BusyBox Author Bruce Perens on the GPL Lawsuit

Yesterday, we reported that the Software Freedom Law Center had started a lawsuit against several companies who they claim violated the GPL. The subject of the violation was BusBox, and the SFLC claims it is operating on behalf of the authors of BusyBox. Original BusyBox author Bruce Perens, however, begs to differ.

Perens claims that this lawsuit is being undertaken without his consent, even though the version of BusyBox disputed in the lawsuit is mostly his work – in other words, he holds the copyright. “First, I’d like to point out that I’m not represented in these lawsuits, and that the parties and the Software Freedom Law Center have never attempted to contact me with regard to them,” Perens says, “As far as I am aware, and under advice of various attorneys, I still hold an interest in Busybox through both content and compilation copyrights.”

The issue here is that while Perens indeed originally wrote BusyBox, several other developers have contributed code as well. Later on, maintainership of BusyBox has been handed down to other people, including Erik Anderson. In a comment on Slashdot, Perens explains what happened.

“The current suit is brought in the name of Erik Andersen. Erik worked for an embedded Linux company, now defunct, for a few years and was paid to maintain Busybox during that time,” he states, “During that time the company’s name appeared in copyright statements, and mine mostly disappeared.”

Perens claims that Anderson, the company he worked for, and Robert Landley have altered license statements and have removed copyright statements from other developers. “[They] appear to have removed some of the copyright statements of other Busybox developers, and appear to have altered license statements, in apparent violation of various laws,” Perens claims, “Mr. Landley once claimed that all of my contribution had been completely removed from the Busybox program, using a misinterpretation of Judge Walker’s methods for identifying non-literal copying to justify his claim. As far as I’m aware, he was incorrect.”

It is unclear to me what Perens refers to when he speaks of the Walker methods, but I’m assuming it has to do with Computer Associates Int. Inc. v. Altai Inc. It would certainly be appreciated if someone could correct me on this – or offer confirmation, of course. Of note is that if Anderson and Landley indeed contributed code, they are being infringed upon just as much, and are free to start a lawsuit.

Perens also doesn’t have a lot of love for the SFLC. “SFLC, which is supposed to represent Free Software developers without charge and without prejudice, seems to have been selective in which of the Busybox developers it chooses to represent, and has in the past been either guarded or hostile in its correspondence when contacted by other developers of the Busybox program,” Perens claims.

It will be interesting to see where this ends. “Much as other Busybox developers wish to support the general cause of getting companies to comply with simple Free Software Licenses, some of the other developers and I are becoming annoyed with Mr. Andersen and Mr. Landley’s apparent violation of our own rights, and SFLC’s treatment of our interest,” Perens ends his statement, “We have held off, to date, to avoid confusing issues, but our patience is limited.”


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