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Landmark German ruling

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A German court has granted an injunction for an infringement of general public licence (GPL) software.

Munich District Court granted the preliminary injunction against Sitecom Germany, in response to a request from the netfilter/iptables project.

Sitecom sells a wireless access router product which uses software developed by the netfilter project. Under the terms of the GPL, this is OK - so long as Sitecom, as redistributor, makes the full source code available too. netfilter says the company has not only failed to do this, but has also neglected to include the terms of the GPL with its products.

Lawyers acting for the netfilter/iptables project said that to the best of their knowledge, this is the first case in which a judge has ruled on the validity of the GNU GPL.

The ruling follows a series of out-of-court settlements the project has concluded with other companies. The organisers of the project argue that the terms of the GPL matter just as much as any other proprietory software license terms.

Initially, netfilter approached Sitecom with a cease and desist order, taking the matter further when Sitecom refused to sign.

Sitecom CEO Pim Schoenenberger says that it could not sign the proposed declaration, "simply because it was phrased, as presented initially to Sitecom, as an admission of guilt on Sitecom's part and that Sitecom was liable for unlimited costs. Naturally we were unable to sign that and have of course taken legal advice regarding all legal documentation in connection with this matter."

Harald Welte, chairman of the netfilter core team, said the court action should not be interpreted as a move against the commercial use of free and open source software, and sought to reassure vendors that there was no legal risk in using GPL-licensed software in products: "But vendors have to comply with the license terms, just like they would have to with any other, even proprietary software license agreement."

Sitecom has been ordered to stop distributing its product until it complies with all terms of the GNU GPL.

Schoenenberger said that all terms, conditions and requirements have now been dealt with. "Sitecom now conforms to the GNU General Public License and are now awaiting their official approval," he confirmed. ®

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