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Strong Court Ruling Upholds the Artistic License 149

Posted by timothy
from the clear-cut-copyright-clause-crackdown dept.
dilute writes "The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (an authoritative court that normally deals with patent law), has issued a strong ruling (PDF) upholding the Artistic License in a copyright dispute between the developers of the Java Model Railroad Interface (JMRI), and Kamind, a company that used portions of DecoderPro to develop a competing product. The product at issue was DecoderPro, an open source project released on SourceForge under the Artistic License, for interfacing with model railroad control chips. Kamind used a number of DecoderPro files in developing its product, Decoder Commander. However, Kamind did not comply with the Artistic License in a number of respects, including attribution, copyright notices, tracked changes or availability of the underlying standard version." Read on for more, below.
Dilute continues: "The lower court denied relief, saying that the Artistic License merely imposed 'contractual' promises, and that a violation did not constitute copyright infringement (any contract-based relief would probably have been meaningless). In a strong ruling, the Federal Circuit found that the Artistic License is legally enforceable, that its terms constituted 'conditions' for reliance on the license, and consequently that a violation of those conditions would put the violating product outside the license and thus make the violator a copyright infringer, potentially liable for an injunction. The case lays out a clear and compelling description of the rationale for open source, and reflects a complete willingness by the court to lend the force of law to these licenses." Reader ruphus13 point to Lawrence Lessig's commentary on the ruling; Lessig calls it "huge and important news," and notes that the reasoning is generalizable to the GPL and other Free software licenses, as well.
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Strong Court Ruling Upholds the Artistic License

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  • by langelgjm (860756) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @03:53PM (#24588957) Journal
    It was refreshing to read certain portions of the ruling. I suggest everyone take a look at it. Here's what stuck out at me:

    Traditionally, copyright owners sold their copyrighted material in exchange for money. The lack of money changing hands in open source licensing should not be presumed to mean that there is no economic consideration, however. There are substantial benefits, including economic benefits, to the creation and distribution of copyrighted works under public licenses that range far beyond traditional license royalties.

    This too:

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

    Good to know the court system can still work!

  • by fishbowl (7759) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @04:32PM (#24589491)

    Rights that are asserted under copyright, are not surrendered based on any money changing hands.

    You have two concepts confused: Rights are reserved, not granted, but contracts require consideration.
    I think you have the ideas of a "License" and a "Contract" conflated. A contract is not valid without
    consideration (e.g., "money changing hands"), but rights are reserved by default.

  • by fishbowl (7759) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @04:35PM (#24589533)

    >I never understood why the GPL was a eula?

    It is not. It is a license that makes a limited grant of distribution rights, rights that would otherwise be fully reserved by default under copyright law.

    It has nothing whatsoever to do with "end users", and even goes as far as to explicitly point this out (even though it is not necessary to do so).

    A EULA would be valid if it were a contract (with a meeting of minds, agreement on the subject matter, and consideration), but most EULAs are not contracts, and therefore serve little purpose aside from "notice" (and "notice" does have some value in a legal sense).

  • by vux984 (928602) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @04:39PM (#24589631)

    Yes, there is such a distinction from the start -- copyright protects distribution, not use.

    copyright protects *copy rights* including: copying, redistribution, performance, and broadcast.

    You need a specific contract if you want your license to speak to use. For distribution, you
    reserve all rights under copyright law, license or no license.

    What difference does it make when "using" the software entails making a copy to your hard drive, and then another copy into ram, and then another copy into cache? Using it entails copying it.

    If I have no license to use it, I can't make those copies.

    So you can't use it without a license.

    And the courts have ALREADY made rulings that apply copyright infringement to occurring in an unauthorized 'disk to RAM' copy made by that WoW cheat program. (glider?)

  • Re:Which version? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mrchaotica (681592) * on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @04:41PM (#24589677)

    That reads like someone tried to satirize the "legalese" present in most licenses rather than create a working license for themselves.

    What did you expect? The name of the thing is a pun!

  • Re:_OSS (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TaoPhoenix (980487) * <> on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @04:43PM (#24589717) Journal

    "Free" might aquire yet another meaning, something like "Free as in a Dollar".

    It might have to do with the "Consideration Exchanged" part of contract law. I'd forego a dollar's worth of benefit for software to slide by that rule on the software side. "A Dollar's benefit" could be interpreted like "A Dollar's worth of NYCL's time"... which would be a reply to a comment here.

  • by stinerman (812158) <nathan.stine@g[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @04:45PM (#24589759) Homepage

    They should put the GPL in the license agreement spot, but allow the "next" button to be clicked even if the agreement is not read or agreed to.

    A small blurb saying acceptance is not required to use the software, but is required to distribute copies (modified or otherwise) would be an extra perk.

  • Re:Smack down (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jasper (12212) <andy.kenneth@gmail.RASPcom minus berry> on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @04:49PM (#24589859)

    How bad is our legal system when Kratzer can lie cheat and steal, then require others to spend large amounts of time and money to defend their creation?

