[ANSOL-geral] GPL - A federal court has ruled that an open-source
license is an enforceable contract
Domingo, 14 de Maio de 2017 - 01:56:25 WEST
GPL - A federal court has ruled that an open-source license is an
When the South Korean developer of a suite of productivity apps called
Hancom Office incorporated an open-source PDF interpreter called
Ghostscript into its word-processing software, it was supposed to do one
of two things.
To use Ghostscript for free, Hancom would have to adhere to its
open-source license, the GNU General Public License (GPL). The GNU GPL
requires that when you use GPL-licensed software to make some other
software, the resulting software also has to be open-sourced with the
same license if it’s released to the public. That means Hancom would
have to open-source its entire suite of apps.
Alternatively, Hancom could pay a licensing fee to Artifex, the
developer of Ghostscript. Artifex allows developers of commercial or
otherwise closed-source software to forego the strict open-source terms
of the GNU GPL if they’re willing to pay for it.
But after it began using Ghostscript in its software in 2013, Hancom did
neither: it did not open-source its software, and it did not pay Artifex
a licensing fee.
At the end of 2016, Artifex filed a lawsuit against Hancom in the US
District Court for the Northern District of California.
“Upon discovering Hancom’s abuse of the GNU GPL and infringement of
Artifex’s valuable copyright in Ghostscript, Artifex demanded that
Hancom cease its infringement and remit to Artifex a reasonable royalty
for Hancom’s years of unlicensed use of Ghostscript,” the company said
in its complaint. “Rebuffed by Hancom, Artifex turns to this Court to
enjoin Hancom from further infringement and to seek relief and recovery
for Hancom’s abuse of Artifex’s open source license.”
Artifex also said in its complaint that Hancom reported $86.3 million in
revenue in 2015.
The enforceability of open source licenses like the GNU GPL has long
been an open legal question. The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals held
in a 2006 case, Jacobsen v. Katzer, that violations of open source
licenses could be treated like copyright claims. But whether they could
legally considered breaches of contract had yet to be determined, until
the issue came up in Artifex v. Hancom.
That happened when Hancom issued a motion to dismiss the case on the
grounds that the company didn’t sign anything, so the license wasn’t a
“Not so,” said Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley in her order on the motion
on April 25. Corley said the GNU GPL “provides that the Ghostscript user
agrees to its terms if the user does not obtain a commercial license.
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant used Ghostscript, did not obtain a
commercial license, and represented publicly that its use of Ghostscript
was licensed under the [GNU GPL]. These allegations sufficiently plead
the existence of a contract.”
Corley denied the motion, and in doing so, set the precedent that
licenses like the GNU GPL can be treated like legal contracts, and
developers can legitimately sue when those contracts are breached. It’s
an important win for the open-source community. Of course, whether
Artifex will actually win the case it’s now allowed to pursue is another
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