Ovum Comment: Companies need to play fair with the GPL

Laurent Lachal/Ovum
25 Jan 2006

BT and Cisco have both been recently denounced for failing to meet the General Public License (GPL) requirements in their respective wireless broadband router Home Hub and iPhone WIP300 products. They had not published details of all the code they were using.

Ovum senior anlayst Laurent Lachal comments:

The two companies should have known better and need to improve their internal processes to deal with GPL requirements (the GNU General Public Licence - GNU GPL or simply GPL is the most widely-used license amongst open source projects). This is particularly the case with Cisco, which had already been linked with GPL violation in the past. On the other hand, it is good to see how quickly they both reacted and how keen they were to get themselves fully compliant (although apparently Cisco was unofficially alerted back in October but only reacted this month after the person who found the problem decided to go public - angry not at Cisco's lack of responsiveness but at its legal challenge of Apple over the use of the 'iPhone' name). BT made some of its code (but not all according to the Freedom Taskforce) available. Cisco is likely to do so soon, if it has not done so yet.

This will probably make BT and Cisco better open source community members. Their stumble is unlikely to harm them: those in charge of the GPL Violations project (that has so far successfully dealt with about 100 cases) are more interested in getting companies to behave themselves than in suing them (although they did successfully win a case against D-Link Germany GmbH in September 2006, which was a case that strengthened the legal status of the GPL).

As the number of companies distributing products that rely on GPLed code increases, so does the number of those that can potentially try to wriggle out of GPL requirements. However, the GPL Violation project may have limited resources, but as the number of people aware of these requirements, and therefore capable of pointing them out, increases, these companies are more likely to find themselves in the same waters as BT and Cisco. This story offers a good opportunity to try and understand the consequences of using the GPL in products that are commercialized (the code publication requirements of the GPL do not apply to code used internally) and to think twice before ignoring GPL requirements.

Laurent Lachal is currently in charge of Ovum's open source research practice

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