An apparent victory for Open-Source Software and Creative Commons licenses.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has vacated a District Court decision in the case of Robert Jacobsen v. Matthew Katzer and Kamind Associates, Inc. (dba KAM Industries) and eventually sent the case back to the District Court (Northern District of California) for further proceedings.
The Appeals Court summarized the case quite simply:
Indeed. So what's the problem? Jacobsen originally sued for copyright infringement and moved for a preliminary injunction when Katzer/Kamind used his code without following the conditions Jacobsen provided in the public license. The District Court apparently ruled that the open-source Artistic License was overly broad and did not create any liability for copyright infringement, only perhaps a breach of the nonexclusive license.
I'm only vaguely aware of some of the issues surrounding the open-source software movement, but I've benefitted from the movement in several ways (e.g. my current personal printer driver is open-source software and works much better than the driver supplied by the printer's manufacturer) and I've encountered related issues (e.g. working on b logs such as this and developing wiki sites for various class-related work). The Appeals Court ruling is actually quite informative/educational in terms of some of the reasoning behind, necessity, benefits, and incredible propagation of Creative Commons public licenses.
Jacobsen originally sued because Katzer/Kamind used his code but didn't include the required attributions/notices. Katzer has argued that Katzer/Kamind cannot be liable for copyright infringement because Katzer/Kamind had a license to use the material. The District Court originally agreed, basically concluding that one cannot be liable for copyright infringement for something one has been granted a license to use.
The Appeals Court ultimately disagreed, however, noting that "The heart of the argument on appeal concerns whether the terms of the Artistic License are conditions of, or merely covenants to, the copyright license," [pg 9] and going on to explain:
The Appeals Court points out, however, that "The conditions set forth in the Artistic License are vital to enable the copyright holder to retain the ability to benefit from the work of downstream users," [pg 11] going on to point out that:
The Appeals Court concludes that
and in the end determine that "the terms of the Artistic License are enforceable copyright conditions."
John Markoff has a nice summary article in The New York Times, titled Ruling Is a Victory for Supporters of Free Software.
A more informative summary is available at GPL JMRI Beats Patent Troll Matt Katzer in Court.
ADDENDUM (OMG!): apparently this case has a very interesting history not even whispered about in much of the news coverage of the Appeals case, with Katzer apparently copying Jacobsen's code THEN obtaining a patent on some model railroad technology that included the Java Model Railroad Interface (JMRI) work already done by Jacobsen's group, THEN Katzer attempting to charge Jacobsen's group for the right to offer downloads … Katzer apparently went so far to even cybersquat — Jacobsen's group writes that "Katzer also improperly registered one of our trademarks, DecoderPro, as the domain name "decoderpro.com". The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has ordered it returned to us, and wrote an entire section of the order on "Katzer's bad faith"." (see http://jmri.sourceforge.net/k/index.html). It appears that Katzer is much more than he appears. It will be ironic if such duplicity on his part eventually leads to solid case support for the affirmation of the open-source licenses.
GPL JMRI Beats Patent Troll Matt Katzer in Court (8/15/2008). Slated, accessed 8/15/2008 at web address http://slated.org/jmri_beats_katzer_troll.
Jacobsen, Robert G. Website at the Department of Physics, University of California (Berkeley), accessed 8/15/2008 at web address http://physics.berkeley.edu/index.php?option=com_dept_management&act=people&Itemid=312&limitstart=0&task=view&id=363.
Jacobsen v. Katzer. (8/13/2008). Ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, accessed 8/15/2008 in pdf form at http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/opinions/08-1001.pdf.
Java Model Railroad Interface (JMRI) website (accessed 8/15/2008) at http://jmri.sourceforge.net/.
KAMIND Associates, Inc. website, accessed 8/15/2008 at http://www.kamind.net/.
Markoff, John (8/13/2008). Ruling Is a Victory for Supporters of Free Software. New York Times (online). Accessed 8/14/2008 at web address http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/14/technology/14commons.html.
Open-source pact subject to copyrights law - US court. (8/15/2008). Reuters, accessed 8/15/2008 at web address http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff/4657006a28.html.
Shiels, Maggie (8/14/2008). Legal milestone for open source. BBC News (online), accessed 8/15/2008 at web address http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7561943.stm.
Welcome to KAM Industries. Website (accessed 8/15/2008) for "The Conductor" software and related information at web address http://www.trainpriority.com/.