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FSFE compliance workshop discovers GPL violation by FANTEC, Welte wins in court

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The Regional Court of Hamburg [Landgericht Hamburg] found FANTEC GmbH guilty of violating the GNU General Public License in their media player FANTEC 3DFHDL. In the case between Harald Welte versus FANTEC GmbH the court decided that FANTEC has to pay a penalty fee plus additional costs for the lawyers, and has to give out the exact information about their chain of distribution of the FANTEC 3DFHDL Media Player.

FANTEC was using the netfilter/iptables software (firewalling software for GNU/Linux) in one of the FANTEC 3DFHDL firmwares offered online. They distributed the firmware without complete corresponding source code as required by the GNU General Public License, version 2 (GPLv2) that governs the netfilter/iptables software. Attempts to resolve this issue failed, after which Harald Welte, one of the copyright holders of iptables, decided to go to court. The court decided that FANTEC acted negligently: they would have had to ensure to distribute the software under the conditions of the GPLv2. The court made explicit that it is insufficient for FANTEC to rely on the assurance of license compliance of their suppliers. FANTEC itself is required to ascertain that no rights of third parties are violated.

"It is great to see that the court acknowledges the fact that vendors themselves are responsible for checking their products for GNU GPL compliance. Especially FANTEC, who already had earlier issues with GNU GPL compliance, should have known better. This was just laziness," says Harald Welte, founder of and plaintiff in the case.

The GNU GPL violation was found at a "Hacking for Compliance workshop" of the Free Software Foundation Europe in May 2012 in Berlin. Several volunteers helped checking different devices for GNU GPL compliance. Afterwards the results where forwarded to and their lawyers, who followed up on it.

Although FANTEC denied at first, compliance engineers of FSFE and were able to prove that the software iptables version 1.3.7 was on the device, even though FANTEC did not include the sources for this program in the provided source code. Besides they showed that the software was compiled on another date than the offered source code, proving that the source code offered by FANTEC was outdated.

"Together with our volunteers we will continue to ensure that users receive the freedom to use, study, share, and improve the software on their products. These are the basic principles of the Free Software community, and every company distributing the software has to comply with the respective licenses. Companies obviously see the benefit in building upon Free Software, and they should stick to these basic and simple rules." says Matthias Kirschner, FSFE's German coordinator and one of the organisers of the compliance workshop.

FSFE provides some easy steps to follow to make your product GNU GPL compliant.

The court decision (DE) is available on the IFROSS site (PDF).

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