From FSF France:

PARIS, France — Tuesday, September 22, 2009 — In a landmark ruling that will set legal precedent, the Paris Court of Appeals decided last week that the company Edu4 violated the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL) when it distributed binary copies of the remote desktop access software VNC but denied users access to its corresponding source code. The suit was filed by Association pour la formation professionnelle des adultes (AFPA), a French education organization.

“This decision should raise awareness about free software licensing for everyone involved with it,” said Olivier Hugot, attorney of Free Software Foundation France. “Companies distributing the software have been given a strong reminder that the license’s terms are enforceable under French law. And users in France can rest assured that, if need be, they can avail themselves of the legal system to see violations addressed and their rights respected.”

The events of the case go back to early 2000, when Edu4 was hired to provide new computer equipment in AFPA’s classrooms. Shortly thereafter, AFPA discovered that VNC was distributed with this equipment. Despite repeated requests, with mediation from the Free Software Foundation France, Edu4 refused to provide AFPA with the source code to this version of VNC. Furthermore, FSF France later discovered that Edu4 had removed copyright and license notices in the software. All of these activities violate the terms of the GNU GPL. AFPA filed suit in 2002 to protect its rights and obtain the source code.

“We’ve long said the GNU GPL is enforceable, and of course we’re pleased to see another court reaffirm that fact,” said Loic Dachary, president of FSF France. “But what makes this ruling unique is the fact that the suit was filed by a user of the software, instead of a copyright holder. It’s a commonly held belief that only the copyright holder of a work can enforce the license’s terms – but that’s not true in France. People who received software under the GNU GPL can also request compliance, since the license grants them rights from the authors.”

The Court’s ruling is available on the web at http://fsffrance.org/news/arret-ca-paris-16.09.2009.pdf.