Great news from Munich.
Harald Welte, one of the copyright holders of important parts of GNU/Linux distributions (such as NetFilter/Iptables), has sued Skype for violation of the licensing conditions of his software. That is to say, for violation of the GNU GPL. With the assistance of the German Free Software expert lawyer Dr. Till Jaeger, he won a lower court proceedings recognising the GNU GPL fully enforceable. Skype was not at all convinced and appealed to a superior court in Munich. Today the hearing. The judges have made it clear that chances to win the appeal were so slim that Skype lawyers decided to fold and waived the appeal.
It would appear that the opinion of the judges is that either you have a valid license, or you should refrain at all to distribute the software. So any argument against the validity of the GNU GPL as an enforceable agreement have no merit, because if the clause is null, all what you have is the copyright exclusive rights on the copyright holder.
A quick recount of what has happened can be found at http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20080508212535665. Harald Welte says there:
“The court hearing in the “Welte vs. Skype Technologies SA” case went pretty well. Initially the court again suggested that the two parties might reach some form of amicable agreement. We indicated that this has been discussed before and we're not interested in settling for anything less than full GPL compliance.
The various arguments by Skype supporting their claim that the GPL is violating German anti-trust legislation as well as further claims aiming at the GPL being invalid or incompatible with German legislation were not further analyzed by the court. The court stated that there was not enough arguments and material brought forward by Skype to support such a claim. And even if there was some truth to that, then Skype would not be able to still claim usage rights under that very same license.
The lawyer representing Skype still continued to argue for a bit into that direction, which resulted one of the judges making up an interesting analogy of something like: “If a publisher wants to publish a book of an author that wants his book only to be published in a green envelope, then that might seem odd to you, but still you will have to do it as long as you want to publish the book and have no other agreement in place”.
In the end, the court hinted twice that if it was to judge about the case, Skype would not have very high chances. After a short break, Skype decided to revoke their appeals case and accept the previous judgement of the lower court (Landgericht Muenchen I, the decision was in my favor) as the final judgement. This means that the previous court decision is legally binding to Skype, and we have successfully won what has probably been the most lengthy and time consuming case so far.”
Harald Welte is at the head of GPLviolations, a non profit organization dedicated to the enforcement of the rights of the GPL copyiright holders. He and Dr. Jaeger are active parts of an informal legal forum organized by the Freedom Task Force of the FSFE to discuss on issues pertaining Free Software licensing with also representatives of large industries on a neutral field. Dr. Jaeger is one of the recommended lawyers for legal work related to Free Software by the FTF.