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Enforcement of the GNU GPL in Germany and Europe

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GPL enforcement is successful in Europe. In several court decisions and out of court settlements the license conditions of the GPL have been successfully enforced. In particular, embedded systems are the main focus of such compliance activities. The article describes the practice of enforcement activities and the legal prerequisites under the application of German law.

B. Information about GPL violations

One might think that the detection of GPL violations in proprietary products is difficult or almost impossible, when no source code is at hand or the software is even hidden in an embedded system. In reality, however, there are many different ways to get the necessary information to prove the use of GPL-licensed software.[4] To quote an easy example: On a recent flight, when the entertainment system in the seat in front of me booted, I was surprised to see the typical boot information of the Linux kernel, including a copyright notice of one of my clients.

But GPL violations are not restricted to the Linux kernel. Once, another client of mine was contacted by a customer of a proprietary product asking for support. Thus, my client learned that a header file written by him was made available on the vendor’s website, and that the latter shipped his proprietary product without any information about the fact that the software was licensed under the GPL.

Many violations concern embedded systems.

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