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Court: Open Source Can Dictate the Rules

Code users must comply with artistic license...

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It’s no secret that there’s money in open source software. So naturally, along with it comes some rules.

"Copyright holders who engage in open source licensing have the right to control the modification and distribution of copyrighted material."

So says the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

In a recent case (Jacobsen Vs. Katzer) between model railroad software companies, the dispute was over the rights to a wireless train control program.

Jacobsen and his crew developed the code for the program, and Katzer used that code in a competing product.

To make a long story short, Jacobsen said that Katzer didn’t comply with the Artistic License requirements, and the court says that the creator of the code can place it’s restrictions on it.

"The court demonstrated it understood that just because open source code is free doesn’t mean it has no commercial value," says Charles Babock at InformationWeek. "On the contrary, if software is available for free download and is adopted by a large number of users, that translates several ways into value for the company behind it."

It should be noted that while users of open source code may have to comply with some regulations, circumstances will still dictate to what extent that holds true.

Court: Open Source Can Dictate the Rules
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  • http://www.blackducksoftware.com Peter Vescuso

    While the appeals court decision is certainly an important move for software creators, and one that organizations should review carefully, it should not scare people from using open source within development. More and more companies that are using open source code are doing so in the right way, so that licensing and other obligations are met. Black Duck sees the court decision as more of a wake up call to software development organizations without a proper open source use policy in place, rather than an industry-shifting milestone.

    Open source is becoming an increasingly important and strategic component of today’s software development process – enabling faster and more cost effective product evolution. Underscoring its importance, Gartner recently found that 47% of the companies surveyed say they are using code from external sources. A large number of these organizations have well-established policies for open source use and adoption that take into account license obligations. The combination of proprietary and open source software has created a hybrid software development model that definitely requires careful attention to licensing – but can be managed.

    Developers and their organizations should have a clear understanding of what’s inside their software components, no matter how seemingly insignificant, in order to avoid legal, financial and business ramifications. Open source code analysis is not about policing developers or prohibiting use, it provides a clear, concise and efficient way to track open source use and license restrictions- a necessity of doing business in a world in which software development is an open field.

    - Peter Vescuso, Black Duck Software

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