Open Source: Court Upholds OS License
A recent court ruling upholds Open Source licensing and the ability of license holders to control how code is modified and distributed. The ruling is the result of the lawsuit Jacobsen versus Katzer. In that case the company Kamind Associates stripped the copyright notices from an Open Source application and bundled parts of the software as their own.The Open Source software was a Java software program called JMRI written by Robert Jacobsen for controlling model railroads. The ruling wasfrom a Federal Court of Appeals and overruled a lower court ruling that found that the redistribution of the code was a breach of contract but not a copyright infringement.The federal court case to overturn the earlier lower court ruling was argued by lawyers from Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society. Their argument focused on the extent that Open Source licenses have become commonplace and that millions of individuals and institutions have adopted this method of licensing and the extent of the public benefits of Open Source license copyrights. The court found that “there are substantial benefits, including economic benefits, to the creation and distribution of copyrighted works under public licenses that range far beyond traditional license royalties.”The ruling was good news to software authors releasing their code as Open Source. But the ruling should also be a wakeup for users and adopters of Open Source code. People need to fully recognize that while Open Source software can be freely downloaded, care needs to be taken when that Open Source code is redistributed or incorporated into another code base. It is important to fully understand the fine print of the Open Source licenses of software being reused.