August 19, 2008

Open Source Legal Ruling Sets Precedent

The ruling is from last week, but still worth mentioning as there seems to be some confusion and swirl about the scope and impact of the ruling. As always, I'm happy to provide my opinion on the subject :)

The short version is this: someone incorporated some very liberally licensed source code into a commercial product, and did not abide by the terms under which the original source code was released - namely that if you use the code, you must provide attribution and a link/pointer back to the original. So the owner of the original source code sued.

The questions that got answered by the courts were:
- Is an extremely liberal license the equivalent of depositing your work in the public domain? (no)
- Is an open source license a valid copyright, or does it fall into the jurisdiction of contract law? (copyright)

Basically, it means that the copyright holder has the right to impose restrictions on the use of licensed products.

Although some folks have noted that this could fuel further RIAA/content license nonsense, it should be noted that this ruling did NOT touch on fair use (the right of the individual to manage his/her "copy"), but on the rights of re-use and re-distribution.

And although it was a "win" for open source advocates - especially because copyright law provides the opporunity injunctive relief ("the right to withold") - it didn't address the so-called viral nature of GPL-like licenses, either.

Still, all-in-all, seems like a win for rationality - read it for yourself (its not long).