Perl Foundation statement on the U.S. Court of Appeals Decision on Jacobsen v. Katzer and relevance to Artistic License 1.0

The following statement was written by Roberta Cairney, councel to The Perl Foundation. The Perl Foundation has participated in the Jacobsen v. Katzer amicus brief as the license in dispute, Artistic 1.0, is very popular in the Perl community and is one of the licenses under which Perl 5 is released.


A decision was rendered on August 13, 2008 in the Jacobsen v. Katzer case by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that wholeheartedly supports the enforceability of Artistic License 1.0, and open source, free software, and public licenses generally. This is one of the first U.S. cases to consider open source issues.

We've reported on this case before: http://news.perlfoundation.org/2008/03/tpf_support_of_artistic_licens.html.

The opinion is worth reading. As we mentioned in March, The Perl Foundation was part of a coalition of groups that collaborated on a "friend of the court" brief that was filed to support the appeal. Allison Randal and I worked on the brief with Chris Ridder, from Creative Commons, and representatives of several other open source, free software, and public license organizations.

At the risk of over-generalizing a complex legal record, the appeal was from a lower court ruling to the effect that -- because the plaintiff made his software available free-of-charge under Artistic 1.0 -- he was not entitled to copyright infringement remedies when the license was violated. This was a potentially dire result, because copyright law offers strong and effective remedies like injunctions, and contract law remedies are comparatively meager and often ineffectual.

The opinion describes in strong and clear language the scope and diversity of the open source community and its key role in innovation and technology development. It concludes that significant economic benefits result from open source licenses, despite that fact that no money changes hands.

In reversing the lower court's decision, the appellate court does a close and respectful analysis of Larry Wall's original Artistic License 1.0, and ends with an unequivocal statement confirming the availability of copyright remedies and the importance of enforcing the license:

"The clear language of the Artistic License creates conditions to protect the economic rights at issue in the granting of a public license. These conditions govern the rights to modify and distribute the computer programs and files included in the downloadable software package. The attribution and modification transparency requirements directly serve to drive traffic to the open source incubation page and to inform downstream users of the project, which is a significant economic goal of the copyright holder that the law will enforce."

Given the court's powerful endorsement of the structure and language of Artistic 1.0, we'll probably see more projects adopting Artistic Licenses, and more new licenses emulating them.

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