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Marketplace

Copyrights upheld for open source code

Jeremy Hobson Aug 15, 2008
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Tess Vigeland: A milestone court ruling this week could have a major effect on everything from Facebook to Flickr. A federal appeals court ruled that open-source software can be protected by copyright. Developers give away open-source programs for free, so others can build on it. But now, even if you give away your work, as long as you have a copyright, you can control whether others can make money off it. We asked Marketplace’s Jeremy Hobson to look into what this all means.


Jeremy Hobson: Even if you’re not a computer programmer, you probably use something that’s around thanks to open source code, says tech analyst Rob Enderle.

Rob Enderle: The iPhone, the Mac OS, in fact virtually all of the Apple line. A number of phones that are from Samsung, for instance, and from LG actually have open source at their core. Tivo and an awful lot of the set-top boxes actually have open source components in them.

So when a ruling like this comes out, the effects spread across the high-tech ecosystem.

Enderle: This allows somebody that wants to create something that may exist in a community environment the peace of mind that, whatever that is, it will not prevent them from at some future point in time making money off their creation or having somebody actually come in and compete against them with their own technology.

The ruling also effects creative commons licensing, which allows popular Web sites like Flickr and Wikipedia to draw on contributions from millions of users. Creative Commons developer and Stanford Law professor Lawrence Lessig says the ruling is huge.

Lawrence Lessig Companies are increasingly building applications that depend upon the freedom to mix and to share creative work.

Lessig says this ruling means the content creators won’t have to have their lawyer’s number on speed dial anymore. They’ll know that, if they have a copyright, their work will be protected. And just in time, Lessig says we’re far more dependent on open source now than we were just a few years ago.

I’m Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

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