On April 25, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued an opinion in Artifex Software, Inc. v. Hancom, Inc. confirming that copyright owners who distribute their software under an open source software license may be able to enforce violations of the terms and conditions of the license both as a breach of contract and infringement of copyrights.
The case was brought because Artifex distributes Ghostscript, software that interprets PDF files, under a duel license. The free version uses the GPLv3 and a paid version is free from licensing restrictions. Hancom used the free version in it’s own products that it distributed, which Artifex argued breached the license contract and infringed their copyrights.
From the Article:
While the district court’s denial of Hancom’s motion to dismiss does not necessarily mean that Artifex will win its breach of contract and copyright infringement claims on the merits, the ruling suggests that:
- Plaintiffs wishing to enforce their rights under open source software licenses may now have more avenues under which to sue and recover, broadening the scope of potential damages for open source license non-compliance.
- Breach of contract claims for non-compliance with open source licenses give plaintiffs more flexibility to enforce their rights, and will make it more difficult for non-U.S. companies to hide behind territorial or jurisdictional limitations.
- In addition to remedies for copyright infringement (which, in the case of willful infringement, can include statutory damages that range up to $150,000 per infringed work), plaintiffs may also be entitled to a variety of damages under contract law.
- Given that the GPL does not provide the licensee with liability protection like disclaimers of consequential damages and limitations on overall liability, damages in contract, including for indirect harms such as unjust enrichment, reputational damage, lost profits, and consequential damages, could be significant.