More background about the Cisco case
December 11, 2008
This morning the FSF filed a lawsuit against Cisco, alleging that the company has infringed our copyrights by distributing programs under the GNU GPL and LGPL without respecting the licenses' terms. You've probably seen the press release [ http://www.fsf.org/news/2008-12-cisco-suit ]; if you're especially curious, you might also want to read the complaint [ http://www.fsf.org/licensing/complaint-2008-12-11.pdf ]. Since we expect a lot of people to be interested in this case, I wanted to take a little time to explain what has happened, and why we're doing this, in plain language.
Back in 2003, we learned that the Linksys WRT54G, a popular wireless router, used a GNU/Linux system in its firmware, but customers weren't receiving all the source code they were entitled to under our licenses. You might remember that case—a lot of developers were interested in it and it was discussed in several different forums.
As we always do in violation cases, we began a process of working with Cisco to help them understand their obligations under our licenses, and how they could come into compliance. Early on it seemed likely that we could resolve the issues without any fuss.
While we were working on that case, though, new reports came in. Other Cisco products were not in full compliance either. We started talking to the company about those as well—and that's how a five-years-running game of Whack-a-Mole began. New issues were regularly discovered before we could finish addressing the old ones.
During this entire time, Cisco has never been in full compliance with our licenses. At first glance, the situation might look good. It's not difficult to find "source code" on the Linksys site. But you only have to dig a little deeper to find the problems. Those source code downloads are often incomplete or out-of-date. Cisco also provides written offers for source, but we regularly hear about requests going unfulfilled.
Despite our best efforts, Cisco seems unwilling to take the steps that are necessary to come into compliance and stay in compliance. We asked them to notify customers about previous violations and inform them about how they can now obtain complete source code; they have refused to do this, along with the other reasonable demands we have made to consider this case settled. The FSF has put in too many hours helping the company fix the numerous mistakes it's made over the years. Cisco needs to take responsibility for its own license compliance.
We've decided that the best way to resolve this situation is to file suit. It's not a decision we take lightly. A lawsuit takes resources that we would rather spend elsewhere. But first and foremost, our mission is to make sure that computer users everywhere have the right to share and change the software that they use. Cisco has been denying its customers the rights guaranteed to them by the GPL and the LGPL, and we must put an end to that.