Push Comes to Shove Comes to Whack-A-Mole: FSF Suit Against Cisco

by Ostatic Staff - Dec. 11, 2008

On previous occasions it's been mentioned that it takes very specific behaviors for the Free Software Foundation to file suit against a company for violating the GNU GPL license.

Today, the FSF let Cisco Systems know in no uncertain terms that line had been crossed. The complaint centers on the Linksys brand routers, and the firmware used on those products.

Brett Smith, the licensing compliance engineer at the FSF said that in 2003, the FSF was notified that the Linksys WRT54G used GPL/LGPL licensed code in its firmware, but customers weren't getting the source code that these licenses required Cisco supply. He said that initially, Cisco seemed willing to work with the FSF to put procedures in place so that its products -- at the time, and in the future -- would comply with the license terms the firmware used.

Over the course of five years, a compliance plan never materialized. As the FSF investigated the Linksys WRT54G complaint, it was receiving license violation reports regarding other Cisco products. Smith says that new issues were being brought up before the older ones could be addressed, resulting in "...a five-years-running game of Whack-A-Mole."

Though the Linksys site does offer source code (according to the FSF, a somewhat more than cursory site search isn't turning up any results for me), the code is reportedly out of date or incomplete. Many Cisco customers report that formal written requests for source code (searching the Linksys site for source code did yield technical support contact information) frequently remain unaddressed.

FSF's complaint against Cisco was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York this morning by the Software Freedom Law Center (which will be representing the FSF in this case). A copy of the complaint (including a list of the code involved) is available in PDF format on the FSF website.