Ever since the GPLv2 was released in 1991, lawyers and software professionals have analyzed its terms, blogged about them and argued about them. Interpretations of GPLv2 have evolved over the years and there is a consistent pace of enforcement actions by the Software Freedom Law Center. There have been cases interpreting the GPLv2 over the years also but mostly out of Europe. Now we have a case here in the United States that may finally provide some clarity on what it takes to comply with GPLv2.
The Ximpleware case actually started as the Versata case. In Versata v. Ameriprise, Versata licensed some software to Ameriprise that Amerirpise used in its financial services business. Ameriprise’s license included a prohibition on using the software to develop competitive products. Versata sued Ameriprise alleging that Ameriprise breached the license because it made the software available to competitors of Versata. As a defense to what started off as “run of the mill” commercial dispute between two sophisticated companies, Ameriprise claimed that Versata incorporated into its software an open source component released by Ximpleware under GPLv2, and pursuant to the terms of GPLv2, Versata was obligated to make the object code and the source code of its software available to Ameriprise. Once Ximpleware found out about the alleged non-compliance with GPLv2 (since it was now part of the public record in the Versata/Ameriprise dispute), Ximpleware then sued Versata and Ximpleware alleging a violation of GPLv2.
The case is complicated and likely will undergo much procedural maneuvering before the court will get to the substance of the case. However, a key question that the courts will likely look at is whether a violation of GPLv2 gives a plaintiff a right to a contractual remedy or a claim for copyright infringement.