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Skype alleged to have violated the GPL

Jul 27, 2007 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive

[Updated July 28] — A fast-spreading story out of Europe asserts that a German court has found Skype to have violated the GPL. The problem reportedly resulted from the way Skype “distributed” GPL-licensed source code in connection with a Linux-powered VoIP handset sold on its website.

Numerous reports on the Web appear to emanate from a single source, a July 24 posting by Dr. Julia Kueng on the website of the Institute for Legal Questions on Free and Open Source.

Acording to Dr. Kueng's posting, Germany-based Gpl-violations.org, a group headed by software developer Harald Welte, whose mission is to actively enforce the GNU GPL (GNU General Public License), has recently prevailed in a lawsuit it brought against Skype for an alleged violation of the GPL. Oddly, the group's website currently says nothing about the case, nor does Welte's blog.

The website of Gpl-violations.org notes that the group's actions against alleged violators rarely end up in court. “By June 2006, the project has hit the magic '100 cases finished' mark, at an exciting equal '100% legal success' mark,” Welte states. “Every GPL infringement that we started to enforce was resolved in a legal success, either in-court or out of court.” The September, 2006 verdict against D-Link is the latest case listed in the site's news area. Welte, who was the plaintiff in that case, was awarded a token amount.

In the Skype case, the violation reportedly involves the manner in which Skype distributed a third-party product, a VoIP handset with an embedded Linux kernel and supplied by SMC Networks as model WSKP100 (depicted on the right). The suit reportedly alleged that Skype failed to supply a copy both of the source code and of the GPL license itself — as required by the GPL — along with the handset to its purchasers.

SMC Networks reportedly is the target of a second, related case that remains to be decided.

Skype reportedly defended itself against the suit by noting that URLs provided within the handsets' documentation pointed customers to where they could download both the GPL and the relevant source code. If Dr. Kueng's report of the German court's decision is accurate, the court did not agree with the sufficiency of this defense, finding Skype to be in violation of requirements stated in section 3 of the GPL.

Although the substance of the alleged violation appears minor, the verdict could influence corporate behavior related to the GPL, especially in Europe where the decision of a regional court in an EU member state, if it stands, establishes a form of international case law that may be employed against other alleged violators.

Nothing about the alleged lawsuit was found on either SMC's or Skype's websites. Further details regarding the alleged court proceedings are available in Dr. Kueng's posting at ifrOSS.org, entitled “Neuerliche gerichtliche Durchsetzung der GNU GPL” (in German). There is no word on whether the decision will be appealed.

Inquiries by LinuxDevices to Skype, SMC Networks, Welte, and Dr. Kueng regarding the alleged lawsuit and associated court proceedings had not been returned by publication time.


 
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