GPL violator settles legal dispute

GPL violator settles legal dispute

US still waiting for first GPL case to come before a jury

Monsoon Mutlimedia has settled the first US lawsuit over the General Public Licence (GPL).

The Software Freedom Law Center in September filed legal charges against the consumer electronics vendor over accusations that it violated the terms of the GPL in its products.

The settlement includes an undisclosed financial payment by Monsoon. The company also agreed to appoint a chief compliance officer who will monitor and ensure future compliance with the GPL.

Monsoon in September announced its intention to comply with the GPL, but the case wasn't legally settled until now.

The SFLC offers legal aid to developers and users of open source software. The group filed its legal claim on behalf of the two principal developers of the BusyBox application, a set of utilities that are published under the GPL.

Monsoon distributed the BusyBox software with some of its consumer devices, but refused to publish its source code as required by the licence.

"We are happy to put this behind us and move forward," Monsoon chief operating officer Graham Radstone said in a statement. "We will ensure that we are in compliance with the agreement in the future."

Commercial vendors in the past have repeatedly violated the terms of the GPL by refraining from publishing the source code. Most cases are blamed to a lack of oversight, for instance when a subcontractor includes GPL with the vendor's knowledge.

The open source license has repeatedly been enforced in courts outside the US. But the Monsoon case marked the first time that GPL developers asked a US court to enforce the licence.

The case could have provided a valuable clarification on the legal status of open source software because it lacks a clear legal status. The SFLC argues the GPL constitutes a copyright agreement, but a second view regards the licence as a contract.

The status of the license is pivotal to the legal remedy for a potential violation. A copyright violation typically leads to an injunction that prevents the violating party further distributing its products. A breach of contract typically leads to monetary damages.