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FSF Files Suit Against Cisco For GPL Violations 409

Posted by timothy
from the was-that-print-too-fine-for-you? dept.
Brett Smith writes "This morning the Free Software Foundation filed suit against Cisco for violations of the GPL and LGPL. There's a blog post with background about the case. The full complaint is available too." The short version, as excerpted by reader byolinux, is that "in the course of distributing various products under the Linksys brand Cisco has violated the licenses of many programs on which the FSF holds copyright, including GCC, binutils, and the GNU C Library. In doing so, Cisco has denied its users their right to share and modify the software."
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FSF Files Suit Against Cisco For GPL Violations

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  • by Throtex (708974) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @02:23PM (#26078109)

    They allow abusive entities such as the Free Software Foundation to go after Cisco. If only the software was distributed without cumbersome GLP and LGPL licensing restrictions, and was truly free like software wants to be, then Cisco wouldn't have been forced to violate the licenses.

    For shame.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by jalet (36114)

      Are you joking ?

    • OK. This story's threads are officially over. Nobody can top that one, it's the best tongue-in-cheek post I've seen on Slashdot.

    • by calmofthestorm (1344385) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @02:33PM (#26078285)

      I agree, copyright law is stifling innovation by preventing large American corporations from using the work of small, independent inventors without contributing in kind. Clearly there should be a fee to copyright works, to ensure that only properly-licensed corporations, using licensed, trusted compilers, can produce them.

      I'm Ted Stevens, convicted felon, and I approved this message*!

      * California v. Drew Disclaimer: No I'm not.

      • by jellomizer (103300) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @03:04PM (#26078837)

        All the customers of their product will also need to pay an extra 25% of the cost because they need to add redoing the wheel software development. Before Linksys started to use the GNU tools Hubs even small ones were expensive. After Linksys incorporated GNU you can for relatively cheap get a Router, Switch and Firewall which is good enough for most people and small businesses. If you choose GNU as a developer you really forfeit a lot of your rights to your code. So if a big corporation takes your code and uses it on a loophole in the licence, you don't have much recourse.

        • by calmofthestorm (1344385) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @03:20PM (#26079151)

          I suppose you're right. It's especially important that Cisco use quality, trusted software developed in-house or offshore, rather than trusting the danger-fraught open source community. Even aside from patent violations and other blatant disregard of others' IP rights, and the far lower quality of code produced by enthusiastic volunteers as compared to paid, apathetic employees, can you really trust that these self-described "hackers" haven't put in backdoors for their Russian friends? There's just no way to know with open source, and given all this, and studies showing that open source has an astronomically higher total cost of ownership, this is probably the last straw.

        • by calmofthestorm (1344385) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @03:27PM (#26079267)

          The way I see it, the free software community is just another company. We use each other's work, just like members of a company usually can, provided we agree on the ground rules. We work for communal benefit.

          So let me ask you: If I get access to the windows source code via a contract (copyright) with Microsoft, should I be able to take Microsoft's work and sell it for personal profit? This is of course absurd. I see it as equally absurd that other companies should be able to take the open source community's work for free. They get the binaries and sources under a contract, they can follow it or their rights terminate.

          A better example: Someone wrote a library that does something I want, and will license it to me for like $5 per copy for use in my software. Does this give me the right to take it for free (assuming I can) because I don't want to raise my product's prices to cover the increased cost? No. I can either accept their terms or not.

          Of course I also don't buy all this omfg "free software good, bad software bad" crap. We're a company that works for its own interest, plain and simple. Just one that produces products far more to my liking, far more intuitive to my (granted, odd) mind, and far more useful in my line of work (CS research)

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by jc42 (318812)

            I see it as equally absurd that other companies should be able to take the open source community's work for free. They get the binaries and sources under a contract, they can follow it or their rights terminate.

