Federal court hands open-source licenses a significant victory

A new ruling from a US federal court puts open source on stronger ground.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
2 min read

Yesterday, a US federal court of appeals handed open source a significant victory. An earlier district court ruling in Jacobsen v. Katzer had put open-source licensing on shaky ground by treating the Artistic License as a contract, with some injurious readings on likely remedies under an open-source license.

As Mark Radcliffe details, the Jacobsen ruling [PDF] is a boon to all open-source licensing, and not merely those that choose to use the Artistic License:

The CAFC reversed the District Court's decision and its reasoning is very helpful for the open source community. The court found that the limitations in the Artistic License were "conditions" on the scope of the license and, thus, Katzer was liable for copyright infringement (as well as breach of contract). The CAFC noted that the Artistic License imposed its obligations through the use of the words "provided that" which is generally viewed as imposing a condition. Although the reasoning is limited to the Artistic License and the interpretation of each open source license will depend on the wording of its provisions, this decision is a welcome change to the District Court decision. The case has been remanded for the District Court to determine if the other criteria for injunctive relief have been met, but the CAFC's decision strongly suggests that they have been met.

A very good ruling, and a very good day, for open source. I'm not sure why there should be much confusion in the first place as to whether open-source licenses should be given a place at the licensing table, but this case at least takes us one step closer to making open-source licenses full partners in software developers' arsenal.