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Cisco Hit With Open Source Lawsuit

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The Free Software Foundation (FSF), the group behind the popular GPL open source license, has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Cisco and wants an injunction against the networking giant.

The suit, filed in a federal court in New York today, alleges that Cisco's (NASDAQ: CSCO) Linksys consumer network equipment divisions violated the license terms of programs on which the FSF is the copyright holder.

Since at least May 12, 2006, Cisco has distributed to the public copies of firmware containing the FSF's programs in its products "without providing complete and corresponding source code or an offer for source code as required by the Licenses," the complaint charged. It listed 13 Linksys products as offenders, including its popular wireless routers for setting up Wi-Fi networks.

The FSF complaint is asking the district court to issue an injunction that would keep Cisco from distributing the products with the alleged software violations, and for damages that would be decided by a jury. In addition, it is asking the court to make Cisco turn over any profits from the products covered by the software dispute.

Brett Smith, licensing compliance engineer at the FSF, said the FSF wants Cisco to comply with all relevant free software licenses in all their products. In addition, it asks that Cisco appoint a Free Software Compliance Officer responsible for ensuring Cisco's compliance with these licenses going forward.

In a statement, Cisco said it was disappointed by the lawsuit, saying it takes its open source software obligations and responsibilities seriously. "We are currently reviewing the issues raised in the suit but believe we are substantially in compliance. We have always worked very closely with the FSF and hope to reach a resolution agreeable to the company and the foundation."

Cisco and the FSF have been working together since 2003 to ensure licensing compliance, according to the FSF.

The Linksys History

Cisco acquired Linksys in 2003 for $500 million and with it inherited an open source problem in the Linksys WRT54G wireless "G" network router.

The issue was that the Linksys device used open source software but that Cisco did not make that same software freely available to end users, as required under the terms of open source licenses used by the underlying software.

"It's not difficult to find 'source code' on the Linksys site," according to a background document describing the suit written by the FSF's Smith. "But you only have to dig a little deeper to find the problems. Those source code downloads are often incomplete or out-of-date. Cisco also provides written offers for source, but we regularly hear about requests going unfulfilled."

In an e-mailed statement to InternetNews.com, Smith said Cisco made clear that it had no intention of fulfilling FSF's settlement requests. For example, one demand by the FSF was for Cisco to contact previous customers to inform them about license violations and offer them updated, complete source code. It didn't happen.

"We also have serious reservations about their ability to ensure that they comply with relevant free software licenses in the future," Smith noted. "Addressing these issues is every bit as important as fixing the existing violations, but in our discussions Cisco seemed uninterested in doing so."

Aside from its Linksys division, Cisco is one of the leading contributors to the Linux kernel. Cisco also is holding a $100,000 contest for Linux developers and uses the open source operating system with its AXP router module as well.

Representing the FSF is the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC), a group with a winning record of lawsuits against alleged open source license violators. In March of 2008 the SFLC settled with a supplier to Verizon, bringing the SFLC's record of winning its actions to four out of four on GPL lawsuits.