A French court decision earlier this month means that a law suit against the open source software hub, SourceForge, and three peer-to-peer sites including Vuze, can go ahead. If anything signals that graduated response and "co-operation" measures represent an attack on the Internet industry, this could be it.


A Paris court has decided that US-based owners of Internet services can be sued in France under French law, according to a report on the French news site Liberation . The ruling applies to case filed by the French music producers association, the SPPF (Societe de producteurs de phonogrammes francaises) in June  2007. The case was filed against three  US-based organisations - Sourceforge, Vuze, Morpheus -  and Limewire was added at the end of 2007. 

The SPPF accused them of copyright infringement, after having obtained evidence via

the French company Advestigo, that files were being exchanged illegally via their Internet sites. The SPPF was relying on the so-called Vivendi amendment to the French copyright law ( known as the DADVSI. The amendment states that anyone publicly  setting up and making available software or other technical means to permit the unauthorised copying of works, could be fined up to 300,000 Euro or sent to prison for 3 years. The SPPF is demanding 16 million Euro in compensation from Vuze, and 3.7 million Euro from Morpheus. The case had been blocked, pending the court decision on jurisdiction. It seems it can now be pursued.


 The case is concerning, because Sourceforge is the hub for open source software and it is a place where many small businesses can obtain software that they otherwise could not afford - software which enables them to trade on the web and grow their revenues. It is a vital part of the software industry, and notable that even the software industry's own anti-piracy organisation, the BSA, is not going after open source. Indeed, one of its members, IBM, has invested one billion dollars in the open source operating system Linux.   There is a symbiotic relationship between open source and commercial software, which is essential for the ongoing health of the industry. A threat of this kind stands to be detrimental to the economics of the industry. 


Further, Vuze recently won a decision in its favour from the Federal Communications Commission in the US, which ordered the ISP Comcast  to cease throttling peer-to-peer activity. Vuze is actively working to get licencing agreements from content providers. 


It is of concern that the French music industry sees fit to sue these two particular organisations, and if this is indicative of the type of action that is envisaged under "co-operation" agreements in the Telecoms Package, then Europe should be worried.   


Update: 14 November 2008. Due to the large number of clicks on this article, I've done some digging in respect of why Sourceforge would be subject to a lawsuit of this nature.

The case is in fact against Sourceforge/Shareaza. Shareaza is one particular Sourceforge project, for the open source development of a peer-to-peer client - that is, software for end-users.  It is managed by volunteer project leaders and developers in Europe, Australia and the US.

 There is a history of action by the music industry against this project, which I am trying to piece together. It seems that the domain name shareaza.com was misappropriated on 19 December 2007, by Discordia Ltd,   a shell company funded by the recorded music  industry. The domain name was handed over to a company called iMesh Inc, a New-York based company with servers in Israel, for commercial exploitation. iMesh claims to be a legal peer-to-peer service.   

One 10 January 2008, Discordia Ltd filed a trade-mark registration for the Shareaza name. This action is being contested by the Shareaza development team, who have set up a legal support fund. The Development Team allege in an open letter that a member of their group was threatened,  bullied and intimidated to hand over the domain. 


There is another allegation, published on the German technology website  Heise, that the SPPF forced the previous owner, Jonathan Nilson, to sell the domain. Should this allegation be proved to be true, it does raise questions about the true motives of the SPPF action in the Paris courts. 

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This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2008)  Music producers get green light to sue Sourceforge, Vuze , http://www.iptegrity.com 12 November 2008