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New York Times (08/14/08) P. C7; Markoff, John
In a major victory for the open source software movement, the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., has ruled that simply because a software programmer may give his work away for free does not mean that the software cannot be protected. The decision legitimizes the use of commercial contracts for the distribution of computer software and digital artistic works for the public good. The ruling also boosts the open source movement by easing the concerns of large organizations about relying on free software from developers who contributed to the effort without pay. The ruling will also have implications for the Creative Common license, which is used by organizations such as Wikipedia and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for distributing courseware and other materials. Creative Commons CEO Joichi Ito says the ambiguity facing open source licensing has been one of the obstacles hindering the movement. The appeals court decision reversed a San Francisco federal court ruling over the misappropriation of a software program by Kam Industries, a company that publishes model train hobbyist software. Kam Industries owner Matthew A. Katzer had sued free software developers for patent infringement while the free software community argued that Katzer failed to disclose earlier technology, or prior art, in his patent filings. In March 2006, University of California, Berkeley professor Robert G. Jacobsen filed a lawsuit against Katzer claiming that his company was distributing a commercial software program that used code from the Java Model Railroad Interface project, and was redistributing the program without the credits required as part of the open source license it was originally distributed under. The lower court ruled that the terms of the open source contract were overly broad.