GPL coders confident their licence will fritz copyright case

“Of course we will win”, says Stefan Pattberg, CEO of Cybits, a German software maker specialised in making Internet connections at home and at school safe for children. “This court, like the one we stood before in March last year, will allow us to change and improve a Linux-based product.”

Cybit was taken before a Berlin regional court yesterday by AVM, manufacturer of ADSL terminals such as the Fritz!Boxes used by many Europeans. Pattberg: “All we did is update AVM’s Linux kernel’s firewall software, iptables and netfilter, to make it more secure, and added some of our own software.”

Using Cybit’s kit requires a firmware update, after which some of the ADSL terminal options offered in AVM’s checkbox-menu are no longer available. Cybit says it carefully explains all that to its customers.

AVM however expects the court to block such firmware updates. Spokesperson Urban Bastert wrote in an email that the company is standing up for its users: “Customers have the right to expect a functioning product. If another company makes serious changes to the Fritz!box, we can not simply acquiesce. We assume that these aspects will be taken into consideration in the court proceedings as well and that such infringements will be prohibited.”

Last year, the court first sided with AVM, threathening Cybits with a fine of up to 250,000 Euro if it continued to change the Fritz!boxen. It was only when one of Berlin’s famous free software hackers, Harald Welte, got involved that the tables turned.

Welte is one of those who wrote the iptables firewall that is included in the Linux kernel. He is also an active enforcer of the GNU Public Licence GPL through his GPL Violations project. He explained the court that AVM must allow modification and use of modified versions of GPL licensed code on their devices. That is what this licence is all about.

It resulted in the court changing its ruling in September, now ordering Cybit only to improve its firmware update, so that modified Fritz!boxen would no longer show incorrect status messages.

Welte says AVM’s claims are ‘really ridiculous’ yet also ‘extremely dangerous to free software in the embedded market’. On his blog, yesterday afternoon: “A win for AVM go way beyond AVM or the DSL router business. They go all over the embedded market, and include NAS devices, Android smartphones and e-book readers.”

Today’s session is the first round in the main court proceedings between AVM and Cybits. All parties will start submitting documents arguing their position. When the court will hear parties again, or when it will rule on the case, is not yet known.

copyright 2011 Gijs Hillenius All rights reserved