On August 13, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) issued its decision in the Jacobsen v. Katzer case.
This case was the first real test of the remedies for breach of open source licenses in US courts (for more background, see http://lawandlifesiliconvalley.blogspot.com/2007/08/new-open-source-legal-decision-jacobsen.html). Unfortunately, the District Court decision was wrong and wrong in a way that could have been a disaster for open source community. The District Court found that the requirements in the Artistic License for notice were merely a contractual covenant rather than a condition on the scope of the license (the courts sometimes use the word “restriction” on the scope of the license and “condition” at other times, but they have the same meaning). Consequently, under the District Court’s analysis, Katzer’s actions were not copyright infringement. Thus, Jacobsen was limited to the traditional remedy for breach of contract, monetary damages, rather than the copyright remedy of injunctive relief (injunctive relief means that the court will order Katzer to comply with the terms of the contract).
The CAFC reversed the District Court’s decision and its reasoning is very helpful for the open source community. The court found that the limitations in the Artistic License were “conditions” on the scope of the license and, thus, Katzer was liable for copyright infringement (as well as breach of contract). The CAFC noted that the Artistic License imposed its obligations through the use of the words “provided that” which is generally viewed as imposing a condition. Although the reasoning is limited to the Artistic License and the interpretation of each open source license will depend on the wording of its provisions, this decision is a welcome change to the District Court decision. The case has been remanded for the District Court to determine if the other criteria for injunctive relief have been met, but the CAFC’s decision strongly suggests that they have been met.
The open source community should thank the lawyers who worked hard and on a pro bono basis (i.e. free) to achieve this victory. Any such list is bound to be incomplete and I apologize in advance for anyone that I have missed, but I think that the major contributors were: Victoria Hall (Jacobsen’s counsel), Chris Ridder and Anthony Falzone (Creative Commons counsel, authors of the amici brief), Karen Copenhaver (Choate Hall, counsel for the Linux Foundation who assisted on the Creative Commons amici brief), Allison Randal and Roberta Cairney (counsel for Perl Foundation who assisted on the Creative Commons amici brief), Larry Rosen (Rosenlaw & Einschlag, who assisted on the Creative Commons amici brief), Scott Peterson (HP, member of OSI’s Legal Advisory Council who assisted on the Creative Commons amici brief), David Gross (DLA Piper, counsel for OSI who assisted on the Creative Commons amici brief) and Steve Chiari (DLA Piper, counsel for OSI who assisted on the Creative Commons amici brief).
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