German court confirms ADSL router is a computer like any other

ADSL modems are PCs, ruled the Regional Court of Berlin last Tuesday, and their owners can do with it whatever they like. That includes installing software on it, says Cybits, a software maker selling applications to make Internet connections at home and at school safe for children.

The company has been fighting in court since 2010, battling with AVM, manufacturer of ADSL terminals such as the Fritz!Boxen, popular with many Europeans. AVM wants Cybits to stop modifying the Linux-based firmware that is ships with these Fritz!Boxen. In January this year, the court preliminary agreed with AVM.

In its final ruling, this Tuesday, the court apparently sided with Cybits.

“We have not yet seen the ruling, but we have heard from our lawyer that most of AVM’s claims were thrown out”, says Stefan Pattberg, Cybits’ CEO, contacted by phone. “The most important argument for us, is that the court decides that the Fritz!Box is a real computer. We may develop software for it, that owners may install and use.”

According to Pattberg, Cybit’s filter software simply updates the Linux firewall code installed by default by AVM. Next to modernising the code of ‘iptables’ and ‘netfilter’, Cybits installs a tool that allows the users to configure their firewall.

The spokesperson for AVM, Urban Bastert, wrote in an email that the court is instructing Cybits to stop its filter application from “interfering with the Fritz!Box such that erroneous displays about the Internet connection and about child protection settings appear on the Fritz!Box user interface. And that was our aim.”

The court battle turned in favour of Cybits only after the involvement of Berlin’s Harald Welte, world famous in circles of free software coders. Welte helped write the firewall code included in the Linux kernel and he also heads the GPL Violations Project, which enforces the public software licence GPL. He argues that anyone can innovate on top of the Linux code, and that if AVM tries to stop that, it itself will lose the right to distribute the Linux kernel.

[copyright 2011 Gijs Hillenius]