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Monday, 22 February 2010 12:27

Free code does have monetary value

A case that ended over the weekend has set down an important precedent: the authors of free and open source software can lodge and win damages for copyright claims if someone uses their code without proper authorisation.

The case was brought by Robert Jacobsen, a software developer and member of the Java Model Railroad Interface Project, against Matthew Katzer of Kamind Associates.

Jacobsen and his fellow developers had created an application called DecoderPro which allows for the programming of processors to remotely control model trains.

Katzer offers a closed application, Decoder Commander, which can be used for the same purpose.

Jacobsen filed suit in 2006, claiming that Katzer had incorporated his (Jacobsen's) code into Decoder Commander after removing the copyright notices.

The question of merely winning the case was not that important as the fact that Jacobsen was also awarded damages - in the amount of $US100,000 - as it has established the precedent that free software coders can claim damages for such infringements.

It has set down the principle that even code which one can take freely and use has a value attached to it. Of course, when someone uses the code under the terms of its licence, there is no cause for any litigation.

The removal of the copyright notices was deemed an infringement of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The case was decided in the northern district court of California.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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