Press

Court rejects AVM´s claims opposing third party modifications of GPL software

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On November 8th the Regional Court of Berlin [Landgericht Berlin] issued its decision in the previously reported case AVM Computersysteme Vertriebs GmbH (AVM) v. Cybits AG (Cybits). In this case, AVM was essentially trying to stop Cybits from modifying GNU GPL licensed Free Software inside of their AVM Fritz!Box products. Yesterday, the court dismissed this principal claim. Thus, it also confirmed that users of embedded devices with pre-installed Free Software have the legal freedom to make, install, run and distribute modifications to this Free Software. The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) and gpl-violations.org, both welcome this decision.

Although the written reasoning of the decision is not available yet, it is clear that the court rejected AVM's claims according to which no third party shall be permitted to alter their products' firmware, even if the GNU GPL components are concerned. Thus, Cybits or anyone else may perform such modifications. Furthermore, under the judgement, Cybits is not prohibited from distributing its software that assists users in making and installing modifications to GNU GPL licensed software (Linux kernel used in the Fritz!Box device).

"I am extremely pleased that the court turned down any request by AVM to control any modification to the GNU GPL licensed components of the Fritz!Box firmware. Enabling and encouraging everyone to innovate based on existing software and products is a key aspect of the Free Software movement.", says Harald Welte, founder of gpl-violations.org and third party intervener on behalf of Cybits in the dispute.

On the other hand, the court upheld an auxiliary claim raised by AVM. In its ruling, it enjoins Cybits from distributing the software only in case it causes the web interface to display a wrong status of the internet connection and web filtering software. "But this is a side issue, the important part is: Free Software gives everybody the right to use, study, share, and improve it. Nobody should be allowed to prevent others from executing those rights", says Matthias Kirschner, FSFE's German coordinator.

The decision can be appealed by either party within one month.

FSFE and gpl-violations.org are committed to encouraging the use of Free Software by companies and developers by making licensing and compliance as easy as possible. Generally it is considerably easier to comply with Free Software licenses than with EULAs and other license agreements for non-Free software. Often it is only necessary to add a copy of the GNU GPL license text to documentation, and add an offer to provide the software source code (see FSFE's compliance tips).