Bruce Perens's GPL Beef - InformationWeek

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12/16/2009
11:17 AM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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Bruce Perens's GPL Beef

Those who egregiously violate open source software licensing agreements, like the GPL, are targets for legal action that's just as vigilant as those that defend proprietary software. But the most recent round of GPL legal action comes with a curious twist.

Those who egregiously violate open source software licensing agreements, like the GPL, are targets for legal action that's just as vigilant as those that defend proprietary software. But the most recent round of GPL legal action comes with a curious twist.

First, the lawsuits. The Software Freedom Law Center has filed suit against a number of consumer electronics companies for using the BusyBox application -- a condensed set of tools used in many Linux-based devices -- without complying with the GPL. This sort of thing has happened before (here's a post from me about a previous incident), and in each case the SFLC or the copyright owners try to work with the offender to get them to fix things before resorting to legal action.

Now comes the twist. Enter Bruce Perens.

For those in the open source world, Bruce needs no introduction; he's one of the Founding Fathers of open source as we currently know it. He was also, according to a blog post he made about the above lawsuit and its ilk, the original creator of BusyBox, and is rather miffed that the current legal actions don't identify him at all as one of the aggrieved.

Bruce may no longer be one of the active developers of the program, but he insists that he still has a compilation copyright interest in the work in question -- especially the specific (earlier) versions of BusyBox named in the suit, which credits Erik Andersen and no one else as the current author.

Bruce's words:

The version 0.60.3 of Busybox upon which Mr. Andersen claims copyright registration in the lawsuits is to a great extent my own work and that of other developers. I am not party to the registration. It is not at all clear that Mr. Andersen holds a majority interest in that work.

Mr. Andersen, his past employers and Mr. Landley appear to have removed some of the copyright statements of other Busybox developers, and appear to have altered license statements, in apparent violation of various laws. Mr. Landley once claimed that all of my contribution had been completely removed from the Busybox program, using a misinterpretation of Judge Walker's methods for identifying non-literal copying to justify his claim. As far as I'm aware, he was incorrect.

I would like to believe -- me being a believer in people being mostly decent -- that the SFLC and Mr. Andersen have simply made honest omissions. Their response to this will be as telling as the responses -- or lack thereof -- of the very companies named in suits like these.

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