Cisco admits iPhone licence violation

Cisco Systems plans to resolve a licence compliance issue regarding the use of Linux in one of its iPhones, the company wrote in a blog posting, but a researcher contends that Cisco has more work to do.

Cisco is working on fixing one problem in the WIP300 iPhone model, John Earnhardt, senior manager of global media operations for Cisco, writes on Cisco's news blog.

He says that Cisco has also investigated other issues that an open software researcher raised, but has verified that the phone complies with its licensing agreement except for the one issue.

Last week, Armijn Hemel, an open source enthusiast and consultant with Loohuis Consulting, revealed that he had reverse engineered Cisco's iPhone WIP300 and found that Cisco has not properly shared code used in the phone. The phone runs Linux and Cisco licensed the operating system under the GNU General Public Licence (GPL), requiring it to share the source code for changes to the operating system that it distributes.

Hemel spoke with Cisco in October, alerting the company to the omissions, he said. He first began publicly talking about the licensing violation last week.

When he first talked to Cisco, he did not identify the exact code that had not been shared but late last week he sent the networking giant a technical report pointing out the relevant code, he said during a phone interview on Monday. He contends that the phone has more than one issue and that he will watch for updates from Cisco. The company has not yet posted any changes or additions to the code it has already shared, he says.

The relevant code does not enable any type of radically interesting technology, Hemel adds, so it is possible that Cisco, like many other companies and individuals, simply failed to notice that it had not shared the code. Sifting through code to ensure that it is properly shared can be a tedious and expensive proposition, Hemel says.

The incident points to larger issues in the open source community. Many GPL licensees fail to appropriately adhere to the terms of the agreement, sometimes simply because they have not implemented internal policies to ensure that they properly document and share their innovations, says Shane Coughlan, Freedom Task Force coordinator for the Free Software Foundation Europe.

One voluntary organisation, the GPL Violations Project, for which Hemel works, has successfully enforced 100 licence violations, both in and out of court.

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