Court of appeals: FOSS license violation is copyright infringement

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ArnoudEngelfriet's picture

In a groundbreaking ruling, a US Court of Appeals has upheld the little-known Artistic License as legally valid. This ruling significantly strengthens the legal position of the GPL and other open source licenses. A key aspect of the ruling is that the license conditions were classified as limitations on the license, and not merely contractual obligations.

This distinction is important for open source licenses. Injunctions are available only for copyright infringement, not for contract violations. For most open source projects, injunctions are the only effective legal remedy. While contract violations may entitle the copyright holder to recover monetary damages, these are hard to quantify for open source, which of course is usually given away for free.

In its ruling, the Court explicitly affirms the principles behind open source:

"Copyright holders who engage in open source licensing have the right to control the modification and distribution of copyrighted material. … The choice to exact consideration in the form of compliance with the open source requirements of disclosure and explanation of changes, rather than as a dollar-denominated fee, is entitled to no less legal recognition."

More at Ars Technica and Groklaw.