This ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., is great news for open source software developers, and anyone who wishes to exert some level of control over their creative works whether sold or given away.
One example is the Creative Commonscopyright license project. This project is geared toward authors, scientists, artists and educators to allow people to define the rights they assert and the rights they offer for use.
I use a Creative Commons license when I post fiction online. The fiction I choose to post is offered for no-cost re-publication as long as it’s not for commercial purposes. If say a magazine or commercial website wanted to run one of my stories they would have to get in contact with me and either get my permission or come to terms for compensation. This way I can offer selected works of art to be freely shared and still “own” the commercial rights to the work. Just because I give it away for one purpose doesn’t mean I’m ceding the right to compensation in another context.
This is from the Creative Commons “about” page:
Creative Commons is a Massachusetts-chartered 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable corporation. For more information, see the corporate charter, by-laws, most recent tax return and most recent audited financial statement.
Creative Commons defines the spectrum of possibilities between full copyright — all rights reserved — and the public domain — no rights reserved. Our licenses help you keep your copyright while inviting certain uses of your work — a “some rights reserved” copyright.
Too often the debate over creative control tends to the extremes. At one pole is a vision of total control — a world in which every last use of a work is regulated and in which “all rights reserved” (and then some) is the norm. At the other end is a vision of anarchy — a world in which creators enjoy a wide range of freedom but are left vulnerable to exploitation. Balance, compromise, and moderation — once the driving forces of a copyright system that valued innovation and protection equally — have become endangered species.
Creative Commons is working to revive them. We use private rights to create public goods: creative works set free for certain uses. Like the free software and open-source movements, our ends are cooperative and community-minded, but our means are voluntary and libertarian. We work to offer creators a best-of-both-worlds way to protect their works while encouraging certain uses of them — to declare “some rights reserved.”
From the PhyOrg.com (way up in the first graf) link:
In a crucial win for the free software movement, a federal appeals court has ruled that even software developers who give away the programming code for their works can sue for copyright infringement if someone misappropriates that material.
The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., helps clarify a murky area of the law concerning how much control programmers can exert over their intellectual property once it’s been released for free into the so-called “open source” software community.
People are free to use that material in their own products, but they must credit the original authors of the programming code and release their modifications into the wild as well, a cycle that’s critical for free software to continue improving.
Because the code was given away for free, thorny questions emerge when a violation has been discovered and someone is found to have shoved the code into their own for-profit products without giving anything back, in the form of attribution and disclosure of the alterations they made.
Here’s the entry on this from the Creative Commons site:
The United States Court of Appeals held that “Open Source” or public license licensors are entitled to copyright infringement relief.
The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC), the leading IP court in the United States, has upheld a free copyright license, while explicitly pointing to the work of Creative Commons and others. The Court held that free licenses such as the CC licenses set conditions (rather than covenants) on the use of copyrighted work. As a result, licensors using public licenses are able to seek injunctive relief for alleged copyright infringement, rather than being limited to traditional contract remedies.
Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig explained the theory of all free software, open source, and Creative Commons licenses upheld by the court: “When you violate the condition, the license disappears, meaning you’re simply a copyright infringer. This is the theory of the GPL and all CC licenses. Put precisely, whether or not they are also contracts, they are copyright licenses which expire if you fail to abide by the terms of the license.” Lessig said the ruling provided “important clarity and certainty by a critically important US Court.”
Today’s ruling vacated the district court’s decision and affirmed the availability of remedies based on copyright law for violations of open licenses. The federal court noted that ignoring attribution requirements contained in the license caused reputation and economic harm to the original licensor. This opinion demonstrates a strong understanding of a basic economic principles of the internet; attribution is a valuable economic right in the information economy. Read the full opinion.(PDF)
Creative Commons filed a friends of the court brief in this case. Thanks to all the cosponsors Linux Foundation, The Open Source Initiative, Software Freedom Law Center, the Perl Foundation and Wikimedia Foundation. Significant pro bono work on this brief was provided by Anthony T. Falzone and Christopher K. Ridder of Stanford’s Center for Internet & Society. Read the full brief.
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