Free Software Foundation lawsuit against Cisco

As covered at lwn and other sites, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) has filed a lawsuit against Cisco. This came as a big surprise to me, but a very welcome one.

At, we had our fair share of dealing with Cisco (and particularly Linksys, a Cisco division). Never we have received any entirely satisfactory response. Sure, when you notify them of some GPL infringement, they will take some steps here and there. But in all those years, I have not seen a case where there was a thorough response. Whatever was disclosed as 'GPL source' was incomplete, didn't compile, and with the next firmware release there was again no source code for that new release. And then came the next product, sourced-in from a different OEM, and the entire process had to re-start from scratch.

Yes, they have gone and hired some engineer[s] to explicitly deal with the GPL related issues, like they have taken other steps in the right direction. But it was always superficial. Never addressing the problem at the root, i.e. have a proper in-house business process and supply chain license management to ensure the next product is not yet again a copyright infringement on GPL licensed software. It is so easy to resolve at the source, and so hard to fix later.

So the FSF's decision to take this problem to court is the most appropriate response that one can think of. A company of the size of Linksys clearly has the manpower, skill and resources - as well as the economic power on their suppliers - to once and all resolve any GPL licensing issues they might have. Not only to the bare minimum that they might think, but all the way to leave any legal grey area whatsoever. Only if there is a demonstration of a _factual_ legal risk rather than a virtual legal risk, they will get the motivation necessary to just 'stay clean' and not try to bend the license to its extremes.

So you might think "why did you (i.e. not take it to court?" For once, I only hold copyright on certain parts of the Linux kernel, and not for large amounts of code they use. Also, a number of the particularly problematic products were not shipped into the German jurisdiction, and thus a case could not be made over here. Furthermore, many of the violations are not as clear black or white as most of the other cases that we take on. So the amount of work and resources required in such a case would probably draw away too much attention from all the other cases that we have.

But once again, I really welcome the FSF's action. It's funny how the historic cycle closes. Originally I started because I thought the FSF strategy was not aggressive/efficient enough in making Linksys/Cisco GPL compliant in the infamous WRT54G case five years ago. Now, it seems that even the tolerance and patience of the FSF has found an end.

Oh, and don't get me wrong: I never wanted to criticize the FSF for what they did back then. They had and have their own strategy of what they think about their own copyright. It's just that my strategy was different. It's up to every author or rights holder to decide which legal strategy fits best.