Open Source has legal protection

From the New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — A legal dispute involving model railroad hobbyists has resulted in a major courtroom victory for the free software movement also known as open-source software.

In a ruling Wednesday, the federal appeals court in Washington said that just because a software programmer gave his work away did not mean it could not 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 court ruling also bolsters the open-source movement by easing the concerns of large organizations about relying on free software from hobbyists and hackers who have freely contributed time and energy without pay.

It also has implications for the Creative Commons license, a framework for modifying and sharing creative works that was developed in 2002 by Larry Lessig, a law professor at Stanford.

That license is now used widely by organizations like M.I.T. for distributing courseware, and Wikipedia, the Web-based encyclopedia. In March, the rock band Nine Inch Nails released a collection of musical tracks under a Creative Commons license.

The ambiguity facing open-source licensing has been one of the hurdles facing the movement, said Joichi Ito, the chief executive of Creative Commons.

“From a practical business perspective when big companies and their legal teams look at Creative Commons there are a number of questions,” he said. “It’s been one of the things their legal teams throw at us.”