Court Upholds Enforceability of Open Source Licenses

The District Court for the Northern District of California1 recently issued an opinion that is being hailed as a victory for open source software. In this case, the court denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging violation of an open source software license, paving the way for further action enforcing the conditions of the GNU General Public License (“GPL”).

Artifex and the Dual Licensing Model

Plaintiff Artifex Software, Inc. provides Ghostscriptan interpreter for the PostScript language and the Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF). This popular software is available under a choice of licensing options, under a model often referred to as dual licensing. This business model was pioneered by MySQL AB in the 1990s and later adopted by many businesses seeking to maintain a balance between developing free software and funding development with license fees.

Under its dual licensing model, Artifex offers Ghostscript under two sets of license terms. The GPLmost famous for applying to the Linux kernelis an open source software license that allows free modification and redistribution of software, subject to making the source code available under GPL license terms, among other requirements. This “copyleft” rubric ensures that all recipients of the software have free access to the source code. Artifex also grants alternative licenses on proprietary licensing terms, for companies that prefer not to comply with the requirements of GPL.

Hancom, Inc. integrated Ghostscript into its software product. It did not seek a proprietary license, but it also did not comply with the conditions of GPL. Artifex then tried to convince Hancom to comply with the GPL conditions, and when Hancom refused, Artifex filed suit to enforce its rights and vindicate the GPL regime.

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 1Artifex Software, Inc. v. Hancom, Inc., No. 16-cv-06982-JSC, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62815, Doc. 32 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 25, 2017).

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