            Actually, this is where you got it wrong. You don't get a contract to use GPL'd code; you get a license. Ask your friendly local corporate lawyer to explain the difference.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by profplump (309017)

        I know you're joking, but you could just as easily say that copyright law is stifling innovation by preventing small, independent inventors from using the work of large American corporations without contributing in kind -- the law works both ways.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by LtGordon (1421725)
      Replied Cisco, "Curse you, Stallman!"
    • by jonaskoelker (922170) <.jonaskoelker. .at. .gnu.org.> on Thursday December 11, 2008 @05:26PM (#26081525) Homepage

      They allow abusive entities such as the Free Software Foundation to go after Cisco.

      I know you're just trying to be funny, but what's worth noticing is that this is the FSF's first lawsuit:

      [...] Peter Brown, executive director of the FSF. "In the fifteen years we've spent enforcing our licenses, we've never gone to court before. We have always managed to get the companies we have worked with to take their obligations seriously.

      Isn't that interesting? I'm not sure whether Cisco decided to call the FSF's bluff or whether they have some other thinking behind their decisions; but I know that this is going to be interesting to watch.

      IIRC, the GPL has been upheld in court before, so (depending on the details of Cisco's actions) the FSF is probably in a good position to win.

    • by SEE (7681) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:41PM (#26082823) Homepage

      Oh, my.

      Imagine, for a moment, that various $BIG_COMPANIES decide they want to be able to use code from free software in their products without a fuss, while still keeping protection for their own code.

      So, what they do is approach various national governments, WIPO, etc., and have copyright protection removed from source code.

      The companies then sit back with the fact that their binary code is still copyright protected, and their source code is safely hidden under "trade secret" protections . . . but the source code of free software is neither copyrighted nor secret. So the companies can take the known, non-copyrighted source code from free software, and combine it with their secret source code to make their copyrighted binary blobs . . .

  • Linksys routers? (Score:3, Informative)

    by MMC Monster (602931) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @02:36PM (#26078341)

    I love my Linksys router.

    I was under the impression that other than the wrt54gl (the one I bought, naturally), none of them run linux anymore.

    • I was under the impression that other than the wrt54gl (the one I bought, naturally), none of them run linux anymore.

      If the folks at Cisco decide that potential lawsuits and being forced to open source code that they would rather not, is not worth the risk/trouble.

      It's a shame, really. I would have preferred to have seen the FSF and Cisco settle this behind closed doors, without a lawsuit, as a win-win for everyone.

      • The FSF had been trying to quietly resolve this for 5 years. They didn't exactly jump the gun on this one.
      • by EnglishTim (9662) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @03:05PM (#26078851)

        If you read the article, you'll see that they did. They've been working with Cisco for the last five years on it, but according to the FSF never became fully compliant:

        As we always do in violation cases, we began a process of working with Cisco to help them understand their obligations under our licenses, and how they could come into compliance. Early on it seemed likely that we could resolve the issues without any fuss.

        While we were working on that case, though, new reports came in. Other Cisco products were not in full compliance either. We started talking to the company about those as wellâ"and that's how a five-years-running game of Whack-a-Mole began. New issues were regularly discovered before we could finish addressing the old ones.

        During this entire time, Cisco has never been in full compliance with our licenses. At first glance, the situation might look good. It's not difficult to find "source code" on the Linksys site. But you only have to dig a little deeper to find the problems. Those source code downloads are often incomplete or out-of-date. Cisco also provides written offers for source, but we regularly hear about requests going unfulfilled.

        Despite our best efforts, Cisco seems unwilling to take the steps that are necessary to come into compliance and stay in compliance. We asked them to notify customers about previous violations and inform them about how they can now obtain complete source code; they have refused to do this, along with the other reasonable demands we have made to consider this case settled. The FSF has put in too many hours helping the company fix the numerous mistakes it's made over the years. Cisco needs to take responsibility for its own license compliance.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by LarsG (31008)

      According to the complaint: "in
      the Firmware for Linksysâ(TM) models EFG120, EFG250, NAS200, SPA400, WAG300N, WAP4400N,
      WIP300, WMA11B, WRT54GL, WRV200, WRV54G, and WVC54GC, and in the program Quick-
      VPN."

