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The Courts Software Technology

Jacobsen v Katzer Settled — Victory For F/OSS 36

Andy Updegrove writes "A short while ago the parties to one of the most closely watched FOSS cases filed a settlement agreement with the US Federal District Court for the Northern District of California ending one of the most important F/OSS legal cases to date. That case is Jacobsen vs. Katzer, and the settlement marks a complete victory for Jacobsen, a member of the Java Model Railroad Interface (JMRI) Project. Jacobsen's victory establishes several important rights for the first time in the US: the right to prevent their copyright and authorship acknowledgments from being removed from their code, and the right to collect damages if the terms of the licenses they choose are violated. Until now, those rights had never been tested in court."
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Jacobsen v Katzer Settled — Victory For F/OSS

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  • Great news! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ais523 ( 1172701 ) <ais523(524\)(525)x)> on Friday February 19, 2010 @02:05PM (#31201756)
    But does the fact that this was settled, rather than taken to a final judgement, mean that it doesn't set a binding precedent?
    • Re:Great news! (Score:4, Informative)

      by B'Trey ( 111263 ) on Friday February 19, 2010 @02:17PM (#31201882)

      This case was settled, yes. But if you RTFA you'll note that there were several rulings that were issued and then appealed up to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. Those rulings, which strongly favor F/OSS, ARE now binding, at least for that circuit.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        ... and the rulings will likely be influential in other circuits, as explained in TFA.

        TFA might be getting slashdotted, though. Google has it cached: []
      • 2. While the JMRI Project made its code available for free, there was "evidence in the record attributing a monetary value for the actual work performed by the contributors to the JMRI project," thus laying the basis for monetary damages.

        Can someone who speaks legalese translate for me? This seems to suggest that FOSS projects need to keep some kind of records, perhaps tracking man-hours. What "evidence" is being discussed? I can't tell if "record" implies the judicial proceedings, or JMRI bookkeeping.

        This worries me, but only so far as I don't really understand what this passage is saying. In other words, if this passage has become binding, what is the practical fallout of it?

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by cybereal ( 621599 )

          It seems likely that they just applied an average contractor cost to the work demonstrated by their source control records. (Record in the context of your question being the general term for submitted evidence.)

          For example, they could've asked an unaware third party software contractor for an estimate to do the work that was already done, or just some of it, or similar work, or whatever, to prove that the work represented something that could be considered value in monetary terms.

          But it's hard to say for ce

  • by Andy Updegrove ( 956488 ) on Friday February 19, 2010 @02:16PM (#31201876) Homepage
    Yes - the rulings made by the court do stand as precedents, notwithstanding the fact that the case settled. What the settlement means is that those rulings can no longer be appealed. If it had settled before going to court, then the settlement would have been irrelevant, but that's not the case here. - Andy
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by reebmmm ( 939463 )

      Sort of? If you mean the lower court by "the court," the answer is largely no it is not precedent because the lower court's rulings were overturned on appeal.

      However, the settlement came after an appeal to the Federal Circuit. The appeal resulted in a vacated judgment and the case was remanded to the lower court. The opinion of the appellate case, found here [], will be precedential and binding on all federal courts. This settlement ends the "further proceedings" part of the case. As a result, there is no fin

      • by WilliamX ( 22300 ) on Friday February 19, 2010 @03:35PM (#31202706)
        The only thing that stands as a precedent is the very very very narrow decision by the appeals court, which is not very substantive at all. In the end, all they decided was to vacate the previous court's ruling that the license's broad terms were overly broad and thus couldn't rise to the standard required for a financial liability and enforcement. That was the ONLY ruling in by the appellate court, and it is very narrow, and applies only to the federal courts, who even the appellate court explained barely had jurisdiction in this case.
        • No, as TFA, which was written by a lawyer, makes clear, the decisions of the lower court that weren't overturned create precedent as well. The idea is that the law is to be administered consistently, so judges will tend to rule consistent with previous decisions. Precedent created by a lower court isn't as weighty as that set by a higher court, but it still exists.

          The decision by the appellate court was on a very important point. If copyright law couldn't be applied to software that is copied and distrib
          • by WilliamX ( 22300 )
            TFA misrepresented the case, and didnt get his facts correct. Go read the PDF of the decision, and that will be clear. For example, he didnt even understand that the lower court ruled that the license was invalid, saying the appeals court AFFIRMED the lower court ruling, when in fact they vacated and remanded. If the TFA was written by an attorney, it was written by one who didnt read any of the actual case material.
            • You are right, TFA did say the appellate court affirmed the lower court decision. I missed that. However, in an earlier blog post [] the same author said the appeals court overturned it. I think he forgot which way the lower court initially ruled. I admit that's sloppy. He definitely is an attorney [], though, for what that's worth.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by imp ( 7585 )

      Almost correct. While the case precedents exist, they are still not as strong as you'd like because they have never been reviewed. This means they are still vulnerable to being replaced by precedents from other cases that do get fully reviewed. That's the bad thing about this ending in a settlement: since the case never wound its way entirely through the system, these rulings were never fully tested.

      So the fact that the case was weak enough for one side to settle is encouraging, but there's still a long

  • Anyone have a link to how jacobsen showed the project had monetary value?

    While the JMRI Project made its code available for free, there was "evidence in the record attributing a monetary value for the actual work performed by the contributors to the JMRI project,"

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      For one thing, Katzer thought it was worth stealing.
    • a monetary value for the actual work performed by the contributors to the JMRI project,"

      and for the purpose of compensation, all that work was performed at freelance contractor rates (ie. working on their own time, not part of a salaried job)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    paid by the defendant to the plaintiff in three parts. $20K within 30 days, an additional $40K within 6 months and the final $40K within 18 months. The defendant may pay the plaintiff sooner. (I liked that clause.)

    • I remember that at one point Katzen had managed to turn the intent of California's anti-SLAPP laws on their head and gotten a decision that Jacobsen had to pay him a hefty sum in legal fees. Anyone have any idea what happened with this and how the final settlement deals with it, if at all?

  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Friday February 19, 2010 @04:46PM (#31203824) Homepage
    The license used was the Artistic License which in its early forms (and the form that as I understand it applied here) has issues and really was not at all the ideal test case for a copyleft license. The license has been extensively criticized for vague and poor wording from the EFF and other legal experts.
  • by Jahava ( 946858 )

    The removal of the copyright and authorship data contained in the pirated code was a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, thus providing a basis for suit for that action in violation of the JMRI license.

    A part of me is laughing that the deservedly-derided DMCA actually ended up being a legal foundation for the violation :)

  • IANAL, but I RTFA, and I also read the linked settlement document []. Am I correct in understanding that Katzer et. al. owe $100,000 plus legal costs? I know this has been a drawn-out battle, but that still seems like a fairly significant victory for Jacobsen et al.
    • I don't think the legal costs to date were included. The reasonable costs and attorney fees mentioned in the settlement were for filing the stipulated judgment if Katzer doesn't make the payments on time. Also, if they had to go to arbitration in the future, the looser would pay the winner's attorney fees.

      I think Katzer was trying to give himself time to come up with the money rather than having the court put a lien on him or forcing him to pay the money immediately. Jacobsen got the injunction he wanted

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