Discussion on Jacobsen v Katzer Case

Discussion on Jacobsen v Katzer Case

The plaintiff, Jacobsen developed a software program known as DecoderPro through Java Model Railroad Interface (JMRI) group. The program permitted the enthusiasts to use it in programming the model-train decoder chips. This program was available on SourceForge site whereby it was free to download. However, the usage, modification, and distribution of the program were subject to the artistic license terms. Katzer, the defendant download Jacobsen’s program and through Kamind Associates modified some part of it to use in a different computer program. Jacobsen filed a lawsuit against Katzer on the basis of copyright infringement. The case issue arising from this scenario was whether, under the open source license, Katzer was involved in patent and copyright infringement and cybersquatting as claimed by Jacobsen. The District Court held that open-source liability for copyright infringement did not qualify the plaintiff to sue for damages (Jacobsen v. Katzer 2009). The plaintiff claims were rendered pointless, and as a result, Jacobsen could not recover any financial damage. However, the appellate court reversed the lower court ruling by holding that it was within the copyright law to enforce open-source copyright claims and awarded the plaintiff the damages. I do not agree with the appellate court decision. First, open-source software is not proprietary software. Under the United States copyright law, open-source software has been defined as the computer software which has the licensed code, and the copyright owner allows the users to distribute, modify or change and study the software. On the other sides, proprietary software is commercial computer software whereby the copyright holder retains intellectual property rights including the source code and patent rights. The appellate court treated open-source software as the proprietary software. Moreover, Jacobsen possessed the artist license, and it stipulated that this type of license is applicable for particular open-source and free software packages. Based on the enforceable copyright facts as provided under open-software and artistic license acts, it was not justifiable for the appellate court to award damages.


Robert Jacobsen, Plaintiff, v. Matthew Katzer and Kamind Associates, Inc, Defendants. , C06-01905 (United States District Court For the Northen District of California December 10, 2009).

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