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Jacobsen v. Katzer

United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
535 F.3d 1373 (2008)


Robert Jacobsen (plaintiff), through an open-source software group called Java Model Railroad Interface (JMRI), created a computer program called DecoderPro. DecoderPro was an open-source program that allowed enthusiasts to program model-train decoder chips. It was available on a site known for open-source software collaboration called SourceForge. The DecoderPro was free to download, but its use, distribution, and modifications to the code were subject to the terms of the artistic license (the license). If a user did not want to meet one of the specified terms for allowing modification of the code, such as making the modifications freely available to others, the user could negotiate other arrangements with Jacobsen. Matthew Katzen (defendant), through his company Kamind Associates, Inc., downloaded the DecoderPro source code and modified a portion for use in another computer program, Decoder Commander. Katzen’s program did not meet any of the listed terms stated in the license to allow modification, and Katzen did not negotiate alternate terms with Jacobsen. Jacobsen sued Katzen for copyright infringement. Katzen argued that he had a license to use DecoderPro, because it was open-source software, and that Katzen therefore could not be liable for copyright infringement. The district court found in favor of Katzen. Jacobsen appealed the decision.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Hochberg, J.)

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