A German court held Skype responsible for having failed to meet GPL terms

By EDRi · August 1, 2007

(Dieser Artikel ist auch in deutscher Sprache verfügbar)

Following a complained filed by gpl-violations.org which holds the copyright
for parts of the Linux kernel, the Munich District Court found Skype in
infringement of the General Public Licence (GPL) terms.

Skype offered SMC WSKP100 VoIP telephone produced by the Spanish
manufacturer SMC Networks, running with Linux, without including the source
code and the GPL license text. Later on, the manufacturer included a
supplementary text to the product referring to the use of GPL software and
containing URLs to source code downloads but this was not considered good
enough. The court declared that the information was not concrete enough and
that making the source code available on the Internet was sufficient only in
the case of software sold on the Internet as well. The court held Skype
responsible considering that, after becoming aware of the violation, it
should have checked the compliance with the law.

Till Jaeger of the Institute for Legal Issues of Free and Open Source
Software (IfrOSS), having represented the plaintiff in court, considers
there were two important aspects in the court decision: one that that the
GPL terms had to be strictly followed and secondly, that a German court
found a foreign vendor guilty of having violated GPL conditions.

The non-profit project gpl-violations.org tries to bring commercial users
and vendors of Free Software into compliance with the licence conditions
established by the original authors.

“The main focus of the gpl-violations.org project is to fix problems vendors
have with shipping products that contain GNU GPL code,” stated an engineer
at the gpl-violations.org project. “We want to work with vendors to
implement long-term solutions to compliance issues. It is our wish to ensure
everyone operates according to the same terms and rules, as decided by the
authors of the code in question.”

The decision was welcomed by the Free Software Foundation Europe
(FSFE). “Adhering to the terms of the GNU GPL is not difficult, and this
case re-emphasises the importance of doing so” said Shane Coughlan, Freedom
Task Force coordinator at FSFE.

FSFE’s Freedom Task Force is also offering professional consultancy services
for businesses using Free Software in their products. “One of the purposes
of the FTF is to help companies avoid costly mistakes. Where the FTF can
help people, we will. If we don’t have the answers in-house we will help
guide people to the external information or expertise they need. The one
thing I would like to stress is that businesses should not and cannot ignore
these issues” said Shane Coughlan.

According to Mr. Jaeger, a legal action against SMC Networks is pending, the
trial being scheduled for the month of November 2007.

Skype has not yet made comments regarding the ruling, although they can
appeal the decision.

Skype found guilty of violating the terms of the GPL (26.07.07)

FSFE offers to help companies adhere to Free Software licence terms