|"A manager's guide to the business and organisational applications of open source technologies"|
Jacobsen v. Katzer
Another contentious case which concerned the rather unlikely subject of model railway software. The case - which is reported in SD Times "Landmark software patent case settled" (25 February 2010) - was decided on 18 February 2010 when both parties agreed to settle out of court. Katzer was required to pay Jacobsen $100,000 USD and refrain from taking further legal action.
In 2000 Jacobsen wrote the Java Model Railroad Interface (JMRI), that made it possible to control a model railway system from a computer. Later in 2004 Katzer - the owner of a model train company Kamind which had also developed a similar railway control system - brought a legal case against Jacobsen on the grounds that the JMRI infringed Katzer's software patents. The legal arguments carried on in a series of legal cases between Jacobsen and Katzer for the following four years.
What made it more difficult for Jacobsen to get a closure to the legal actions of Katzer stemmed from the fact that he used the Artistic License 1.0 for the release of the JMRI, which gave minimal legal protection and meant that he was only able to prove that Katzer has infringed the attribution clause of the license. However, a US federal appeals court judge ruled that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act protected Jacobsen's copyright.
In the article, Mark Webbink - who is a visiting professor at the New York Law School - is quoted:
"From the standpoint of quality of an open-source license, it's just awful. The court looked at it and said it still conveys the intent of the author of the code and therefore needs to be enforced."
This case highlights the need to choose an open source license carefully and take the appropriate legal advice and scrutiny. The simple fact that the software is given away for free does not mean in the eyes of the law that it is unprotected. An open source license agreement is like any other license agreement in that it offers certain legal protections. A poor choice of license could leave the door open to future legal claims.