Cisco accused of violating open source licenses

Free Software Foundation, Inc. v. Cisco Systems, Inc., No. 08-10764 (S.D.N.Y., filed December 11, 2008). [Download the Complaint]

The Free Software Foundation (“FSF”) has filed a copyright infringement suit against Cisco claiming that Cisco has violated the GPL v.2 and Lesser GPL versions 2.0 and 2.1 open source licenses by distributing software without the source code. More specifically, FSF says that Cisco’s Linksys division has distributed firmware covered under these open source licenses in object code or executable form only, depriving users of the ability to modify and further distribute the source code for the programs.

No doubt FSF feels more confident in the success of its copyright infringement claims after this past summer’s decision from the Federal Circuit in Jacobsen v. Katzer. That case confirmed that the failure to abide by certain terms of an open source license can be treated as a use of the software beyond the scope of the license and therefore an infringement. The ability to seek remedies for copyright infringement and not merely breach of contract gives greater economic importance to open source licenses. Let’s hope this case gets to be litigated so that we can have some more resolution as to the contours of open source license enforceability.

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