“Vaster Than Empires, and More Slow” is a wonderful short story by Ursula LeGuin. It has nothing to with Linux and FOSS, but I think of the title whenever I read about SCO’s latest and endless antics. But some cases move through the courts more quickly, like the recent Jacobsen v. Katzer decision. It took only two years and the second-highest court in the land to affirm that the Artistic License is indeed a copyright license, and not a contract. A lower court had determined that it was a contract, which meant bad consequences for the Artistic License holder- calling the Artistic License a contract stripped it of any meaningful recourse for copyright violations.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled that the Artistic License really is a copyright license and not a contract. In terms of recourse for copyright violations this is huge, which Andy Updegrove, Pamela Jones, and PC Magazine all explain in their usual excellent manner. There is a good article in PC Magazine giving a concise history of the case and what it all means:
“Katzer said that because Jacobsen distributed the code for free, he should not be able to collect any money if someone violates his rules. The court disagreed on that point.
“The “attribution and modification transparency requirements directly serve to drive traffic to the open source incubation page and to inform downstream users of the project, which is a significant economic goal of the copyright holder that the law will enforce,” according to the appeals court.”
I should know better by now, but it still amazes me how brazen some freeloaders can be. The only burden on anyone who wanted to modify and re-distribute JMRI’s code was proper attribution and a changelog. It also still amazes me how much effort, time, talent, and money it takes to fight these battles. This case required the energies of the plaintiff, the Creative Commons Corp, The Linux Foundation, The Open Source Initiative, Software Freedom Law Center, Yet Another Society – d/b/a The Perl Foundation, and the Wikimedia Foundation, and probably some other folks. Thank you to everyone; it’s good to know that some folks are still fighting the good fight.