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US Court rules in favor of "open source" copyright

Over the past few years, we've seen a number of artists, software developers and others release their work under non-traditional copyright licenses. Historically, copyright laws have been used to prevent others from redistributing your work. But Creative Commons and the GNU General Public License allow content makers to distribute their work for free -- while insisting upon certain conditions.

For example, there are Creative Commons licenses that would let you write a poem and allow anyone to publish that poem on their web site as long as they provide proper attribution. Or you can use the GNU GPL to release a piece of software that others can distribute for free, or even charge a fee for -- as long as they continue to make the source code available for free.

Up until now, the validity of these licenses hasn't really been put to the test. But on Wednesday, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned a San Francisco court ruling dealing with just these issues. Basically, a software developer who published model train software was using code that had been released for free. But he did not give credit to the developers of the original software, despite the fact that the license required him to do so.

When the guy who developed the open original application filed suit, the San Fransisco court ruled that the terms of the license were too broad to be enforceable. But this week's ruling overturns that decision which means that software developers, musicians, artists, and others who release their work under an "open source" license have a reasonable expectation that the terms of the license will be enforceable -- at least until some schmuck comes along and takes the case to the Supreme Court.

Tags: copyright, creative-commons, gnu-gpl, gpl, licenses, news, open-source, opensource