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VMWare GPL complaint dismissed

Tux - mascot of the Linux kernelGerman IT news website heise reports that the Hamburg District Court has rejected the action of long-standing Linux kernel developer Christoph Hellwig against VMware for infringement of the GPL. According to Hellwig, VMware will be using Linux kernel code upon which he has collaborated in its ESXi hypervisor. The Linux kernel is licensed under GPL 2, which requires that the source code of derivative works must likewise be disclosed under the GPL.

Amongst other things, ESXi contains the Vmkernel operating system kernel, which VMware distributes as proprietary software without source code, and a component called Vmklinux by means of which Linux drivers can be used with the Vmkernel. VMware supplies the latter with source code in compliance with the GPL.

Hellwig and VMware agree that parts of the code of Vmklinux originate from the Linux kernel and these also include sections of code on which Hellwig has collaborated.

For Hellwig Vmkernel and Vmklinux are a unit, since not one of the components can be used without the other. As a consequence Vmkernel and Vmklinux would have to be licensed under the GPL: and that was also the claim which Hellwig wanted to enforce by legal action.

VMware disagrees with this: the Vmkernel is an independent piece of work that can also be used without the Vmklinux module and contains no code from the Linux kernel. There is therefore no obligation to disclose this core product of the company under the GPL.

Admittedly the Court did even concern itself with the decisive matter in dispute of whether Vmkernel and Vmklinux form a unit and Hellwig’s complaint was rejected as unfounded. The Court did attribute the Linux developer contributor’s rights to parts of the Linux kernel, but he did not prove definitively enough which sections of code he had jointly written were being used by VMware in its product.

Hellwig, who is being supported in his action by the Software Freedom Conservancy, expressed his astonishment that the Court had not dealt with the content of his complaint and announced that he would be appealing the decision.