After a five-year struggle in US Federal District Court, Robert Jacobson recently prevailed in his copyright infringement claim against Matthew Katzer as a result of Katzer’s alleged misappropriation of open source code from Jacobson’s Java Model Railroad Interface project.
You can read all of the story in more detail at ConsortiumInfo.org. The end result is a huge win for open source developers as a result of three key findings by the District Court:
- Violation of an open source software license constitutes copyright infringement, not just breach of contract (this was first upheld by the Federal Appeals Court in 2008 in this case).
- Use of open source code without attribution is a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
- These violations entitle the Plaintiff (Jacobson) to monetary damages – which, as they’re based on violations of copyright law, are potentially much more substantial than those which may have been limited by contract law.
There are some mitigating circumstances in that the results in this case are not yet dispositive of all future violations, as the ruling of a US District Court is limited to absolute applicability only in its geographic district. The concern is that a Federal Appellate Court (including the US Supreme Court) could overrule or otherwise reverse this decision. Worse yet would be another US District Court coming to a different conclusion with a similar set of facts.
But for now, FOSS developers can rest a little easier knowing that their creations are protected by copyright law.