Federal Circuit Says Open Source License Conditions are Enforceable as Copyright Condition

13 10 2008

There are so few judicial opinions dealing with open source licenses that any single one is of great interest, but the pro-open source ruling of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Jacobsen v. Katzer, No. 2008-1001 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 13, 2008) easily goes to the top of the charts of this small category. This is a highly significant opinion that will greatly bolster the efforts of the open source community to control the use of open source software according to the terms set out in open source licenses.





The central issue in the case is whether the conditions in the open source Artistic License limit the scope of the license (in which case a failure to comply with those conditions constitutes copyright infringement) or whether those conditions are in fact merely covenants, the breach of which gives rise only to a cause of action for damages. For an open source licensor, the difference between those two causes of action is particularly relevant because becauseĀ  injunctive relief usually is not as easily available in a breach of contract action. In a copyright infringement action, however, statutory damages and injunctive relief are more readily available, regardless of whether actual damages can be shown.


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