Dispute Over Model Train Control Software Just Became a Landmark Open-Source Copyright Case

Illustration for article titled Dispute Over Model Train Control Software Just Became a Landmark Open-Source Copyright Case

Robert Jacobsen wrote a nice piece of software for everyone with a Lionel set in their garage and released it under an open-source license. Fine and dandy. But after a company jacked his code and released it as a commercial product, Jacobsen understandably got a little pissed and sued. After God knows how many hearings and evidence filings involving model trains, the whole thing has ended up in federal appeals court, where it's unexpectedly turned into a potentially landmark ruling for open-source software licenses everywhere, keeping things like Linux and Wikipedia a bit more secure, for the moment. The lower court had claimed that Jacobsen's "Artistic License" (CC, dude!) was too broad to claim a copyright violation, which is more powerful than the breach of contract compliant the lower court judge did allow. But the feds have stepped in to call shenanigans, allowing for a dinky little license like the "Artistic" used for model train software to hold up in court as a copyright case, which bodes well for beefier GPL and Creative Commons licenses. The open source world has been starving for notable test cases, and it just may have found one here. [WSJ - photo by Brent and Marilyn]

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DISCUSSION

@slibuntu: No, there *is* a difference. It all depends on the particular license.

The restrictions regarding use of open source code depends on the particular license. Some allow any usage, some allow commercial usage only if modifications to the code are given back to the community, some allow no commercial resale of any part of the code.

In the case of Apple, they are allowed to use the underlying open source code and *do* give back changes to the community. On top of that underlying FreeBSD (IIRC) open source software sits the bulk of OS X (which is not open source). There's no violation there.

You do NOT have to make all your code open source just because you use some open source code in your product. That's a bit of FUD that Microsoft spread a while back in hopes of getting businesses to avoid Linux.