    • Re:Linksys routers? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Creepy (93888) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @03:23PM (#26079197) Journal

      yeah - probably true.

      Part of this was a chain reaction. Linksys was a low end router company and they adopted Linux to save money on development. As such, they had no need to cripple their routers to not compete against their high end brand, since they didn't have one. Unfortunately for Cisco, who bought them, they do have a high end brand, and releasing the source for their low end brand that people have tuned to outperform their high end routers (with overclocking and mods) is not really in their best interest (illegal, yes, in best interest, no).

      Personally, I think they were gambling as long as possible that the FSF wouldn't file a suit.

  • It's about time (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2008 @02:37PM (#26078359)

    I've worked at Cisco, and the general attitude among many (not all) is that they don't care about GPL violations. Linux is used as it's the fastest path to get the products out.

    The reason why this will be unsettling to Cisco is because some of the products have integrated key IOS files in order to retain backwards compatibility. Which means that those files now fall under the GPL. And the only way to integrate them is to use various Linux API's. That is, key files are derived works from the GPL. From the bootstrap code on up.

    But, since these files are key to IOS as well, one could take the view that IOS is now under the GPL.

    One could try to maintain that those files need to be dual-licensed. However, though some hold that to be valid, I don't believe such a dual license has ever been held up in court. So that might get interesting if the FSF wanted to push it. In any case, it could be a useful bargaining chip.

    In any case, those files don't have the appropriate copyrights stating how they are licensed.

    The amusing part here is that this has come about mostly because of Cisco's dedication to using as much H1-B/L1 labor as possible. It's been those guys who have mostly (not entirely) done this work in order to get things done quickly. And believe me, protestations about the licensing have been ignored completely when they've been raised. Hack-it-in quickly and damn the lawyers has been the attitude.

    It's very amusing to see that Cisco's use of cheap labor has come back to bite them in a way that has the potential to cost them more money than if they had done things in the right fashion originally.

    • I assume you are talking about devices other than the 54g series? I can't imagine what backward compatibility would be needed there with IOS.

    • Re:It's about time (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2008 @02:47PM (#26078569)

      I've worked at Cisco, and the general attitude among many (not all) is that they don't care about GPL violations. Linux is used as it's the fastest path to get the products out.

      The reason why this will be unsettling to Cisco is because some of the products have integrated key IOS files in order to retain backwards compatibility. Which means that those files now fall under the GPL. And the only way to integrate them is to use various Linux API's. That is, key files are derived works from the GPL. From the bootstrap code on up.

      But, since these files are key to IOS as well, one could take the view that IOS is now under the GPL.

      The same thing applies to Symbian - at one point they statically linked GPL code to the OS Kernel, so technically the whole OS should be GPL'd. Which means they ought to release all the source code to customers years ago. This is not something they want to do - their recent announcements have been about releasing the source code to selected components over time.

      Posting AC because I fear their lawyers.

      • by ahsile (187881)

        I was under the impression that if you used a GPL library (statically linked or not) your program must be covered by the GPL. On the other hand, if the library was LGPL your assessment would be fine... I think.

        http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/gpl-2.0-faq.html#IfLibraryIsGPL [gnu.org]

      • Re:It's about time (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2008 @03:08PM (#26078923)

        That misunderstanding is why so many people fear the GPL.

        The GPL can not force you to relicense your code. None of Cisco's code or Symbians code has to be released. However, unless they chose to relicense it then they are in violation of the GPL and have no license to distribute the GPL'd software.

        So they're committing copyright infringement. They can be forced to stop distributing their products, they can be sued for damages, but under no circumstance can they be forced to turn over code-- though that might be the easiest way to settle the lawsuit.

        • Re:It's about time (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Nick Ives (317) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @03:43PM (#26079535)

          They can be forced to stop distributing their products, they can be sued for damages, but under no circumstance can they be forced to turn over code-- though that might be the easiest way to settle the lawsuit.

