Dispute Over Model Train Control Software Just Became a Landmark Open-Source Copyright Case

Robert Jacobsen wrote a nice piece of software for everyone with a Lionel set in their garage and released it under an open-source licence. Fine and dandy. But after a company jacked his code and released it as a commercial product, Jacobsen understandably got a little pissed and sued. After God knows how many hearings and evidence filings involving model trains, the whole thing has ended up in federal appeals court, where it's unexpectedly turned into a potentially landmark ruling for open-source software licenses everywhere, keeping things like Linux and Wikipedia a bit more secure, for the moment.

The lower court had claimed that Jacobsen's "Artistic License" (CC, dude!) was too broad to claim a copyright violation, which is more powerful than the breach of contract compliant the lower court judge did allow. But the feds have stepped in to call shenanigans, allowing for a dinky little licence like the "Artistic" used for model train software to hold up in court as a copyright case, which bodes well for beefier GPL and Creative Commons licenses. The open source world has been starving for notable test cases, and it just may have found one here. [WSJ - photo by Brent and Marilyn]

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