Vizio sued by nonprofit to share code for open-source software

REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration
  • Public license requires users to keep open-source software publicly available
  • Vizio allegedly failed to share source code

(Reuters) - A New York-based nonprofit group has sued television maker Vizio Inc in California state court to force it to share the source code for the software it allegedly uses in its smart TVs.

Vizio breached two public licenses by using and modifying open-source software without making its source code publicly accessible, according to a complaint filed Tuesday in Orange County, California by the Software Freedom Conservancy.

SFC, which advocates for developers of open-source software projects, said in a statement that this is "the first legal case that focuses on the rights of individual consumers" as beneficiaries to the licenses. SFC's sponsors include Google, Red Hat, Mozilla, and others, according to its website.

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Irvine, California-based Vizio didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Richard Sanders of Aaron & Sanders and Sa'id Vakili of Vakili & Leus represent SFC.

According to the complaint, Vizio incorporated software covered by two General Public License agreements into its SmartCast platform for streaming content from services like Apple's AirPlay and Google's Chromecast to its TVs, but didn't make its source code publicly available.

The software covered by the licenses is meant to be publicly accessible and modifiable, letting developers be "confident that their contributions can be used by all and will lead to further improvements."

"At their heart is a simple bargain," SFC said. "Recipients of the licensed software are entitled to use, examine, modify, adapt, and improve the software however they see fit. In exchange, the recipients must allow their licensees" to do the same.

But Vizio has "taken full advantage of the rights granted by these agreements but refuses to let others enjoy the same rights," the complaint said.

The group asked the court for an order requiring Vizio to share the code, and didn't request money damages.

An order for Vizio to share the source code would "benefit the public and further the goals of software freedom" by enabling developers to better protect user data, improve accessibility, and preserve "useful but obsolete features," SFC said in the complaint.

The case is Software Freedom Conservancy Inc v. Vizio Inc, Superior Court of the State of California, Orange County, No. 30-2021-01226723.

For SFC: Richard Sanders of Aaron & Sanders, Sa'id Vakili of Vakili & Leus.

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at blake.brittain@thomsonreuters.com