage
              Or, I can develop my own software, and maintain my competitive advantage over my competitor.

              Anyone who produces products has to decide what is more valuable - being able to use free software from the community, or being able to keep your software secret. If all you are going to add to the software is something that anyone else could create without much effort (i.e., software is not your key differentiator) then open source is the way to go.

              But if you're going to make a massive improvement to whatever software you might take, something that is going to cost you a lot of money to develop (and would thus cost a competitor lots of money to develop), it makes the most sense to keep it to yourself.

              Put more simply, a product that is 90% open source software from the community and 10% improvement is probably best released as open software - you get 90% for the cost of 10%. But a product that would be 10% software from the community and 90% software you develop yourself, it makes more sense to also redo the 10%. Trading away 90% for 10% would just be a bad business decision.
        • Yeah, but if you're going to use the cheap route and just use GPL'd code, why not just put a tarball up on your website?

          Maybe because it creates an image where there is little to differentiate of your product from that of the next guy? Makes it kind of hard to justify ridiculous profit margins...
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by robertjw (728654)

            Maybe because it creates an image where there is little to differentiate of your product from that of the next guy? Makes it kind of hard to justify ridiculous profit margins...
            Or maybe you will have to compete with your hardware. If these companies are cutting corners on their software development, they are probably cutting corners on their hardware development as well. If company Z has better hardware and can use your GPL software, you are pretty much SCREWED.
    • by nebenfun (530284) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @03:03PM (#23843281)
      Laziness, ignorance of the law, confusion regarding the GPL, budget issues, etc...

      The usual suspects...
      • by ehrichweiss (706417) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @03:37PM (#23843773)
        Oh don't even get me started on people's confusion regarding GPL. I just read some blog where a guy completely trashed MySQL because he was under the false impression that you couldn't use it as part of the backend to a website without providing the source code. Later when shown he was wrong he backtracked and said the blog was about how people would have to pay for support or licenses or whatever other straws he could grasp that would enable him to not look as stupid as he already did; too late.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward
          In the past, MySQL intentionally tried to confuse the issue about the license implications of their driver software. So I wouldn't blame the entirely on "that guy", they were essentially FUDing their own product for a while.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @04:07PM (#23844385)
          You are both somewhat right. MySQL has an exception in their licensing policy that allows closed-source PHP applications to use MySQL.

          However, their general policy is as follows: the MySQL client library (which you need to link to, to talk to the server) is GPL'ed, so it can only be used in a GPL'ed application. If you want to use it in a non-GPL application, you need to obtain a license from MySQL AB. MySQL supports many more languages/interfaces than just PHP, so this is a real concern.

          So although you are right in saying that you can create a closed-source application using MySQL if you are using PHP, the other guy is right in saying that in general you cannot use MySQL in a closed-source application without obtaining a license from MySQL AB.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by brunascle (994197)
            I believe that's only true if you distribute the application. the GP was talking about just using it on a website, not necessarily distributing it. if you dont distribute it, you dont need to share the source.

            and how would you distribute closed-source PHP code anyway?
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by dvice_null (981029)
              > and how would you distribute closed-source PHP code anyway?

              Inside a hardware as part of the software that make the hardware work as it should.
      • by sm62704 (957197)
        ignorance of the law, confusion regarding the GPL

        Are you really trying to tell us that a company that size has no lawyers?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by abigor (540274)
      Because 99% of them get away with it. I've seen gpl'd code used all over the place, mostly not entire apps but big sections of cut and pasted code that is then compiled and linked in to some larger, proprietary app. Happens far, far more often than you'd think.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Rene S. Hollan (1943)
      Is is that hard to whack a tarball onto a server and give out the link.

      Actually, yes.

      The software may not be in a form for easy building and consumption. Think about dependency hell and configuration issues. A lot of shops have a golden "build machine" that does the right thing. This poor practice is less common today, but was du rigeur in a lot of shops where I worked in the 90s -- scrambling to get product out. Often, there is a desire to not publicize the "lack of polish".

      Furthermore, there might n

  • by Creepy Crawler (680178) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @02:55PM (#23843165)
    For those that use this as a reason to NOT use the GPL...

    What would have happened if they instead used a copy of WinNT4.0 without paying Microsoft? Microsoft would want blood, and would extract it via the BSA.

    The creators of Busybox just want you to host the changes you've done to it. They wanted no money.

    In other words: What would $proprietary_software_manufacturer do?
    • by fotbr (855184) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @03:02PM (#23843271) Journal
      I still see this as a reason not to use GPL, preferring instead to use BSD-style licensed software or public domain software whenever possible.

      Because proprietary software producers would be just as bad, or likely worse, does not mean that the GPL is always the best solution, since it is still a restrictive license.
      • by Creepy Crawler (680178) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @03:11PM (#23843385)
        It's only restrictive depending if you are a coder vs end user.

        If Im an end user, I can install it anywhere, copy it anywhere, give it to my friends without worry, hack it.... The list goes on.

