German router maker AVM has brought a copyright case against a third party software maker, which critics say is an attack on the principles of free software.
AVM wants to stop Cybits, a maker of web-filtering software designed to protect children, from changing the software on the AVM Fritz!Box routers. However, Cybits and free software advocates want the case thrown out because the routers use Linux software released under the GNU General Public Licence (GPL) which gives usesr the right to alter and distribute the code.
“AVM’s action is “a broad attack against the principles of Free Software, and thus against the thousands of individuals and companies developinging, improving and distributing Free Software,” according to a release by the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE).
AVM applied for a preliminary injunction – a legal “quick fix” – and programmer Harald Welte, a free software supporter who contributed to the Linux kernel, joined as an “intervener”, a status the German court allowed as his code was involved.
“I decided to contribute my work to the Linux kernel under the GNU GPL, and let others benefit from it,” said Welte, who is also founder of the GPL policing site gpl-violations.org. “I’m happy if companies make a lot of money with software written by me and thousands of others. But in return, when they distribute our software I want them to give others the same rights they received from me.”
The Court of Appeals in Berlin rejected AVM’s case in September 2010, and it has now been passed to the District Court of Berlin.
AVM originlly argued that the whole of its software was a work under its copyright – but Welte said that this would make the whole thing subject to the GPL free software licence, as it derives from GPL components.
AVM then argued that it had copyright over the components it made – and Welte pointed out that its action would prevent Cybits from distributing changes to the GPL-licensed parts.
“Let’s hope the German judges see through this ploy – and realise just what is at stake here,” warns open source commentator Glyn Moody. ” The current case is nothing less than an attempt to remove what is a key guarantee for the sustainability of the free software movement. If AVM win, the danger is that the whole legal underpinnings of free software may be seriously compromised.”
Finally, AVM argued that it had produced a “composite”, saying that because the GPL code is in a compilation of other elements, AVM has copyright in the compisite, which over-rides the GPL’s specification for how copyright should be handled for GPL code.
“Let’s hope the German judges see through this ploy – and realise just what is at stake here,” said open source commentator Glyn Moody.” The current case is nothing less than an attempt to remove what is a key guarantee for the sustainability of the free software movement. If AVM win, the danger is that the whole legal underpinnings of free software may be seriously compromised.”
AVM has not yet responded to enquiries s from eWEEK Erope.