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Appeal Moving Forward in GPL Compliance Suit Against VMware

Conservancy Remains Steadfast on Community Driven Compliance

November 29, 2018

Conservancy dedicates itself to fighting for software freedom for as long as it takes. GPL enforcement requires steadfast, unwavering diligence. Two years have passed since Christoph Hellwig announced his intention to appeal the Hamburg District Court's decision, and more than three and a half years have passed since Conservancy announced its financial support for this lawsuit. Christoph's case is in Germany against VMware for their failure to provide the complete source code of the kernel they distribute, which is covered by the GPL and based on Linux. The lower court dismissed the case as a result of evidentiary rules and likely an incomplete understanding of the documentation of the code in question. Yesterday, the German Court of Appeal held the first hearing on the appeal.

As staunch proponents of community-driven enforcement, Conservancy remains committed to supporting Hellwig's case for as long as it takes. The hearing yesterday was a tiny step in a long process toward resolving this issue, and, as we understand the situation, nothing is yet decided. As courts always do, they encouraged the parties to settle their dispute out of court. VMware could still choose to do the right thing here, admit that they did not meet the terms of the GPL and acquiesce to Christoph's request. The Courts have set a deadline of January 24, 2019 for settlement. If Christoph and VMware cannot reach a settlement by then, the Court is expected to adjudicate the appeal.

Linux's license, GPL version 2, was specifically designed to defend the rights of developers and users in this situation; the GPL forbids companies from combining their own proprietary software with GPL'd software. Conservancy discovered that Christoph's code was combined in that manner, and that Christoph's GPL'd code is an essential part of VMware's kernel. Christoph confirmed Conservancy's compliance conclusions and undertook enforcement efforts with legal representation from Till Jaeger.

VMware incorporated, into a larger proprietary work, Christoph's GPL'ed code from the Linux project. VMware continues to infringe Christoph's, as well as many individuals' and companies', Linux copyrights. Among so many, Christoph is the developer who was willing to stand up and demand that VMware stop their copyright infringement. Christoph has rightly asked that VMware fulfill its obligations and comply with the terms of the license. His tenacity in this matter is heroic and he deserves the unceasing support of the community in this matter.


Conservancy, a public charity focused on ethical technology, is home to over fifty member projects dedicated to developing and promoting free and open source software. Conservancy acts as a corporate umbrella, allowing member projects to operate as non-profit initiatives without having to manage their own corporate structure and administrative services. Conservancy is also the only charity currently pursuing enforcement of Linux's license for the public good. Please consider financially supporting our work on GPL enforcement and fiscal sponsorship today.

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