• Free Software Foundation and Cisco Settle (Quietly) Open Source Copyright Infringement Dispute
  • June 3, 2009 | Authors: Jeffrey D. Neuburger; Daryn A. Grossman
  • Law Firm: Proskauer Rose LLP - New York Office
  • Last December, the Free Software Foundation, with great fanfare, filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Cisco Systems, Inc. The complaint alleged that certain of Cisco's Linksys products contained code distributed under the open source GNU General Public License. The complaint further alleged that Cisco, by distributing the enumerated products containing GPL-licensed code, had engaged in the distribution of such code, but had failed to comply with the requirements of the GPL license by making the code available in source code form.

    The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the FSF by attorneys for the Software Freedom Law Center. The SFLC is the "enforcement arm" of the FSF, a law firm formed for the specific purpose of providing legal services for open source developers seeking to enforce the provisions of open source licenses. Prof. Eben Moglen is the chairman and one of the directors of the firm.

    This was not the first lawsuit filed by the SFLC, but it is notable in that some of the underlying code which is alleged to have been infringed was authored by none other than Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation and a first-line mover and shaker in the open source movement. According to the Copyright Office public catalog, Stallman is an author of code covered by registration No. TX 2-084-819, one of the registrations enumerated in the complaint against Cisco. The record shows that the copyright was assigned to the Free Software Foundation.

    There has as yet been no announcement of the settlement from the FSF or the SFLC, and the docket in the district court does not reveal the terms of the settlement, only an order dismissing the action with prejudice and without costs. Some past settlements of similar actions announced by the SFLC have included not only an agreement on the part of the defendant to provide the source code as required by the GNU GPL, but also an agreement to appoint an Open Source Compliance Officer to monitor compliance with GPL licenses, an agreement to undertake "substantial efforts" to notify those to whom products were distributed of their right to receive the source code, and payment of undisclosed financial consideration.