So the OSS Community can litigate too?

An Interesting article this week highlighted the OSS legal position.

There are many Hardware Manufacturers using OSS software in their products. This is a Good Thing.

The manufacturer gets a robust code base with good support etc and the OSS community gets the kudos of having their work put into hardware product.

The most common misconception is that because the software is free (as in both free speech and free beer), they have no legal contraints.

This is simply not so. the most common OSS licence, the GPL, allows for all and any use of the code with the very simple provisions that the Source Code must be distributed or be available with the product. This is more or less the only constraint placed on the developer.

This is why you will always get a source code CD when you buy a RedHat distro for example.

Some hardware vendors seem to be forgetting this and are assuming they get carte blanche rights to the software: ie they make the assumption that because something is free-as-in-beer they can do what they like with it.

A court case this week highlighted the issue. For the details read on or check out the original article on Groklaw. It seems that at least in Germany, the legal system is fully prepared to respect and protect the GPL.

Showing and proving that OSS software has valuewithout price is going to be absolutly critical to the sucess of OSS in the big bad world. Bravo to the netfilter/iptables team!

TurboTas 2004


BERLIN, Germany – Apr. 14, 2004 — The Munich district court granted a preliminary injuction against Sitecom Germany GmbH ( This injunctive relieve has been applied by the netfilter/iptables project (

Sitecom is offering a wireless access router product (WL-122) based on software licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL), developed by the netfilter/iptables project.

The GNU GPL is a license commonly used for many free software projects, such as the Linux Operating System Kernel. The GPL licenses software free of cost, but requires any redistributor to provide the full source code.

According to the court order, Sitecom did not fulfill the obligations imposed by the GNU General Public License covering the netfilter/iptables software. In particular, Sitecom did not make any source code offering or include the GPL license terms with their products.

Following a warning notice, Sitecom refused to sign a declaration to cease and desist. Thus, the netfilter/iptables project was compelled to ask the court for a preliminnary injuction, banning Sitecom from distributing its product, unless Sitecom complies with all obligations imposed by the GNU GPL.

“To my knowledge, this is the first case in which a judicial decision has been decreed on the applicability and the validity of the GNU GPL”, says Dr. Till Jaeger, partner of the Berlin and Munich based law firm JBB Rechtsanwaelte ( that represented the netfilter/iptables project in the litigation.

This preliminary injunction follows a series of out-of-court settlement agreements that the netfilter/iptables project has concluded within a short period of time. When asked about the reasons for the sudden rise in legal pressure for GPL compliance, Harald Welte, Chairman of the Netfilter Core Team states:

“We are not in any way opposing the commercial use of free and open source software. Specifically, there is no legal risk of using GPL licensed software in commercial products. But vendors have to comply with the license terms, just like they would have to with any other, even proprietary software license agreement.”

About the netfilter/iptables project

The netfilter/iptables project provides state-of-the-art network security software for Linux firewalling, packet filter and network address translation (NAT), distributed as Free Software under the terms of the GNU General Public License. Being part of the linux operating system kernel, the software is running on virtually every Linux installation.

For more information on the project or the software, visit

Leave a Reply