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VMware Sued Over Alleged Open Source License Violations

A Linux kernel developer, Christoph Hellwig, is suing VMware in Hamburg, Germany.  The claim is alleging that the virtualization giant has not complied with the General Public License (GPL) under which the kernel is distributed.

The announcement was made by the Software Freedom Conservancy, a New York-based charity that supports open-source projects.  The group is also reported to be financially backing Hellwig's court action.

According to an FAQ being maintained by the Convservancy, Hellwig is one of most active developers of the Linux kernel.  He has contributed 279,653 lines of code to the Linux 3.19 kernel, thus ranking him 20th amongst the 1,340 developers involved in that release.  He also ranks 4th among those who have reviewed third-party source code, tirelessly corrected and commented on other developers' contributions.

To give this lawsuit a bit more flavor, the Conservancy discovered back in 2011 that VMware had failed to provide nor offer any source code for the version of BusyBox included in VMware's ESXi products (as required by BusyBox's license, GPLv2).  Conservancy started negotiations with VMware in early 2012 to seek compliance on all GPL'd components in the ESXi project.  But according to the group, progress was slow through 2012 and 2013.

In late 2012, Hellwig joined Conservancy's GPL Compliance for Linux Developers.  He assisted Conservancy in analysis of the non-compliant releases of ESXi that VMware provided.  And after studying these materials over a long period of time, it became apparent to the group that VMware's ESXi products infringed on many of Hellwig's own copyrights, due to VMware's alleged failure to comply with Linux's license, GPLv2.

During Hellwig's investigations, Conservancy was said to continue to negotiate with VMware.  But according to the group, VMware's legal counsel finally informed Conservancy in 2014 that VMware had no intention of ceasing their distribution of proprietary-licensed works derived from Hellwig's and other kernel developers' copyrights, despite the terms of GPLv2.  And the Conservancy therefore stated they had no recourse but to support Hellwig's court action.

Hellwig, who holds copyrights on portions of the Linux kernel, claims VMware combined proprietary source code licensed under the GPLv2, with their own proprietary code in the ESXi product called "vmkernel" and distributed the entire combined work without providing or offering complete, corresponding source code.  The vmkernel is an operating system that manages hardware resources such as memory, processors, storage and networking controllers.

VMware on the other hand has stated that it believes the lawsuit is without merit.  And a company spokesperson added, "VMware embraces, participates in and is committed to the open source community.  We believe we will prevail on all issues through the judicial process in Germany."

Various individuals and groups, such as the Free Software Foundation and the Samba Team, have publicly stated their support for Conservancy's and Hellwig's actions in this matter.  For more details about this case and to follow along, check out the Conservancy FAQ.

Published Monday, March 09, 2015 6:34 AM by David Marshall
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