Victory for Model Trains and Open Source Licensing

Lora Bentley

Friday in The Standards Blog, intellectual property attorney and open source software advocate Andrew Updegrove noted that Robert Jacobsen and Matthew Katzer have settled their dispute over model train software. And that, believe it or not, is a big deal for open source software developers.


Briefly, the facts are as follows: Jacobsen is a member of the Java Model Railroad Interface Project, and Katzer owns a commercial model train software vendor. After Katzer used Jacobsen's code in his software without including the copyright notices accrediting Jacobsen with the work, Jacobsen sued Katzer for, among other things, breach of the Artistic License.


In the first trial, the district court found that Katzer's failure to include the original copyright notices was not a "restriction" on the scope of the license, and as such, Katzer did not violate Jacobsen's copyright. Open source attorney and blogger Mark Radcliffe was not happy with the ruling. He said:


I believe that this decision is simply wrong. The use of the term "condition" in the Artistic License should mean that the terms imposed are restrictions on the scope of the license.


On appeal, the court sent the case back to the district court, deciding that those who use open source without complying with the license terms could be sued for copyright infringement. Moreover, the court said, those who own the copyright are entitled to money damages for the infringment, even though the software is free.


According to Updegrove, Friday's settlement means the rulings currently in place will remain. Those rulings establish three things, he says:

1. The code in question was sufficiently original to be entitled to copyright protection...[T]his was a legal issue on which Jacobsen had to prevail in order to assert claims under copyright law.


2. While the JMRI Project made its code available for free, there was "evidence in the record attributing a monetary value for the actual work performed by the contributors to the JMRI project," thus laying the basis for monetary damages.


3. The removal of the copyright and authorship data contained in the pirated code was a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, thus providing a basis for suit for that action in violation of the JMRI license.

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