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19 February 2010, 17:00

Major legal victory for open source in US

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The long running case of Jacobsen v. Katzer has been settled on terms favourable to Jacobsen, a developer of the Java Model Railroad Interface project. The case came about when Katzer incorporated Jacobsen's code into it's proprietary model trail software, after deleting the copyright notices that existed in the code.

The court first found that the code in question was sufficiently original to be entitled to copyright protection; a legal hurdle which had to be overcome to assert copyright claims. The court also found that although the JMRI project made its work available for free, there was evidence of a monetary value in the work performed by contributors, and therefore a basis for monetary damages. Finally, the court ruled that the removal of the copyright and author information was a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The court did not agree to enter an injunction against Katzer, but it appears Katzer decided to settle with Jacobsen and end the proceedings. According to the settlement documents, Katzer will pay Jacobsen $100,000 over the next 18 months, stop using the projects code and not attempt to trademark or register domains using the names of JMRI projects. The settlement means that the law suit is dismissed with prejudice and cannot be refiled by either party.

In a posting on, lawyer Andy Updegrove said "F/OSS has achieved a significant victory that will provide comfort to developers that their expectations will be satisfied when they contribute code to a software project". He pointed out that although other US court circuits are not bound by the decision, the California court is well respected and its conclusions will be influential.


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