          And also the easiest way to stay in business. If you wind up as a large scale GPL violator then the only sane option is likely to be releasing the code. If it's basically a choice between not distributing the code and going out of business or releasing the code and hoping it's all OK then a company can only really do the latter.

          That's fine for hardware companies like Cisco and Nokia who mainly derive value from their hardware but I'm sure it'd kill a proprietary software company.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by LarsG (31008)

            That's fine for hardware companies like Cisco [...] who mainly derive value from their hardware

            I was more under the impression that Cisco's business model was more like a software company that happens to sell expensive hardware dongles.

          • Re:It's about time (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Chandon Seldon (43083) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @04:14PM (#26080101) Homepage

            That's fine for hardware companies like Cisco and Nokia who mainly derive value from their hardware but I'm sure it'd kill a proprietary software company.

            Would it? How about compared to a similar scenario where they based their product on unlicensed proprietary software?

            With the unlicensed GPL software they have one more option, so they're strictly less screwed than if it were unlicensed proprietary software.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by DarkVader (121278)

          I don't know why people keep repeating this.

          A judge has it within his or her power to order the release of source code under the GPL, if he or she determines that it would be the best way to remedy the problem.

          If it's a large amount of GPL code, and the plaintiff is willing to accept the GPL release as a resolution to the dispute, there's no reason a judge wouldn't issue an order like that.

          I suppose the company could still refuse to release the code, but judges have pretty broad contempt of court powers, so

    • by Crispy Critters (226798) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @03:05PM (#26078853)
      "But, since these files are key to IOS as well, one could take the view that IOS is now under the GPL."

      No no no.

      Cisco has violated copyright law by distributing GPLed FSF code under terms other than specified in the only available license. The ownership and licensing of IOS code is not affected by this in any way. This is the past.

      Now for the future. If Cisco wants to keep distributing IOS code mixed with FSF code, there is only one way of doing it. That is to release the code under the GPL, because the FSF doesn't offer any other licenses. Only the IOS code which is mixed with FSF code needs to be released under the GPL. This has no effect on any other IOS code (older or in other products or whatever).

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dedazo (737510)

      The amusing part here is that this has come about mostly because of Cisco's dedication to using as much H1-B/L1 labor as possible. It's been those guys who have mostly (not entirely) done this work in order to get things done quickly.

      This is an interesting statement. If my experience with on/offshoring at large companies is any indication (and I assure you it is), the H1-B guys were simply taking orders from a US-based manager or director. Those kinds of decisions are not made in Pune or Gurgaon.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2008 @03:32PM (#26079359)

      The reason why this will be unsettling to Cisco is because some of the products have integrated key IOS files in order to retain backwards compatibility. Which means that those files now fall under the GPL.

      This is false. Releasing GPL code can never automatically force other code to be licensed under the GPL. What it does mean is that someone was distributing code without a license, and may be liable for copyright infringement damages. If they *had* licensed their other code under the GPL, they wouldn't have been liable.

      In general, a number of GPL-using authors tend to be okay with someone who has infringed doing a subsequent GPL-based release as a way to clear the air (and often then forgive previous damage caused by earlier infringements), but (a) they need not forgive the damages in such a case, (b) the infringer need never do a GPL-based release of their own code, instead simply paying damages.

  • Based on the background, seems like Cisco have 5 years to essentially send an email to all their known customers and post a notice on their website to a public ftp site with the relevant software. Am I oversimplifying?
    • Not exactly (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Crispy Critters (226798) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @03:13PM (#26078993)
      Look at what the FSF is asking for: an injunction to stop Cisco from distributing any more code, pay damages, give previous profits to the FSF, and pay the FSF's costs.

      This is not exactly "put some code on the web for download."

      If you mean that Linksys/Cisco could have avoided this at any time in the past five years by releasing the code, you are probably right. The FSF is easy to get along with. It is anybody's guess what they need to offer the FSF now to make it go away.

