Open-source Vizio lawsuit takes an ugly turn

The Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC), a non-profit organization that promotes open-source software and defends the free software General Public License (GPL), sued major TV vendor Vizio for abusing the GPL. Specifically, Vizio is using Linux’s source code and other open-source software, such as BusyBox, U-Boot, bash, gawk, tar, Glibc, and FFmpegis, in its SmartCast OS TV firmware. These programs are protected under the GPL version 2 (GPLv2) and the Lesser GPL (LGPL).

Also: Software Freedom Conservancy sues Vizio for GPL violations

All the SFC requires is that Vizio makes this code available to the public as per its licenses. Vizio won’t hear of it.

As Bradley M. Kuhn, the SFC’s Hacker-in-Residence, and Karen M. Sandler, the SFC’s Executive Director, wrote in a recent blog post, Vizio has not released the source code. Nor has the company proposed a Complete Corresponding Source (CCS) candidate for the SFC. With the latter, the SFC could have provided Vizio with “additional feedback,” so that the SFC “could help [Vizio] get consumers who bought their TVs the source code they deserve.”

What did Vizio choose to do? The SFC leaders state:

Vizio filed a request to “remove” the case from California State Court (into US federal court), which indicates Vizio’s belief that consumers have no third-party beneficiary rights under copyleft! In other words, Vizio’s answer to this complaint is not to comply with the copyleft licenses, but instead imply that Software Freedom Conservancy — and all other purchasers of the devices who might want to assert their right under GPL and LGPL to complete corresponding source — have no right to even ask for that source code.

In other words, “Vizio’s filing implies that only copyright holders, and no one else, have a right to ask for source code under the GPL and LGPL.”

That’s not how open-source software works.

But, wait, there’s more: “Vizio has gone a disturbing step further and asked the federal United States District Court for the Central District of California to agree to the idea that not only do you as a consumer have no right to ask for source code but that Californians have no right to even ask their state courts to consider the question!”

The SFC refuses to accept this fundamental assault on the GPL and, by implication, all other open-source licenses. The SFC intends to fight back.

The organization also encourages everyone to read the case’s filings. The SFC has paid the Pacer fees and used the Recap browser plugin so that all the documents in the case are freely available to anyone via the Recap project archives.

If you’d like to help SFC with this lawsuit and their ongoing defense of free and open-source software, the non-profit urges you to become an SFC Sustainer Member.

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