Israeli Waze hit with GPL class action lawsuit: plaintiff requests source code.

An interesting class action lawsuit has been brought in Israel against Waze, the Israeli navigation company who were acquired by Google last year. The class action raises an interesting question: according to the class action plaintiff, Mr. Roey Gorodish, Waze was first released as GPLv2 licensed software (which require to provide end-users with the original source code), and the data which Waze uses is based on a warranty to the Waze community to maintain it free. Such warranty was provided via freemap’s data (which Waze used), who selected to license it under the GPL, as well as under a proprietary license. Therefore, the plaintiff requests statutory damages and the release of Waze’s source code and map data.

[my assumptions here are based on the news article, not the claim itself, which has yet to be published]

The problem here is that the class action lawsuit stands on problematic pillars. The first is the request for statutory damages for copyright infringement, and the second is the request to avail all data through a class action suit.

The first pillar, for statutory damages, is quite problematic: Article 20 to the Israeli Class Action Suit Act states that no statutory damages shall be granted in a class action lawsuit. This was upheld by several court rulings (CA 1379-09 Peled v. All You Need, for example), and is quite consistent with the principle that class action lawsuits come to cure a specific action which will be unactionable otherwise. If each software developer is entitled to statutory damages, it would be quite efficient for him to sue. So, my prima-facia assumption is that this part of the claim will be quashed in the preliminary stage.

The plaintiff’s other request is for a declaratory remedy, which states that he is entitled for both the source code and the map data. At first glance, it might be something nice to have (assuming that his claim that the GPL license applies here). However, Waze actually claim that when moving from version 2.0 to 3.0 they completely re-wrote the code. This was actually done mostly due to Apple’s App Store licensing requirements, and is well documented (unless Waze deceived the community).

In order to prove that Waze still uses GPL licensed code, which require the release of source code to the public, the plaintiff will have to first review the source code and find the appropriate equivalent in the GPL branch of the code. However, in order to get access to the code, he’ll have to first prove that there’s a reason for his suspicion.

Currently, I don’t think that there’s a shred of evidence showing this, so most likely that this prong will also be rejected. Israeli courts have yet to allow full source code reviews in the discovery stage with no hard evidence. The closest case was in a copyright infringement case where the look and feel of the software were similar (RCA 1068/12 Dan-El v. Snapir).

Therefore, I believe that this will be one hard case to snap.

3 thoughts on “Israeli Waze hit with GPL class action lawsuit: plaintiff requests source code.

  1. Doubt this will get through. Would love to see it open for the community to folk it though!

  2. Very interesting. Is there any freely accessible link to the complaint anywhere?

  3. If there is no source code to compare, just compare the binaries.

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