      • Not exactly either (Score:4, Informative)

        by Fred Ferrigno (122319) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @05:08PM (#26081171)

        If you mean that Linksys/Cisco could have avoided this at any time in the past five years by releasing the code, you are probably right.

        If you read the complaint [fsf.org], the FSF acknowledges that Linksys* has already released most of the code they are required to release. The big problem is that Linksys has a habit of releasing the binary versions first, then neglecting to release the source until the FSF complains and dragging their feet even then.

        The bottom line is that the FSF wants Linksys to be more proactive about releasing source files (by appointing a Free Software Compliance Officer) and to pay them for past abuse.

        * The complaint specifically and exclusively references Linksys products. It says nothing about IOS or any Cisco-branded products.

  • BSD (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Richard W.M. Jones (591125) <rich AT annexia DOT org> on Thursday December 11, 2008 @02:44PM (#26078511) Homepage

    Cisco / Linksys set themselves up for a fall here. If they wanted code they could just rip off and use whilst largely ignoring the license, why on earth didn't they just use BSD code? These are large companies, presumably they have lawyers. But they're acting like some kid who downloads an image from Google Image Search and uses it on their webpage - "I downloaded it off the web for free so I can just use it right?"

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by aztracker1 (702135)
      I always wonder that myself.. though I am not familiar with "small" bsd distributions, I am certain they are out there..
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      The problem is that a corporation is made up of people, and individual people can easily make the mistake of using the wrong code. If you hire some intern who writes something that uses gccor other GPL code, there might not be anybody who notices and realizes what's going on. I see it as very easy to get GPL'd code into a large project if you don't have the right people with the right knowledge in place to prevent it. IMHO, this may be especially true since I could see the developers of the firmware being e
    • It's a funny thing, but my experience with BSD in a corporate environment is that it doesn't end up as much of a success. There are some exceptions, but even in the case of OS-X, Apple seems to have completely failed to build the community they wanted at the beginning. Most other cases, starting with BSD/OS (BSD 386) [wikipedia.org] and going through IPSO, Ipsilon's [wikipedia.org] home grown BSD based OS, and many others you haven't heard of (AlchemyOS etc.) end up completely dead. Even Microsoft's TCP stack seems to have been rewritte

  • The horror (Score:3, Funny)

    by LtGordon (1421725) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @02:45PM (#26078525)
    You guys just don't get it. The FSF protects software. Then Cisco went and muddied it all up like your sister's proprietary, tattooed boyfriend. Now every time you use GCC, it'll be thinking of Cisco.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Hal_Porter (817932)

      Then Cisco went and muddied it all up like your sister's proprietary, tattooed boyfriend. Now every time you use GCC, it'll be thinking of Cisco.

      Grunting from the next room disturbing your chain of thought, eh?

    • by d3ac0n (715594)

      Wait. Every time you do WHAT with your sister?

      Dude, what kind of family do you HAVE?

    • This is the last time the FSF will allow Cisco to fuck with their family. GPLv3: this time, it's personal.
  • There are companies that contribute greatly top open source, like SUN for example (OpenOffice, Open Solaris, ...). And there are companies out there that leech off of it and even refuse to open up if they are asked to do so by the FSF.

    Next time you make a purchase decision you should take that into account if your company is using oss.

  • That sucks. I'm glad I have a couple of WRT54GL boxes, because I can easily see the entire range being dumped if the FSF wins. It's a lose lose sort of situation. FSF has talked to CISCO about this repeatedly and there has been no resolution. Now CISCO refuses to talk so the FSF has to persue the matter or else allow the GPL be flouted. If it persues the matter CISCO/Linksys may well just dump the products but if it doesn't there's a very bad precedent set for the GPL being abused, and FSF has no teeth in a

