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Italian Courts Find Open Source Software Terms Enforceable

This article was originally published on If This Be Treason.

In a first-time ruling by Italian courts on open source licensing, a software vendor has lost a civil case for failing to comply with open source license requirements.

On December 13, the law court of Venice, Italy quietly affirmed the legal enforceability of open source software licenses in a case involving the GNU General Public License, perhaps the most well known open source license, in what was something of a test case within the country.

Open source software is important because it offers a way for software to be distributed freely and without cost, while allowing users to modify the software to suit their needs and distribute it to others.

“It [the ruling] represents an important step in the direction of strengthening the protection of intellectual works distributed through free software licenses in all their forms, a concrete progress for Italian jurisprudence on the subject and more generally for the country,” Ovation, an Italy-based limited liability company that was the plaintiff in the case, said in a press release it issued after the court ruling.

The case involved Ovation’s GPL licensed software, which is a plugin for the open source Elementor platform for building WordPress websites. According to the company, two former employees (evidently Marco Poglie and Francesco Pesce, who were the defendants in the suit, along with Venezia Italy-based Nerds Farm, which is owned by Pesce) had redistributed the software, which is allowed under the GPL.

The issue was that the software was redistributed without including acknowledgment of the original work, including information about changes the defendants had made to the software, and with no mention of the software’s copyright holders.

“They also proceeded with the unlawful behavior [of] ignoring the formal termination notice,” the company added, “which is the first protection tool implemented to safeguard the developers who decide to share their code in a free form.”

In addition to ordering the defendants to cease distribution of the software until it’s brought into compliance with the license, a fine of €100 (about $113 US) was levied for each day the defendants delay before bringing the software into compliance for the first 15 days, when the fine will increase to €300 ($339 US) daily and that they publish an excerpt of the order on a page of their website, as well as a reference on the site’s home page that’s displayed in double the normal character size of the site. The same rules apply to their Facebook page.

The court also ordered the defendants to pay the plaintiff’s litigation costs, an amount that exceeds €5,000.

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