is a small company which
makes its living by selling supported versions of Linux-based firmware for
a number of wireless routers. Paying subscribers can download current
versions of the firmware, which adds a number of features not normally
found on those routers. They can grab updated versions as they become
available, and participate in support forums as well.
Sveasoft's products are based on free software - Linux in particular. The
company's approach to GPL compliance has raised eyebrows for a couple of
years now. One tactic employed by the company has been to terminate
support accounts for any subscriber who further redistributes the Sveasoft
binaries or source. The GPL says that customers are entitled to that code
(for the GPL-licensed portions of Sveasoft's products, at least),
and that they have the right to pass it on to others. Sveasoft has
responded that, when this redistribution happens, it is no longer obligated to provide
future versions of the software. The company has employed various schemes
for determining which subscriber has redistributed any particular version,
and has been quite aggressive at shutting down accounts.
To some, it looks very much like Sveasoft is attempting to add restrictions
to the GPL-licensed software it uses for its products. It is, in essence,
imposing a penalty on anyone who redistributes its products. In the end,
however, challenges to this model have not gotten far, and the Free
Software Foundation has stated that Sveasoft is in compliance with the
GPL - at least, with regard to its support agreements.
It seems that the story does not stop there, however. Sveasoft makes
"pre-release" versions of its firmware available to subscribers. In
practice, it seems that these "pre-release" releases are the actual
product; the "public" releases tend to lag far behind. It also seems that
the corresponding source is not made available to anyone - not even
subscribers. Sveasoft argues that, since this is a limited, "pre-release"
distribution, it is not obligated to provide source as well. The GPL,
however, makes no exceptions for "pre-release" distribution.
The OpenWRT Project, on whose work
Sveasoft's product is based, has had enough. So, in March, the project notified Sveasoft that its OpenWRT license
was terminated due to GPL violations. From OpenWRT's point of view,
Sveasoft no longer has any rights to be distributing OpenWRT's work in any
form. Sveasoft responds that it remains in compliance with the GPL, and
that OpenWRT has improperly incorporated Sveasoft code which was never
meant to be licensed under the GPL - a charge that OpenWRT developers deny.
Since then, there has been a great deal of discussion, and Sveasoft's
proprietor has come forward with an offer
to create source tarballs on request for any subscriber who has received a
copy of the binary firmware. There is also apparently an updated source
tarball available to subscribers, though there has been no independent confirmation, yet,
that it contains all of the source it should. The OpenWRT project has not,
in any public way, rescinded its revocation of Sveasoft's license. Still,
it would appear that public pressure has helped to move things in the right
For now, at least. History suggests that Sveasoft will continue to push
the boundaries of the GPL. Recent history also suggests, however, that
Sveasoft may become less relevant in this area; by many accounts, the
fully-free alternatives - beyond OpenWRT itself - go beyond the Sveasoft
offerings in a number of ways. See this
page on LinksysInfo.org for a detailed comparison of a few projects.
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