Saturday, July 28, 2007

Skype has been found guilty of violating the GNU GPL

Skype has been found guilty of violating the GNU General Public License (GPL) by a Munich, Germany regional court, a decision likely to influence the way companies approach GPL compliance in the future.

The decision found that Skype had violated the GPL by the way it distributed a voice over IP (VoIP) handset, the SMCWSKP100, which incorporates the GPL-covered Linux kernel in its firmware.

The phone is manufactured by SMC, the target of a separate case that hasn't yet been decided, but the court noted that Skype was liable to fulfill the conditions of the GPL because it sold the phone on its website.

The decision reinforces that companies must adhere to the conditions of the GPL just as with any other contract, and that "inaccuracies" aren't to be allowed, according to the court.

It also emphasizes that organizations can be held liable for GPL violations even if they are simply distributing a product and don't themselves manufacture it.

Another implication is in the fact that neither of the two companies involved is German -- Skype being based in Luxembourg and SMC in Spain. The decision shows that companies may be held liable for GPL violations in any country, even if the GPL isn't upheld in their home country.

The case was brought by, a German organization run by open source software developer Harald Welte, which aims to force companies to take the GPL seriously.
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