Linux Open Source License Allegedly Violated by VMWare

/ 5 years ago


VMWare, the virtualization software maker, is apparently facing a lawsuit for violating the GPLv2 free software license for years by using Linux and other source code in ESXi.

Christoph Hellwig, Linux kernel developer, filed the lawsuit in Hamburg, Germany, with funding from the Software Freedom Conservancy non-profit organisation which works to defend and promote free and open source software. VMWare allegedly combined their own ‘vmkernel’ with parts of the Linux code, licensed only under GPLv2.

VMWare denies the accusation, calling them “without merit”. The ESXi hypervisor is a key part of the company’s leading position in the enterprise virtualization market. VMWare is said to have made $1.7 billion in revenue and $326 million in net income in Q4 2014.

Hellwig is said to be one of the most active developers of the Linux kernels. He was the first to denounce VMWare’s misuse of the GPL-licensed code back in 2007. The Software Freedom Conservancy organisation then discovered in 2011 that VMWare failed to provide any source code for the version of BusyBox included in the ESXi package, as required by the software’s GPLv2 license.

The organisation then begun negotiations with VMWare to provide detailed compliance on all GPL licensed components in ESXi, but progress was slow through 2013. Hellwig had been working more closely with the organisation in 2012 to analyse non-compliant releases of ESXi. After an extended period of time spent analysing the material, it became apparent that VMware’s current ESXi products infringed many of Hellwig’s own copyrights, due to VMware’s failure to comply with Linux’s license, GPLv2.

“During Hellwig’s investigations, Conservancy continued to negotiate with VMware. Sadly, 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. Conservancy therefore had no recourse but to support Hellwig’s court action.”

“In addition to other ways VMware has not complied with the requirements of the GPL, Conservancy and Hellwig specifically assert that VMware has combined copyrighted Linux code, licensed under GPLv2, with their own proprietary code called ‘vmkernel’ and distributed the entire combined work without providing nor offering complete, corresponding source code for that combined work under terms of the GPLv2,” the Conservancy wrote. “Hellwig is an extensive copyright holder in the portions of Linux that VMware misappropriated and used together in a single, new work without permission.”

The Software Freedom Conservancy stated that they proceeded to take legal action only after exploring ‘every other possible alternative’ over the past few years. The organisation is said to currently seek donations to help pay for the lawsuit, which they say could take years.

Thank you Arstechnica for providing us with this information

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