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14 August 2008, 08:01

US Appeals Court rules free licences are real licences

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit yesterday ruled that the Artistic Licence conditions were enforceable as a copyright condition in a decision that serves to back up the fundamental basis of many open source licences.

A lower court had previously ruled that the Artistic Licence created an "intentionally broad" nonexclusive licence and that if the conditions of the licence were not met, there was no liability for copyright infringement. This would have removed the ability for owners of open sourced software to pursue anyone who was using the software without following the licence conditions for copyright violation.

The appeals court overturned this decision saying "The copyright holder here expressly stated the terms upon which the right to modify and distribute the material depended and invited direct contact if a downloader wished to negotiate other terms. These restrictions were both clear and necessary to accomplish the objectives of the open source licensing collaboration, including economic benefit."

Although the case was specifically about the Artistic Licence, the ruling is applicable to most open source and free software licences. The decision was welcomed by Lawrence Lessig who said that the ruling brought "important clarity and certainty by a critically important US Court."


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