Up until now, U.S. judicial decisions commenting on the enforceability of Free and Open Source Software ("FOSS") licenses have been few and far between. What little discussion of FOSS license violations there was tended to be purely incidental to the main issues in the case. Anyone trying to predict exposure to FOSS license infringement claims in the United States was forced to extrapolate from these cases and from a 2006 German lawsuit finding the GPL enforceable. This dearth of litigation is often explained as a consequence of the FOSS community’s aversion to litigation. My own take on it was that there was no money in it. If you’re giving away your software, getting damages beyond statutory damages and attorney’s fees could prove difficult.
That’s all changed with a new federal lawsuit venued in New York, Andersen et al. v. Monsoon Multimedia Inc., No. 07-CV-08205-JES, complaint filed (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 19, 2007). The plaintiffs, Erick Anderson and Rob Lanley, are the authors of BusyBox, a GPL-licensed software application that provides some UNIX programming capabilities to scaled-down hardware, including cell phones and personal digital assistants. The defendant is accused of incorporating BusyBox into its Slingbox-like "Hava TV" television-signal streaming device. Monsoon’s actions are alleged to constitute a GPL violation because it refuses to republish its modifications to the BusyBox software.
The plaintiffs seek damages, disgorgement, attorney’s fees, and an injunction against further GPL violations.
Stay tuned for further developments.