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Small model railroad court case has big software implications

Published: March 2, 2010
KAM Industries
A recently settled court case involving model railroad control software includes a landmark decision that has a significant effect on the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) world.

Litigation between Matthew Katzer, owner of KAM Industries, and Robert Jacobsen, the developer behind the open source Java Model Railroad Interface (JMRI) project came to an out-of-court settlement Feb. 18. The settlement calls for Katzer to pay Jacobsen $100,000 over the next 18 months.

Katzer had filed suit in 2004 against the JMRI project claiming Jacobsen had infringed upon Katzer’s software patents. That started a legal tug-of-war lasting until 2008, when federal circuit judges found merit to Jacobsen's claim that Katzer had violated the attribution clause of the Artistic License 1.0. Additionally, a federal appeals court judge found that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act protected Jacobsen's copyright on the JMRI code.

In December 2009, The U.S. Federal District Court of Northern California ruled in a summary judgment that Jacobsen is entitled to collect monetary damages.

Attorney Andy Updegrove wrote in a blog posting, “the rulings in the case establish several important FOSS license terms and remedies for the first time in the U.S.: the right to prevent a developer’s copyright and authorship acknowledgements from being removed from their code, and the right to collect damages if the terms of a FOSS license are violated. Absent the ability to collect damages, as a practical matter there would be little to prevent commercial software vendors from incorporating FOSS software into their proprietary products in violation of FOSS license terms.”
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