German Court convicted Skype of violating the GPL

German district court Munich has convicted Skype of violating the GPL. One of the VoIP telephones sold by Skype run Linux, but the GPL text was not handed out together with the phone, although the GPL requires that.

The telephone is actually build and delivered by SMC Networks. But without the GPL text. Harald Welte, the founder of who helds copyright in parts of the Linux kernel, asked the company to correct that problem, but they only included a sheet of paper with a set of links, and that isn’t enough.

Hence Harald Welte took legal action with the help of the German Institut für Rechtsfragen der Freien und Open Source Software (roughly translated Institute for questions of law in case of Free and Open Source Software) – and won the process (German only). Skype now has to deliver the licence text with each telephone.
The court also ruled that providing the source code online only is only sufficient if the product is delivered online as well. In cases of hardware which includes the software the source code must be provided in other ways as well (unfortunately the sources are not clear in which ways).

For Germany this process is interesting because it shows (again) that the GPL is bullet proofed for German courts. You have to obey to the licence terms – and the other way around you can also rely that the licence will work in front of a court.
While the GPL was already verified in Germany in case of other lawsuits this time was the first time that a foreign country was convicted of violating the GPL. This shows that you can fight for your rights within the GPL even against foreing companies in front of German courts. Keep in mind that US lawsuits have the tendency to take more time (and most likely more costs) than German lawsuits!

Btw., I wonder when we will see the first GPL3 related lawsuit. And I wonder when we will see the first GPL3 patent lawsuit.

And just to make one thing clear: I’m not against SMC or Skype. Not at all. But they have to make sure that they meet the terms of the licences of the software they use. And this is true for proprietary software as well as for the GPL.

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