Bruce Perens

Statement on Busybox Lawsuits

2009-12-15 17:02:17 UTC

Statement on Busybox Lawsuits

Bruce Perens

I am the creator of the Busybox program which is currently subject to lawsuits brought by Mr. Erik Andersen and the Software Freedom Law Center, and which was subject to previous suits brought by SFLC, Mr. Andersen and Mr. Robert Landley.

First, I'd like to point out that I'm not represented in these lawsuits, and that the parties and the Software Freedom Law Center have never attempted to contact me with regard to them. As far as I am aware, and under advice of various attorneys, I still hold an interest in Busybox through both content and compilation copyrights. As present Busybox development is a direct continuation of my original work on the project, much of the current code base is a derivative work of my copyrighted code.

The basic claim of the lawsuits is that the GPL license terms must be followed by all parties that distribute works containing GPL software. I support this claim. The GPL terms are simple and are complied with by many companies. For example, see the distribution of source code by SONY at . This straightforward distribution of the source code embedded in hundreds of their television models and other products doesn't appear to cause them any hardship.

Busybox does not endanger the proprietary software of any company that makes the most trivial effort to comply with its license. Such software need only be placed in a separate executable file from Busybox, and will thus be insulated from any license obligations of Busybox. These companies are obligated to distribute the Busybox source code, not their own source code, and to provide the Busybox license statement where appropriate. Thus, companies don't fall out of compliance with the GPL license on the busybox software unless they fail to exercise the slightest bit of due diligence, and then fail to respond appropriately when contacted by copyright holders who seek to remedy the situation. It is only after protracted failure to respond that non-compliant parties are pursued for damages.

In short, nobody violates the Busybox license (or indeed any Free Software license) for a smart reason.

Unfortunately, all of this is confusing my strategic consulting customers. Thus, I will offer them a waiver of my interest where appropriate. I will also offer a waiver to those companies that use my assistance in coming in to compliance with the Busybox license, at my usual consulting rate for that assistance rather than "damages" related to my copyright, regardless of their past or present infringement.

I  have some complaints regarding Mr. Andersen, Mr. Landley, and the Software Freedom Law Center.

SFLC, which is supposed to represent Free Software developers without charge and without prejudice, seems to have been selective in which of the Busybox developers it chooses to represent, and has in the past been either guarded or hostile in its correspondence when contacted by other developers of the Busybox program.

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.

Much as other Busybox developers wish to support the general cause of getting companies to comply with simple Free Software Licenses, some of the other developers and I are becoming annoyed with Mr. Andersen and Mr. Landley's apparent violation of our own rights, and SFLC's treatment of our interest. We have held off, to date, to avoid confusing issues, but our patience is limited.

Bruce Perens

Edit Table of Contents Valid XHTML 1.0 Strict Valid CSS! Valid RSS