    Thankfully justice is achieved in the end... but it's not even over, theres still motions in the court system. Put this guy in jail already.

  • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @04:58PM (#24590013)

    What difference does it make when "using" the software entails making a copy to your hard drive, and then another copy into ram, and then another copy into cache? Using it entails copying it.

    Although I admit that some judges have been stupid enough to buy it, that argument is bullshit because those copies are incidental to the physical workings of the medium, and express no intent on the part of a human.

    By the same argument, DVDs would require an EULA because they're decrypted and stored in the DVD player's RAM, the Internet couldn't exist as we know it because routers would violate copyright if they were set to store-and-forward (and I'm not even going to mention proxy and mail servers!), books would require an EULA because their information is copied into photons by the light reflecting off them and into the reader's eyes, etc. It's absurd.

    And this isn't even a Fair Use argument: the installation of software onto hard drives and duplication into RAM shouldn't even count, legally, as copies to begin with! (As long as there's a one-to-one correspondence between the installed program and its installation media, of course.)

    And the courts have ALREADY made rulings that apply copyright infringement to occurring in an unauthorized 'disk to RAM' copy made by that WoW cheat program. (glider?)

    And those courts were wrong.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @05:00PM (#24590047)

    It's not stronger copyright law, it's just common-sense upholding of contracts.

    JMRI offered a license which overrides copyright law and Kamind violated the terms of that license. The court is saying that when Kamind broke the terms of the license, the copyright-defying activities that the license allowed, were no longer allowed.

    If I offer to trade you a moon rock for a pint of ice cream, and you don't give me a pint of ice cream, then you don't get my moon rock. Kamind wanted to take the moon rock anyway, and then say, "Don't like it? Then sue me for the value of a pint of ice cream! Nyah nyah!" JMRI says, "No, I'm suing you for the value of my moon rock."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @05:21PM (#24590347)

    There is always the merchantability argument to counter that. If you sell me a product which requires specific technical steps to use and then don't allow me (by whatever mechanism) to take those steps, the product is useless.

    To use a DVD as intended and marketed, my DVD player has to be able to read the disc, store and decrypt the data stream, copy it to a buffer, stream the video to a TV, and so on. If you prevent me from doing so, that would be a form of fraud because you marketed and sold it as a way to watch a movie.

  • by gnasher719 (869701) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @05:51PM (#24590821)

    It's not stronger copyright law, the way copyright works has not changed at all, it's just an already existing copyright being honoured by the federal court, after for some reason a lesser court refused to honour it. I could probably explain better if I RTFA but we all know that's not going to happen.

    The judge in this case corrected a blatant error by the District Court.

    Like the GPL, the Artistic License basically says "You can copy this software provided you do X, Y and Z". The correct interpretation of this license is: If I do X, Y and Z then I have the right to copy the software. If I don't do X, Y and Z, then I have no right to copy the software, and copying is copyright infringement, and courts will stop me from doing it if the copyright holder asks them. The wrong interpretation, used by the District Court, was: I have the right to copy the software. I am also obliged to X, Y and Z, and if I don't do them, then the copyright holder can sue me to do X, Y and Z or pay damages. However, the copyright holder cannot stop me from copying. As I said, this has now been declared the wrong interpretation.

  • by gnasher719 (869701) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @06:04PM (#24590995)

    I'm not sure what the court's exact definition of 'charging for a license' is there (and I don't have that Wallace v. IBM reference handy), but the GPL isn't actually supposed to prohibit distributors from charging, it just makes charging impractical because they have to provide the whole code as well.

    Let's say I have the source code and executable code for the gcc compilers on my hard drive at home. I can sell you the executable code for a million dollars if you are stupid enough to pay that amount; that is perfectly legal under the GPL. You can then ask me for the source code; I can charge you my cost for providing the source code (lets be generous, 20 dollars for burning a CD and mailing it to you). You decide that you want to give copies to your friends, so you need a license to do this. I have to give you the license to make copies under the terms of the GPL, and I am not allowed to charge a penny for it.

  • by loshwomp (468955) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @06:23PM (#24591255)

    I want to know if Bob Jacobsen got his $30,000 (legal fees paid to the scum suckers) back.

  • by Broofa (541944) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @10:53PM (#24594011) Homepage

    While discussing (and rejoicing) in this decision, I'd suggest we all say thank you to Richard Stallman [] for his work on "copyleft" licensing. It is possibly the single greatest innovation in modern software development and, without it, our world would be a darker, more depressing place.

    RMS, you rock dude!

  • by Just Some Guy (3352) <> on Thursday August 14, 2008 @09:29AM (#24598103) Homepage Journal

    Put up or shut up.

    I don't have to. A federal appellate court says that my interpretation is right and your's is wrong. At this moment in time, my take on it is legally verified for a very large chunk of the American population.

"Indecision is the basis of flexibility" -- button at a Science Fiction convention.