Software developers may have decided to provide open source software, but they may not know which open source license to use. This post describes three resources developers can consult to help make that decision.
First, Open Source Initiative maintains a comprehensive list of open source software licenses. Licenses are grouped into categories, starting with the most popular licenses. However, the OSI site does not provide any tools to help decide which open source license to use.
Intellectual property license agreements often include a provision by which the licensor is paid a royalty that is calculated as a percentage of the revenue received by the licensee from licensed products. Given that licensees have a financial incentive to reduce the amount of revenue that is reported*, the prudent licensor includes an audit provision in the license agreement.
The audit provision typically:
- Specifies the frequency and nature of audits that may be conducted;
- Provides that the licensee will pay any underpayment amount that is discovered plus interest; and
- Obligates the licensor to pay for the audit unless the underpayment exceeds X% of the royalty that was due, in which case the licensee must reimburse the licensor for the cost of the audit.
Erik Anderson developed certain software that he contributed to BusyBox, a compact set of embedded Linux utilities licensed under the GNU General Public License, Version 2 (the “GPL”). In October 2008, Anderson registered a copyright on the code that he contributed.
On September 2, 2009, Anderson’s counsel notified Westinghouse that it was infringing Anderson’s copyright because it was distributing BusyBox – both integrated into Westinghouse televisions and separately with other software – on terms that are more restrictive than the GPL. Westinghouse continued infringing Anderson’s copyright.
Anderson and the Software Freedom Conservancy brought suit against Westinghouse and 13 other defendants on December 14, 2009. Westinghouse initially mounted a defense, but stopped participating in the suit when it filed for bankruptcy.
A federal court of appeals held in 2008 that an open source developer case sue for copyright infringement despite the breadth of the open source license. The closely-watched case recently settled, meaning that the opinion may well be cited for many years to come.
Plaintiff Robert Jacobsen holds a copyright to certain computer programming code that he makes available for public download for free pursuant to the Artistic License, an open source license.
Defendants Matthew Katzer and Kamind Associates, Inc. develop commercial software products for the model train industry and hobbyists. Defendants copied certain materials from Jacobsen’s website and incorporated them into one of their software packages without following the terms of the Artistic License. Jacobsen sued for copyright infringement and moved for a preliminary injunction.
Almost a year ago, I wrote about why independent contractors (as contrasted to employees) own the copyrights in works that they create. As a result, a prudent customer will ensure that the contractor assigns its copyrights to the customer (Why “Work Made for Hire” is a Term Made for Confusion). This post discusses the implied copyright license that is granted in the absence of an assignment.
If there is no assignment provision, a court will determine that there is an implied license under the copyright. The rationale is that it would be unfair to deprive the customer of all rights in a work for which the customer has paid. The issue, then, will be the terms of the implied license.
The one certain characteristic of the implied license is that it will be non-exclusive rather than exclusive. The reason: Under 17 U.S.C. Section 101, an exclusive license is considered a transfer of copyright ownership. And under 17 U.S.C. Section 204(a), a transfer of copyright ownership must be in writing and must be signed.
I recently answered a LinkedIn question about whether providing Software as a Service (SaaS) is considered a “distribution” under the open-source GNU General Public License. The question and answer are reproduced, in slightly edited form, below.
Q. Is hosting a software as a SaaS offering considered as ‘distribution’ under GPL / LGPL open source licenses?
A. I believe that SaaS hosting is not intended to be considered distribution.
The December 2009 issue of les Nouvelles, a publication of Licensing Executives Society International, has an interesting article about the interplay between domain name disputes and trademark licensing.
“WIPO Domain Name Cases Offer Trademark Licensing Lessons,” by Hee-Eun Kim, an LLM student in Munich, Germany, starts by describing the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) and the role of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in resolving disputes under the UDRP.
Update: On September 10, 2010, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (in Vernor v. Autodesk) reversed the District Count decision discussed below. Supporting software licensors’ reasonable business expectations, the Court held “that a software user is a licensee rather than an owner of a copy where the copyright owner (1) specifies that the user is granted a license; (2) significantly restricts the user’s ability to transfer the software; and (3) imposes notable use restrictions.” [Emphasis added.] Accordingly, Vernor, as a licensee, was not protected by the first sale doctrine when he sold copies of Autodesk’s software.
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In Vernor v. Autodesk, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington told Autodesk that despite the restrictions in its license agreement, Autodesk could not preclude its customer from selling AutoCAD software to a third party.
Last month I posted You May Be a Software Pirate and Not Even Know It. The issues raised there now apply to equally content.
The Software & Information Industry Association is pursuing unlicensed use of content as aggressively as unlicensed use of software. For example, as recently reported in InfoWorld and elsewhere, Knowledge Networks agreed to pay SIIA $300,000 to settle a complaint that it distributed news articles to its employees without permission of the copyright owners. Similarly, in a media release earlier this year, SIIA announced that it was aggressively fighting graphics content piracy by filing lawsuits against individuals and companies that copied and distributed clip art without appropriate licenses. In another media release, SIIA touted the use of paid whistleblowers to help SIIA find infringers.
The implications are clear: Whether the subject is software, content or any other works of authorship, use and distribute the products only to the extent that you are authorized to do so by the terms of the applicable licenses.
This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.
A fundamental tenet of patent law is that the owner of a patent can preclude others from using or manufacturing inventions that the patent covers. Few people realize, however, that there is a major loophole regarding the U.S. government.
Section 1498(a) of Title 28 of the U.S. Code says, in part, “Whenever an invention described in and covered by a patent of the United States is used or manufactured by or for the United States without license of the owner thereof or lawful right to use or manufacture the same, the owner’s remedy shall be action against the United States in the United States Court of Federal Claims for recovery of his reasonable and entire compensation for such use and manufacture.”