Free Software Foundation Hauls Cisco to Court for Open Source License Violations

The Free Software Foundation filed a lawsuit against Cisco Systems on Thursday, alleging the networking giant is in violation of numerous open source licenses.

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court of Manhattan by the Boston-based nonprofit open source software group.

The FSF claims that several Cisco products violate the terms of the GNU Public License and GNU Lesser Public License. GNU is an industry term that stands for “GNU’s Not Unix.”

The Free Software Foundation has asked the court to stop Cisco from distributing the router products that violate the two licenses. The group also wants all the profits that Cisco has derived through its unlawful behavior.

Cisco officials could not be reached for comment. The San Jose, Calif.-based company’s stock was up 0.5 percent at US$17.07 in mid-day trading.

License Violations

The Free Software Foundation distributes software programs under the GNU Public License and the GNU Lesser Public License.

“These licenses are based on copyright law,” Brett Smith, license compliance engineer at the FSF, told LinuxInsider. “The person who holds the copyright has the exclusive right to distribute and modify our software. What these licenses do is permit others to do those same things under certain conditions. Some of those conditions are under dispute in the lawsuit.”

Cisco has utilized several software programs that fall under the two licenses, he said.

Here are the top three and what they do:

  • GCC — GNU Compiler Collection — compiles source code that developers write for the computer into machine code that the machine can execute directly.
  • GNU C Library — a programming tool that developers use to help their applications run on different forms of Unix-like systems.
  • GNUbinutils — a collection of programming tools developers use to build a wide variety of software applications.

“This suit is concerned with some of Cisco’s router products,” Smith said. “Over the years, Cisco has distributed the software we’ve been talking about, but they have not met the conditions set forth in the license. They haven’t been providing all of the source code they’re required to provide to their customers.”

Not a New Problem

The Free Software Foundation’s issues with Cisco go back to 2003.

“We’ve been working with Cisco about their license compliance since 2003,” Smith said. “It was initially focused on one particular product. While we were working on that, we got word that Cisco wasn’t compliant with other products.”

The foundation reached a point in the process where it wanted to talk about what Cisco would do to mitigate damage caused by the previous violations and what it was willing to do to prevent future violations, he noted. However, those discussions were not fruitful.

Smith wouldn’t say whether the foundation expects it will be able to collect all the profits generated by Cisco products that violated the two copyright laws.

“I can’t comment on case strategy,” he said, “but we want to make it very clear to Cisco that we’re very serious about license compliance.”

1 Comment

  • >Free Software Foundation Hauls Cisco to Court for Open Source License Violations

    It is called the "FREE SOFTWARE" foundation for a reason. And the GNU GPL is a FREE SOFTWARE licence

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