In Loki We Trust The many projects of Lokkju, Inc

26Aug/101

A Question of legal standing: Perhaps end users can sue for GPL violations?

A question of legal standing: I take for granted that generally, only a copyright holder has the right to sue over a GPL licence/copyright violation. Assuming that to be true, most people do not have legal standing to go after a licence/copyright violator.

But what if instead of suing for licence/copyright violations, you sued for (willful or not) fraud? As an example, lets say you had bought a "device" that was made by Acme, Inc. By whatever means, you discover that the device came with GPL licensed binaries: Linux, busybox, and mtd.
You look, but can't find an offer of source, or even a recognition of the GPL licensed software on the device.

You have now purchased a device running software that Acme had no right to sell - in essence, they sold you stolen property. Also, without that software, the device is useless. Do you have standing to sue for fraud? or something else? or do you still have no standing?

As a bonus, if you have standing, are you only eligible for reimbursement, or might you get punitive damages? Also, could you do this in small claims court?

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  1. Something like this worked in some French GPL enforcement. See http://fsffrance.org/news/article2009-09-22.en.html

    However, in that case, there was a specific contract in place for development efforts, and the contractor failed to disclose the work was based on GPL’d software.

    I have some doubt this fraud idea would function for a regular consumer device bought on the open market, but it’s certainly worth a try. The first step would be to find an interested lawyer who specializes in consumer fraud cases, explain how the GPL works to them, and see if they think it could work.


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