Vizio said it would face contractual claims • The Register
The Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) has won a significant legal victory in its ongoing effort to force Vizio to release the source code for its SmartCast TV software, which would contain components licensed under copyleft GPLv2 and LGPLv2.1.
SFC sued Vizio, claiming it was in breach of contract by failing to abide by the terms of the GPLv2 and LGPLv2.1 licenses which require source code to be made public when certain conditions are met, and sought declaratory judgment on behalf of from Vizio TV owners. SFC wanted its breach of contract arguments to be heard in the Superior Court of Orange County in California, although Vizio referred the case to the Central California District Court level where it hoped to avoid the contract issue. and defend his corner using only the federal government. copyright.
On Friday, Federal District Judge Josephine Staton sided with the SFC and granted its motion to move its lawsuit to superior court. To do so, Judge Staton had to decide whether or not federal copyright law preempted the SFC’s breach of contract claims; in the end, she decided not to.
“Vizio ‘remitted’ the case to federal court claiming that the GPL functions only as a copyright license, and never as a contract,” said Bradley Kuhn, policy officer at the Software Freedom Conservancy, in an e-mail to The register. “We countered that it works like both, and that the source code provision specifically gives third parties (i.e. downstream users) a contractual right to demand complete and corresponding source code (such than defined in the GPL).”
If the GPL were interpreted as only a copyright license, the SFC would have appealed, according to Kuhn, because its complaint asserts only contractual claims and not a copyright claim. Judge Staton agreed with the SFC’s arguments, concluding that the GPL functions as both a copyright license and a contract.
The additional element
Citing Versata Software, Inc. vs. Ameriprise End (2014), who recognized that the GPL imposes an “additional element” – a contractual obligation – beyond what is required by copyright law, the judge in his order [PDF] wrote: “There is an additional element to SFC’s claims because SFC asserts, as a third-party beneficiary of the GPL agreements, that it is entitled to receive source code under the terms of those agreements.”
“The decision is a watershed moment in the history of copyleft licensing,” Karen Sandler, executive director of the Software Freedom Conservancy, said in a statement. “This decision shows that GPL agreements function both as copyright licenses and as contractual agreements.”
SFC said it first contacted Vizio in August 2018, asking it to release the source code for its SmartCast platform, which relies on the Linux kernel, alsa-utils, GNU bash, GNU awk, bluez , BusyBox and various other software applications, libraries and frameworks released under the GPLv2 and LGPLv2.1 licenses.
Vizio responded in January 2019 by providing SFC with what it claimed was the complete source code for its smart TV software. But, according to the SFC, Vizio did not include all the files and scripts needed to compile the software into executable form.
This back and forth went on for two years until the SFC finally sued Vizio. [PDF] in October 2021. The complaint argues that providing the source code to the public is important for software developers to implement improvements, such as privacy protections, which Vizio is unlikely to implement because it benefits from collecting user data.
“If Vizio had produced the source code for the Linux kernel, other SmartCast programs at issue, and library linking programs, as used on Vizio smart TVs, a community of software developers would have had the opportunity to modify them to protect user privacy or improve accessibility,” the complaint states.
“That remains true today, and this consumer need for privacy and accessibility will be even more important in the future, as consumers become more integrated and dependent on computers and other interconnected ‘smart’ devices for their daily lives. “
In 2017, Vizio agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle charges brought by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission that it collected viewing data from 11 million of its televisions without their knowledge or consent. people’s consent.
Kuhn said the SFC sued Vizio to create alternative firmware for Vizio TVs and to exercise the right to repair and improve its own devices.
“At the end of the day, most televisions on the market today aren’t really televisions: they’re computers hooked up to a big screen,” he said. “We want to use the computers we bought to do interesting things that are different from what the original TV maker (in this case, Vizio) intended.”
“We also want the right to repair the software on our devices,” Kuhn continued. “The GPL and LGPL give us the right to do that, but when Vizio violated those licenses, they took away our rights. This case is about asking the court to enforce our rights and demand that Vizio complies with the specific contractual terms of the GPL./LGPL which are central to these rights.”
The Vizio case is not over. With the lawsuit returned to Superior Court, SFC must still prevail in its claim for breach of contract under the GPL. But the possibility of derailing the claim through preemption of copyright law has now been settled, thanks to Vizio’s bet to force the case in federal court.
“Normally, this kind of issue would be appealed after a trial in state court,” Kuhn said.
Vizio did not respond to a request for comment.
Along with its 2022 first quarter financial report, Vizio does not mention the SFC lawsuit in the “legal matters” section of its 10-Q filing with the United States Securities & Exchange Commission. But the company’s filing acknowledges that using free and open-source software poses a potential business risk.
“Certain of our consumer devices contain ‘open source‘ software and failure to comply with the terms of one or more of these open source licenses could adversely impact our business,” said the latest 10-Q filing from the society. [PDF] declared.
Sandler via email said the impact of the judge’s ruling is that companies making products that incorporate copyleft software will no longer be able to ignore customer source code requests.
“It is the purchasers of devices, the downstream users, who are aware of the violations and they are the ones who intend to use the source code as intended by the GPL,” Sandler said.
“Today, unless a copyright holder is committed to these requests (or someone who can make a lot of noise in the press), many companies simply ignore the requests they receive for source code. This frustrates the very thing the GPL is designed to address.” ®