    • That would probably just hurt Cisco/Linksys in the long run. The last two Linksys routers I bought, I bought mainly because I knew I could install modified firmware on (dd-wrt). If they no longer offer routers with this capability then I'll simply stop buying Linksys gear and start shopping their competitors products who still use GPL'd code and lets me install custom firmware. Granted, I'm only one individual but you can bet I'll also mention this fact to family/friends (and as a professional sysadmin I

    • Blobs (Score:3, Informative)

      by Benanov (583592)

      WRT54GL boxes use broadcom ('blobcom') chipsets with non-Free binary only drivers for the 2.4 kernels. No 2.6 / ipv6 for me. :(

      I love my WRT54GL--but I'm ready for something better supported.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Hatta (162192)

      There are plenty of other routers that support dd-wrt. My ASUS wl-520gu is excellent.

  • Fix article title!!! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Crispy Critters (226798) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @02:53PM (#26078659)
    The title of the article is erroneous.

    The FSF has filed suit against Cisco for copyright violations. Cisco distributed code owned by the FSF without permission.

    Yes, Cisco could easily be distributing with permission, and hence legally, if they followed the requirements of the GPL. Instead, they chose to distribute without permission, a violation of federal copyright law.

    • It's shorthand (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tepples (727027)

      The title of the article is erroneous.

      Not if "GPL violation" is a common shorthand for "infringement of copyright in a work ordinarily distributed under the GNU General Public License".

  • Discussion (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DiegoBravo (324012) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @03:21PM (#26079175) Journal

    The existence of this kind of discussion (regardless who has the reason) is what scares a lot to many managers that are not interested (or are not able) to get the correct-freedom-flavor philosophy, so they end avoiding free software as a whole....

    In their minds, everything, if free, has a catch... well, the catch is that legalese with the freedom concept, that after a long time can return and "destroy" (that is, force to open your code) the competitive advantage secrets or whatever is called.

    I'm really not sure at the end what approach will provide more benefits to the users, the developers, the proprietary software enterprises (yes, they pay the checks for a lot of people), or humanity as a whole.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by JoeBuck (7947)
      These very same companies would vigorously prosecute anyone who violates their own intellectual property rights. Oh, and you repeat the commonly believed false claim that a GPL violator can be forced to open his or her own code. This is incorrect. The violator is a copyright infringer, loses the license to modify or distribute the code in question, and can be forced to pay damages. But the violator cannot be forced to open-source any of its own code (though in many cases, the FSF and others have accepte
  • by mlwmohawk (801821) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @04:04PM (#26079941)

    Cisco is being REALLY REALLY stupid here and I just don't understand why.

    I've done a lot of commercial software that uses LGPL and GPL code, and its not rocket science. RMS himself even says that "mere aggregation" is not a problem.

    Here are the rules:

    if its LGPL, link to it, but don't modify it. If you need to modify it, make the modification in the form of a generic API extension and call it from the application. Make your extensions public.

    If it is GPL, make it a service and call it through a socket.

    If it is a kernel module, there seems to be some wiggle room there, otherwise make a public mini-driver and a proprietary user space app.

    How hard is that? Jeez, if you screw up GPL compliance, you are not paying attention.

  • by SnarfQuest (469614) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @04:57PM (#26080985)

    Get the name right. It's Gnu/Cisco.

  • by bug1 (96678) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:03PM (#26083175)
    If FSF forces them into compliance without cisco feeling some pain or regret then i suspect they wont hesitate to repeat their deeds.

    I understand FSF wants to be the good guys,they have principles and ethics, but Cisco is fighting from a different rulebook, one where the winner is the one with the most money, not the highest morals.

    The only way Cisco and other similar companies will accept defeat is you beat them on their own turf, playing by their own rules. That means take their money, as much as you can get.
    • But just enough to pay for the litigation hassle. Judges (usually) pay close attention to the level of courtesy and maturity shown by the litigants prior to filing the suit. By bending over backwards being nice and trying to work things out, FSF has set themselves on the moral high ground, which (usually) pays back big time in the judge's decision.

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