The Software Freedom Law Center ("SFLC") has filed a second round of lawsuits to enforce the General Public License ("GPL") for BusyBox software last week. The suits were filed against two different companies: High Gain Antennas, LLC ("High Gain") and Xterasys Corporation ("Xterasys"). As in the Monsoon Media case, the suits are based on the failure to make the source code of the BusyBox software available as required under the GPL.
As I mentioned in my earlier post, the SFLC is much more willing to bring a lawsuit than in the past http://lawandlifesiliconvalley.blogspot.com/2007/11/monsoon-media-lessons-for-foss.html. In past years, SFLC stated that they were involved in up to 50 enforcement actions a year, but never filed a lawsuit. In some cases, they also appear to be moving very rapidly to file such lawsuits: the suit against High Gain was filed on November 20 after an unsatisfactory response from High Gain on November 19 (however, according to the complaint, High Gain had received notice of the requirement to provide source code in August 2006 from a third party, but the source of this notice is not made clear). On the other hand, the initial notice by the SFLC to Xterasys was on May 23, 2007 and Xterasys responded on the same day. The last contact was on May 24, 2007 when SFLC reminded Xterasys to keep them informed of the results of the investigation. However, Xterasys did not further communicate with SFLC.
SLFC consistently takes the position that the failure to comply with all of the terms of the GPL "terminates" the permission in the license and the licensee becomes a copyright infringer. However as in Jacobsen, a court might decide that the failure to provide the source code is a breach of contract (which has a different set of remedies, generally limited to monetary damages) rather than copyright infringement http://lawandlifesiliconvalley.blogspot.com/2007/08/new-open-source-legal-decision-jacobsen.html. Please note that the SFLC and the Free Software Foundation have consistently taken the position that the GPL is not a contract, but I believe that this position is difficult to defend. In any case, I believe that the Jacobsen decision is wrong and the GPL is a very different license from the Artistic License. Yet this question of remedies remains open and depends on the exact terms of the license.
The clear lesson from these suits is to respond quickly if SLFC contacts your company and try to resolve the issue promptly.