In October 2021, the Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) initiated a lawsuit against Vizio, an American TV manufacturer, for shipping products with copyleft licenses but refusing to provide the source code after multiple attempts at contact since 2018.
The lawsuit is historic in its approach, because it focuses on consumer rights conferred by copyleft licenses and SFC is filing as a third-party beneficiary.
Vizio has responded by filing a request to remove the case from the California State Court and move it into US federal court. The company contends that the computer programs and source code at issue in VIZIO’s SmartCast operating system “fall within the ‘subject matter of copyright.’”
Vizio’s legal representation cited several past cases involving open source licenses that were litigated within the scope of federal copyright law:
“Although plaintiff asserts claims against VIZIO under the guise of a breach of contract claim, that claim is based solely on rights that are qualitatively equivalent to those protected by federal copyright law. It is well established that exceeding the scope of a license by violating its ‘conditions’ gives rise to a claim for copyright infringement.”
The Software Freedom Conservancy published an update on the lawsuit, speculating on Vizio’s intent based on its initial response:
Vizio filed a request to “remove” the case from California State Court (into US federal court), which indicates Vizio’s belief that consumers have no third-party beneficiary rights under copyleft. In other words, Vizio’s answer to this complaint is not to comply with the copyleft licenses, but instead imply that Software Freedom Conservancy — and all other purchasers of the devices who might want to assert their right under GPL and LGPL to complete, corresponding source — have no right to even ask for that source code.
That’s right: Vizio’s filing implies that only copyright holders, and no one else, have a right