        Most of the restrictions only exist to ensure community efforts. After all, you got it for free, so submit your changes you sell for free.
      • by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @03:15PM (#23843453) Homepage

        Because proprietary software producers would be just as bad, or likely worse, does not mean that the GPL is always the best solution, since it is still a restrictive license.

        Well, then if you don't like the license, don't use the software. Using GPL software against the terms of the license because you couldn't find any other free code to use is hardly an excuse.

        If you can find BSD or public domain code that allows you to re-use it and not have to write it, go ahead. If you can't, then either write it yourself, or quit whining that it's unfair you can't use the GPL stuff without adhering to the terms because it cramps your business model.

        A lot of companies just figure they can have the best of both worlds -- get the OSS stuff because it already does most of what they want, and then treat it as proprietary software they won't tell you anything about.

        As the GP said -- this isn't about software released under the GPL or if people should use it. This is about companies trying to get something for free.

        Cheers
      • by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @03:35PM (#23843743) Homepage

        I still see this as a reason not to use GPL, preferring instead to use BSD-style licensed software or public domain software whenever possible.

        Again, I'd say this isn't a problem with the GPL.

        It's a problem with commercial entities trying to use the GPLd software without abiding by the rules.

        If you can find some BSD/public domain code which does what you need, fine. If you can't, that doesn't mean you should be able to just take the GPL software -- it means you should write your own.

        I don't really see a problem with companies avoiding GPL software because of the license. That doesn't reflect badly on the GPL, it reflects badly on companies who are trying to do an end-run around the license.

        Cheers
        • by Sancho (17056) *

          Again, I'd say this isn't a problem with the GPL.

          It's a problem which, amongst downloadable software, is somewhat unique to the GPL. Most software which is downloaded or purchased off the shelf has a EULA which, while typically overly-verbose, makes sense. Don't copy the software to more than one computer. Don't give people a copy of the software. Don't disassemble the software. Don't expect us to cover your losses if the software fails.

          [And, in Microsoft's case, do not disparage the software.]

          Most software licenses don't cover redistribution at all

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cparker15 (779546)
        In other words, you have double standards. You want to have your cake and eat it, too. You want to leech off of the community (by using its code, making money from it, and not contributing back). The only thing the GPL restricts you from doing is keeping your changes to yourself if people ask you for them.

        Don't be greedy.

        Ok, go ahead, mod me as a troll. It's the truth.
      • by mrcaseyj (902945) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @04:11PM (#23844469)
        The GPL only restricts your freedom in a way similar to laws that prohibit slavery are restricting your freedom to take slaves. The GPL only takes away your freedom to take away the freedom of your users and the original authors of your code.
      • If you wish to take the work of others, and then not contribute back your enhancements, or contribute only on your own whim, then yes, BSD or public domain is better for you.

        If you have no problem with contributing back then GPL should be fine.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Wooky_linuxer (685371)
        all very well, but this is moot since they already used GPL software. And who says the software they needed was available under a BSD license anyway? IMNSHO, Linux grew so much more than BSDs because most developers do not want to see their code being taken and not any giveback from big companies. If so, it is natural there is more (and better - not trolling BSD or the BSD license, due only to the fact that more people opting for the GPL provides a higher chance that good software is developed) GPL software
  • by AltGrendel (175092) <ag-slashdot AT exit0 DOT us> on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @02:56PM (#23843187) Homepage
    Good work, Mr. Toth.
  • Source not posted? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @02:58PM (#23843223)
    Are the files at the bottom of
    http://www.hammer-storage.com/support/software_updates.asp
    not the right stuff?
    • by RingDev (879105) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @03:08PM (#23843345) Homepage Journal
      From the download page on their site:

      myshare Source Files

      The myshare source files are made available under various open source code licenses, including the GNU General Public License (GPL). Please review the license terms included with each download for the rights, obligations and restrictions associated with the open source file.
      Installation instructions
      title / description download posted release notes

      Myshare Home v.1 GPL Source Code
              47.6 MB 06/11/08

      Myshare Home v.2 GPL Source Code
              158.1 06/11/08

      Myshare Office v.2 GPL Source Code
              220.8 MB 06/11/08
      Looks like they just got them up last week (apparently 5 months after the GPL-Violations post).

      -Rick
      • by Wizzar (305179) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @03:14PM (#23843423)
        I'd just like to add that the 11th was two days after the lawsuit was filed.

        From the article:

        The lawsuits announced today were both filed June 9 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
        • by RingDev (879105) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @03:28PM (#23843615) Homepage Journal
          Which goes to show: a lawsuit is far more powerful than the saber rattling of an anonymous e-mailer with bad grammar.

          Just think, with proper grammar and some respect, Markus might have been able to motivate Mr. Vang to be a bit more interested in meeting the requirements of using GPL code. This whole thing might have been resolved with out lining the pockets of more lawyers.

          -Rick
          • by tobiasly (524456)

            Which goes to show: a lawsuit is far more powerful than the saber rattling of an anonymous e-mailer with bad grammar. Just think, with proper grammar and some respect, Markus might have been able to motivate Mr. Vang to be a bit more interested in meeting the requirements of using GPL code. This whole thing might have been resolved with out lining the pockets of more lawyers.

