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Copyright Ruling For Open Source: Good And Bad News?

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The other week, the open source community enthusiastically welcomed a court ruling that set a strong precedence for open source licensing. Not everyone was enthusiastic, though. Among the cautionary dissenters is Michael P. Bennett, partner, Wildman Harrold (Chicago). To Michael, it's a two-edged sword that can harm as much as it can help.

Q: As I understand it, the case in question established that a copyright infringement case can be brought against someone who violates an open source license. Is your reading of it that anyone who feels they have a copyright infringement case against a given piece of OSS can create real problems for the authors of the software -- making this, in effect, a two-edged sword?

A: In some ways, open source software is like any other software. Authors of OSS must take care in how they create their software. In any dispute, there will be important facts that affect the rights of the parties. Was the copied code expressive? Was it functional? Was it distributed? Like anyone else, if an OSS author copies another author's work, the copier could be sued for infringement. The bottom line is that all authors, OSS authors included, must take care.

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