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Jacobsen v Katzer Settled — Victory For F/OSS

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 4 years ago | from the nice-to-come-out-on-top-for-a-change dept.

The Courts 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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Great news! (3, Interesting)

ais523 (1172701) | more than 4 years ago | (#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! (3, Informative)

B'Trey (111263) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Legalease (1)

gd2shoe (747932) | more than 4 years ago | (#31204886)

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:Legalease (2, Informative)

cybereal (621599) | more than 4 years ago | (#31205092)

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 certain without more specific information about the actual submitted evidence just how they proved the monetary value. The article does not detail the submitted evidence. Though I think it's clear from context that the "record" term is being used in a judicial context. Either way, the judge agreed with whatever they submitted.

blah blah omg foss news (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31201804)

f/oss is not the wave of the future. average joe schmoe doesn't care if its f/oss or if its closed source. They want simple, easy to use programs that WORK. Something f/oss developers are incapable of doing since they're all too busy stroking their miniscule f/oss epeens. And a stupid court decision just proves that a stupid judge can be swayed. Nothing else. Wish slashdot would give f/oss "news" a section of its own so I could promptly ignore the crap. I don't care about the open source "movement" its a waste of time.

Re:blah blah omg foss news (-1, Offtopic)

crdotson (224356) | more than 4 years ago | (#31201826)

Wow. You may not live to see tomorrow. Might as well go to a University of Kentucky basketball game wearing Duke colors.

Re:blah blah omg foss news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31202058)

Wow. You may not live to see tomorrow. Might as well go to a University of Kentucky basketball game wearing Duke colors.

Don't Duke and UK have the same colors? Or close enough as not to matter?

Re:blah blah omg foss news (-1, Troll)

RobertLTux (260313) | more than 4 years ago | (#31202260)

no this is more of the grade of running down the streets of northern irelands capitol waving a Union Jack about 6 years ago (when they blew up parts of london for Christmas)

In a strange turn of events... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31201836)

For once, a just ruling based on the DMCA? I can't believe it.

Yes, it does stand as a precedent (4, Informative)

Andy Updegrove (956488) | more than 4 years ago | (#31201876)

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:Yes, it does stand as a precedent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31202054)

Awesome. Thank you very much for the answer. - Xalseqsn

Re:Yes, it does stand as a precedent (2, Informative)

reebmmm (939463) | more than 4 years ago | (#31202128)

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 [uscourts.gov], 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 final decision by the court, but there is a final appellate decision.

Re:Yes, it does stand as a precedent (3, Informative)

WilliamX (22300) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Yes, it does stand as a precedent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31203026)

No kidding- it's a wildly overstated headline. So in one of the many OSS license forms, the licensing conditions were found to be, indeed, conditions that the licensee had to meet for a valid license, and not ancillary contractual agreements.
Something that always fascinates me is the average slashdotter's belief in the ubiquity of "precedent". A quick primer: precedent relates to law not facts. So the precedent here is that the copyright notice requirements in this particular license are legally considered conditions to the license, not contractual covenants. What's gonna happen based on this 'precedent' with, say, the GPL? Say it with me: You have no idea because it's a different license, using different language.

Re:Yes, it does stand as a precedent (1)

Schnoodledorfer (1223854) | more than 4 years ago | (#31206262)

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 distributed without payment, F/OSS would have lost an important weapon. It was important that the court ruled that this does not make the licenses too broad to be enforced. All of the logic used by the Court of Appeals to reach that conclusion also sets precedent (or strengthens previously existing precedent).

I don't understand why you are making a big deal about the fact that the case was heard in federal court. Federal courts have precedence over state courts in matters of federal law. Copyright law is federal law.

Re:Yes, it does stand as a precedent (1)

WilliamX (22300) | more than 4 years ago | (#31206358)

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.

Re:Yes, it does stand as a precedent (1)

Schnoodledorfer (1223854) | more than 4 years ago | (#31214008)

You are right, TFA did say the appellate court affirmed the lower court decision. I missed that. However, in an earlier blog post [consortiuminfo.org] 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:Yes, it does stand as a precedent (2, Informative)

imp (7585) | more than 4 years ago | (#31204800)

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 way to go before there's a good level of case law on open source.

Does this apply to books too? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31202766)

If I sell a copy of a book with the author's name blacked out, and the copyright page removed, am I going to get in trouble?

Re:Does this apply to books too? (2, Informative)

spitzak (4019) | more than 4 years ago | (#31203524)

I don't know if this is a troll, but yes if it actually is a copy of the book (not the original), you are in trouble.

Huzzah for Important Rights (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31203036)

Huzzah!!!!!, oh wait...that's absurd. I shouldn't have to agree to this guy or anyone elses terms, if I bought, in this case for $0.00, the product...it is mine. I can do as I please.... /sarcasm

Re:Huzzah for Important Rights (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31204386)

Do you ever kind of just wake up and realize you've been talking for a few minutes and wonder what it was you were talking about?

showing monetary value? (1)

Zecheus (1072058) | more than 4 years ago | (#31203546)

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:showing monetary value? (3, Insightful)

BenSchuarmer (922752) | more than 4 years ago | (#31203784)

For one thing, Katzer thought it was worth stealing.

Re:showing monetary value? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31208446)

Does not look that way - Katzer docs said he sold $1200 in sales. I read one of the early postings, it look like the the tool that katzer made was to be turned over to the open source groups. I think that jacobsen was not being truthful from what it looks like in the docs.. Did you se that bit about him being a business? That was interesting.

I thought that this was patenet case..

Re:showing monetary value? (1)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 4 years ago | (#31204236)

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)

The settlement is for $100,000 (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31203810)

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.)

And about the anti-SLAPP lawyer's fees? (1)

Mathinker (909784) | more than 4 years ago | (#31208668)

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?

At some level we got lucky (3, Interesting)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 4 years ago | (#31203824)

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.

DMCA (1)

Jahava (946858) | more than 4 years ago | (#31205576)


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 :)

$100k + costs? (1)

listentoreason (1726940) | more than 4 years ago | (#31205656)

IANAL, but I RTFA, and I also read the linked settlement document [docstoc.com]. 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.

$100k total (1)

Schnoodledorfer (1223854) | more than 4 years ago | (#31206774)

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, though (he doesn't seem to trust Katzer for some reason), and by being able to force Katzer into binding arbitration, he should be able to avoid the hassle and expense of the courts if Katzer starts misbehaving again.

Re:$100k total (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31208412)

I you read a lot of the docs, it look liked jacobsen has lied quite a lot. which is interesting. When i read the final docs, looks like jacobsen incorporated another companies Ip in the JMRI software, which he used i to sue katzer. From the final docs, looks like the fact that the company provided tech support, gave jacobsen an implied license, so seems like jacobsen is a copyright infringer, but got off on a technicality - since Jacobsen is a professor, he should have known better..

Re:$100k total (1)

tebee (1280900) | more than 4 years ago | (#31212980)

I'm not sure whether you strangled use of the English language means you are (a) a non-native English speaker or (b) an ignorant troll, but neither are good attributes when it comes to analysing the documents from a complicated court case. I see no such condemnation of Jacobsen in them, maybe you could explain where you see these allegations, my dear little AC ?
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