AVM, Cybits tussle over SurfSitter, GPL

Several (German) news sites (see here, here and here) report on a dispute between AVM Computersysteme Vertiebs GmbH and Cybits AG. AVM, it seems, has been trying to stop Cybits modifying AVM's Linux-based Fritzbox firmware (a DSL terminal). If this Kat has understood the dispute correctly, it appears that Cybits’s SurfSitter DSL filter software downloads AVM-produced Fritzbox software on to a user's computer, modifies the software and afterwards re-installs it on the AVM-produced Fritzbox. SurfSitter is a child protection software program.

What makes this dispute so interesting is that part of the AVM-produced and Cybits-modified software falls under the General Public License (GPL). AVM reportedly bases its claim on copyright, trade mark law as well as unfair competition law and appears to argue, inter alia, that it holds the copyright for the overall product (Gesamtwerk), which in AVM’s own view does not fall within the scope of the GPL.

This dispute dates back to 2010, when AVM had initially obtained an interim injunction to stop distribution of Cybits' software. This case has now moved forward to full trial with Harald Welte having joined Cybits' camp in the proceedings as “intervener” (Streihelfer). Harald Welte is behind gpl-violations.org and is, according to Heise.de’s report, also supported by the Free Software Foundation Europe. Welte, who owns the copyright in part of the Linux Kernel, which is included in AVM’s as well as Cybits products, argues that AVM’s effort to prevent third parties like Cybits from distributing modified firmware violates the GPL which allows any third party to modify, recompile, re-install and run modified versions of the respective GPL licensed program (copyleft).

A hearing in this case has now taken place at the Landgericht Berlin on 21 June 2011. For more information on this case, from the view point of the Free Software Foundation Europe, click here. To read Harald Welte’s blogpost summarising with information on this case, click here. Meanwhile, if any of our readers has a link to website that explains AVM's view of the case, can he or she please let the Kat know, so that the links are not too one-sided.

UPDATE: please click here to read AVM's comment on this case (in English). As always, many thanks to readers for their comments. Once the court has handed down a decision, the Kats will of course let you know.

AVM, Cybits tussle over SurfSitter, GPL AVM, Cybits tussle over SurfSitter, GPL Reviewed by Birgit Clark on Tuesday, June 28, 2011 Rating: 5


  1. One way of addressing your fear of lack of balance is to ask AVM. Have they actually expressed a view anywhere other than "my collection copyright trumps your individual copyrights"

    This case is redolent of so many other anti-copyleft cases: they want the code but they seem to have a pathological inability to deal with the balance of responsibilities.

    No one is suing AVM for $10 billion - just saying if you don't want to play that's fine just leave the ball behind.

    They could have used MS Windows or something. No one was compelling them to use GPL'ed code. What's their problem and, IPKats, never mind concerns about balance a la BBC news, where's your analysis?

  2. @Gentoo: At this time of night, most Kats are asleep -- but I'm still up so I'll answer on Birgit's behalf.

    The hearing only took place 8 days ago and, so far as I can see, there hasn't been a ruling yet, so we can't analyse it.

    The fact that this is happening at all is a matter of interest and concern for the software communities and for IP at large, which is why we chose to post an item on this dispute in the first place.

    If you want analysis, you'll have to wait till there's something worth analysing. Otherwise you're getting nothing more valuable than a bare opinion -- and you don't need the Kat's opinion when you've plenty of your own!

    Thanks, by the way, for your contributions to discussion over the years, which we very much appreciate.

  3. AVM's position is set out here:



  4. It's ancient history now - AVM lost - completely. The injunction was overturned.

    However the AVM web page is still active.

    The verdicts is up on the FSFE webpage at http://fsfe.org/news/2011/news-20111201-02.en.html

    (I'm posting this because recent dealings with AVM seem to indicate they are still in their own personal reality distortion fields on this issue)

  5. AVM lost - completely - the verdict was overturned.

    See http://fsfe.org/news/2011/news-20111201-02.en.html

    (That was 2 years ago, but recent dealings with AVM make it clear they are trying to pretend they won the case.)


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