            But that just gives others an incentive to try to steal GPL software, and only post the source if they "get caught". The FSF is using these high-profile cases to raise awareness of the GPL and that it's not just "public domain". I have no problem lining the pockets of lawyers if that money comes from thieves who steal from the hard work of others and give nothing back in return.

      • by rahvin112 (446269) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @03:57PM (#23844201)
        It's too bad they already lost their rights under the GPL. Once the suit is filed the SFLC won't accept just publishing the source. To get distribution rights back is going to cost them some cash to cover SFLC's costs in addition to some punitive costs to make sure they remember never to do it again.
    • by Todd Knarr (15451)

      From the looks of it, that source code was put up the day after the lawsuit was filed.

      Once again, evidence that the only language some companies understand is "lawsuit". That language does seem to be highly effective at getting their attention, though.

  • confused (Score:4, Interesting)

    by QX-Mat (460729) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @03:04PM (#23843303)
    Is this really such a big thing? Surely they only have to mirror the sources from their original location unless they've made modifications?

    Shouldn't time an effort be spent on finding the guys who modify the sources, and make a profit, rather than those who merely fail to mirror and honour the distribution agreement because they're lazy?

    This reminds me of the Debian upstream/downstream problem that rears it's head up now and again: if the sources are freely available, does every man and his dog have to distribute the unmodified version if they merely make use of it downstream?!

    Matt
    • by Todd Knarr (15451)

      Nope, you can't just point to someone else's sources. When you distribute GPL'd software, you are responsible for being able to provide the sources upon request. And not just the sources, but the sources for the version you distributed. If you just point to someone else's copies, they could stop hosting them or host newer versions. You are now in violation of the GPL, since the sources required by it are no longer available from you.

      The only way to deal with this would be for you to enter into a contract w

    • by clampolo (1159617)

      Shouldn't time an effort be spent on finding the guys who modify the sources, and make a profit, rather than those who merely fail to mirror and honour the distribution agreement because they're lazy?

      This is a good point and I'll take it one further. Despite all the talk about Linux desktops, Linux and open source have succeeded best in the embedded market. Why nitpick over stuff like this when it can only hurt adoption of open source in the future?

      When you consider all the potential lawsuits, lawyers' fees, etc, the couple extra bucks per device for a commercial OS starts to sound reasonable.

  • I've never seen busybox on any of it and I generally buy a dozen or so servers per year (mostly from serversdirect.com).

    If they're taking the piss I'll look out for an alternative for future purchases.
  • by quarrel (194077) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @03:06PM (#23843327)
    Can anyone shed any light on why companies repeatedly do this with Busybox?

    I can sort of understand their motivation (if not their ethics/commercial sense!) if they've got a highly modified Lunix kernel where they've made extensive changes to the networking stack to enable their "unique" feature or similar, but why with Busybox? Surely the path of least resistance is just to make the tar ball available (or realise, you've stuffed up, and start making the offer and send any that ask the tarball to play catch-up). Are any of these guys really making proprietary improvements with amazing IP involved to Busybox? It seems an unlikely place to do it..

    Maybe they've ported it to the latest tiniest CPU, but they still get a time to market advantage their (particularly versus producing Busybox like functionality from scratch!), but even that seems unlikely to be worth fighting hard when you'll quickly realise you'll lose.

    Why go to the hassle?

    I suspect that this probably boils down to default policies and a lack of understanding of the GPL more than anything, sadly. By default most companies would have a "We don't make available ANY of our IP unnecessarily" and that hasn't yet gelled with the GPL. No one wants to stand up and make the call that compiling Busybox didn't involved much of the companies IP, and releasing the source is an obligation.. The people involved with the IP aren't the same people that make the 'legal' calls and so companies come across with these silly positions..

    --Q
    • by cfulmer (3166)
      Busybox is a fairly common thing to include in embedded linux applications. It has the advantage that its copyright is owned by a very small group of people, who have shown some willingness to go after infringers.

      This is a central problem with open source software -- only the copyright owner has standing to sue for a breach of the license. But, the copyright ownership of a lot of open source software is widely distributed among the contributors. You don't need each contributor to go along with the suit,
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Brandybuck (704397)
      Because it's not at all clear that you have to post the source code to Busybox! You haven't modified Busybox, you haven't made a derivative work, you haven't done anything at all to its source code. Hell, you probably haven't even SEEN the source code, since you got it from a binary. I work with a lot of embedded device manufacturers, and they do not use LFS, they use prepackaged embedded Linux systems or kits.

      It's also not at all clear that distributing hardware is also distributing the software. There is
  • STOP! (Score:2, Offtopic)

    by pipatron (966506)
    Hammertime!
  • I think I have just come up with a new business plan:

    1. Create Linux-based device.
    2. Sell without providing source (PROFIT).
    3. Wait until GPL violation is discovered.
    4. Wait until outcry over GPL violation ensues (PUBLICITY).
    5. Provide source code.
    6. Linux-based device, with source code ... a hacker's dream!
    7. ???
    8. PROFIT!!!

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