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Free Software Foundation Files Suit Against Cisco For GPL Violations

by Matt Lee Contributions Published on Dec 11, 2008 11:59 AM

BOSTON, Massachusetts, USA -- Thursday, December 11, 2008 -- The Free Software Foundation (FSF) today announced that it has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Cisco. The FSF's complaint alleges 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.

Most of these programs are licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL), and the rest are under the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL). Both these licenses encourage everyone, including companies like Cisco, to modify the software as they see fit and then share it with others, under certain conditions. One of those conditions says that anyone who redistributes the software must also provide their recipients with the source code to that program. The FSF has documented many instances where Cisco has distributed licensed software but failed to provide its customers with the corresponding source code.

"Our licenses are designed to ensure that everyone who uses the software can change it," said Richard Stallman, president and founder of the FSF. "In order to exercise that right, people need the source code, and that's why our licenses require distributors to provide it. We are enforcing our licenses to protect the rights that everyone should have with all software: to use it, share it, and modify it as they see fit."

"We began working with Cisco in 2003 to help them establish a process for complying with our software licenses, and the initial changes were very promising," explained Brett Smith, licensing compliance engineer at the FSF. "Unfortunately, they never put in the effort that was necessary to finish the process, and now five years later we have still not seen a plan for compliance. As a result, we believe that legal action is the best way to restore the rights we grant to all users of our software."

"Free software developers entrust their copyrights to the FSF so we can make sure that their work is always redistributed in ways that respect user freedom," said 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. But at the end of the day, we're also willing to take the legal action necessary to ensure users have the rights that our licenses guarantee."

The complaint was filed this morning in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York by the Software Freedom Law Center, which is providing representation to the FSF in this case. The case is number 08-CV-10764 and will be heard by Judge Paul G. Gardephe. A copy of the complaint is available on the FSF web site.

About the FSF

The Free Software Foundation, founded in 1985, is dedicated to promoting computer users' right to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs. The FSF promotes the development and use of free (as in freedom) software -- particularly the GNU operating system and its GNU/Linux variants -- and free documentation for free software. The FSF also helps to spread awareness of the ethical and political issues of freedom in the use of software, and its Web sites, located at fsf.org and gnu.org, are an important source of information about GNU/Linux. Donations to support the FSF's work can be made at http://donate.fsf.org. Its headquarters are in Boston, MA, USA.

About the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL)

The GNU General Public License (GPL) is a license for software. When a program is released under its terms, every user will have the freedom to share and change it, no matter how they get it. The GPL is the most popular free software license in the world, used by almost three quarters of all free software packages. The FSF recently updated the license to address new concerns in the free software community; version 3 of the GPL (GPLv3) was released on June 29, 2007.

About the GNU Operating System and Linux

Richard Stallman announced in September 1983 the plan to develop a free software Unix-like operating system called GNU. GNU is the only operating system developed specifically for the sake of users' freedom. See http://www.gnu.org/gnu/the-gnu-project.html.

In 1992, the essential components of GNU were complete, except for one, the kernel. When in 1992 the kernel Linux was re-released under the GNU GPL, making it free software, the combination of GNU and Linux formed a complete free operating system, which made it possible for the first time to run a PC without non-free software. This combination is the GNU/Linux system. For more explanation, see http://www.gnu.org/gnu/gnu-linux-faq.html.

Media Contacts

Brett Smith
Licensing Compliance Engineer
Free Software Foundation
+1 (617) 542 5942 x18
brett@fsf.org

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