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Boyle on Jacobsen v. Katzer in the FT


James Boyle, Chair of the Creative Commons board, has a column in the Financial Times that is always worth checking out. His most recent, on the recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision to uphold the theory on which open copyright licenses (including CC’s) are based, is a fun read, and gets right to the core of the importance of open licensing (and thus the case). In the column titled A creative coup for the trainspotters, Boyle writes:

Mr Jacobsen and his collaborators did not need to go out and make contracts individually with every person around a global network who might download their software, or create a contractual web reaching into the far future and touching everyone who might one day modify their work. The licence allowed them, at low legal cost, to set up the terms of a global collaborative exercise. It allowed to share their work under generous terms, to create a “commons” of shared material on the basis of which all could innovate, and yet still to insist on requirements that would preserve that commons in the future.

The court agreed, as Boyle explains:

In a remarkable sentence, the court made clear that it understood the stakes of its decision. “Open source licensing has become a widely used method of creative collaboration that serves to advance the arts and sciences in a manner and at a pace that few could have imagined just a few decades ago.” Advancing the arts and sciences is what intellectual property law is supposed to be about. And in a case about model railway enthusiasts, that is just what the court did. Our hats (or propellor-bearing beanie caps) should go off to it.

If you’ve followed the case, or read the full column (go do that now), you know that the openly licensed code in question is for controlling model railroads. How wonderful that this case upholding modern tools for building collaborative culture involves an age old (well, at least a century old) tinkering culture.

Posted 08 September 2008