Copyright Protections Apply to Free Software

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Supporters of free online software scored a victory with a Federal Circuit ruling that extended copyright protection to software that programmers let others freely download on the Web.

     Judge Hochberg said programmer Robert Jacobsen has the right to enforce a copyright license in order to control the future distribution and modification of his free products. His open-source software group, Java Model Railroad Interface, developed the DecoderPro, which lets model train hobbyists use their computers to program the decoder chips that control model trains. The application is available through an open-source Web site called SourceForge.
     Matthew Katzer and Kamind Associates used code from the DecoderPro to develop a competing software product called the Decoder Commander.
     Jacobsen claimed that Katzer used his code without abiding by the terms of his artistic license. The license allows others to view the software code and improve applications, so long as they copy and restate the license and credit the original owner. Katzer argued that he was not bound to any contract, because Jacobsen had offered the program for free.
     “The lack of money changing hands in open-source licensing should not be presumed to mean that there is no economic consideration,” Hochberg wrote. Programmers reap several benefits from creating open-source software, such as industry credibility and increased traffic to their Web sites.
     “Copyright holders who engage in open-source licensing have the right to control the modification and distribution of copyrighted material,” the court concluded.

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