Motorola, Acer Among Vendors Accused of GPL Violations

Motorola and Acer are among more than a dozen commercial software and appliance products vendors that have been accused of misusing software licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL). Thirteen companies received an open warning letter at the CeBIT conference in Hannover, Germany, last week.

Harold Welte, free software developer and founder of the gpl-violations.org project, a GPL watchdog association, hand-delivered the letters to the various vendors, a group that also includes AOpen, Micronet, Buffalo, X-Micro and Trendware.

Fair Warning

Welte is claiming that the companies’ products appear to have used GPL code without making the source code available to the open-source community as required in the terms of the GPL license. No legal action has been taken at this time.

“While the free and open-source community is very happy to see more and more vendors adopt Linux and other GPL-licensed software, it is of great importance that those vendors comply with the respective license conditions, just like with any other software,” Welte said. “The warning notice gives them a chance to fix their products, before someone might get them into legal troubles.”

For more than one year, the gpl-violations.org project has been trying to bring vendors who misuse GPL licensed software in their products into license compliance through various measures, ranging from warning letters to legal proceedings.

Public Pressure

The group claims its actions have resulted in more than 25 amicable agreements, two preliminary injunctions and one court order this year.

Brian Kelly, an intellectual property attorney with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, told LinuxInsider that conversations about non-compliance issues between software companies and the Free Software Foundation are not unusual. The public doesn’t typically hear about them, he says, because the issues are resolved quietly.

“What’s different about this GPL-violations site is that Welte is making the conversations more public,” Kelly said. “Apparently he seems to be trying to exert public pressure in a way that other organizations haven’t been doing so far.”

Neither Motorola nor Acer could be reached for comment.

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