The Free Software Foundation filed suit in U.S. District Court today, alleging that networking giant Cisco violated FSF copyrights by not giving its users the ability to share and modify the open-source software it uses as the basis for some of its hardware. That's a mouthful, so here's what happened: According FSF, the company found that Cisco was using a GNU-licensed version of Linux to power its firmware. Only, Cisco wasn't giving its customers the full access to the source code that the GNU license specifies as a condition of use!
According to the FSF, the company has been working with Cisco in an attempt to repair these licensing issues since 2003, when the FSF first noticed that Cisco's WRT54G router was running Linux source code, yet offering purchasers no way to access that source code as stipulated in the accompanying GNU license. Cisco allegedly took the ball and ran with it, levying the same treatment for a wide swath of its networking products and accompanying software. That's how things got messy, and why the FSF decided to pursue legal action to protect its copyrights.
"Our licenses are designed to ensure that everyone who uses the software can change it," said Richard Stallman, president and founder of the FSF. "In order to exercise that right, people need the source code, and that's why our licenses require distributors to provide it. We are enforcing our licenses to protect the rights that everyone should have with all software: to use it, share it, and modify it as they see fit."
The complaint, which you can read for yourself, asks the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to enjoin Cisco from distributing the infringing products. FSF also seeks monetary rewards -- all the profits Cisco has made from said devices. That's an open-source nuke, if we've ever heard one! Cisco has yet to respond to the suit as of this article's writing. But if this case goes in the FSF's favor, the idea is that Cisco would have to release all of the code that it's mixed alongside the GNU-bound Linux code. At least, if Cisco intends to keep using code that falls under a GNU license, that's the way it has to work.