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Open source licensing suits settle in short order

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Many open source licences are only two or three paragraphs long and read more like a manifesto than a traditional software licence. The simple but unorthodox nature of open source licences, along with the fact that the software is provided “free,” has lulled many into a false sense that these licences must surely be unenforceable and that the use and redistribution of open source software will have no consequences.

This attitude belies the fact that despite a superficial and non-legalistic veneer, open source licences rely on traditional copyright principles and contract law – albeit in a non-traditional way – and therefore are prima facie enforceable. However, despite widespread adoption and significant use of open source software over the past 20 years, little jurisprudence has developed to determine exactly to what extent open source licences will be enforced.

In light of the dearth of case law, many have been carefully watching four recent claims brought by the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. These are purportedly the first claims in the U.S. regarding the GNU General Public License (GPL), one of the most common and influential open source licences. The New York-based SFLC provides legal representation to non-profit open source developers and projects to protect and foster the development of open source software.

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