Lawsuit: Waze Owes 'Open-source' Programmers $150 Million

Israeli accountant files lawsuit claiming that Waze stole the intellectual property of a programming community that helped build its software.

Shelly Appelberg
Shelly Appelberg
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WazeCredit: Bloomberg
Shelly Appelberg
Shelly Appelberg

Waze, an Israeli navigation startup bought by Google in 2013, was hit on Thursday with a $150 million lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed in the Tel Aviv District Court against Waze, its founders Ehud Shabtai, Amir Shinar, Gili Shinar and Uri Levine, and a Google subsidiary in Israel, claims that Waze is based partly on the work of a programming community, which is entitled to half of the company's intellectual property at the time of its sale. It also claims that Waze broke a commitment to leave its program, maps and information open to the public.

The claimant in the lawsuit is Roy Gorodish, an Israeli accountant who participated in Freemap Israel, an "open-source" project to map the country using free software called Roadmap 1. Gorodish, represented by attorney Yitzhak Aviram, says in the lawsuit that Waze's maps were built by daily updates by the community, not solely by Waze programmers. He asks that the court recognize the lawsuit as a class action on behalf of the community.

Although Shabtai, Waze's chief technology officer, started Freemap and designed most of the software, Gorodish says, other users also contributed significantly over the course of a year. The defendants then took control of the project, adapted it into Waze and sold out to Google for more than $1 billion, without telling the Internet giant that its program and maps belong to the community, he says. Gorodish estimates that Waze's intellectual property was worth $128 million at the time of the sale, of which he says the community is entitled to $64 million.

Gorodish says that when Freemap started, Shabtai, Shinar and Levine gave community members a document saying that the project was owned by the community. Later, when Waze was founded, the three men unilaterally changed the terms of the agreement in what amounts to intellectual property theft and copyright infringement, he says.

In addition to the $150 million, Gorodish is seeking to make all the maps owned by the defendants, as well as other data they collected from users of both Waze and Freemap, publicly available. He is also asking a court expert to examine the source code of Google Maps, which has started using data from Waze, to see if there are elements of the open-source code there, which would make Google Maps affected by a future court ruling.

Waze has said it has yet to see the lawsuit.

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