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When a piece of software explicitly requires that their open source license acknowledgments be included in derivative software (software that uses the open source software), is this a legally enforceable requirement?

According to this blog post it is, but let's look at an example. PayPal have an open source project, card.io, that third-party mobile app developers can use for scanning credit cards in their apps. They state:

Add card.io's open source license acknowledgments to your app's acknowledgments.

However, when I downloaded apps that use this project (Uber, PayPay itself, TaskRabbit, EAT24, grubHub, etc.), in some cases I found that they had a section on software licenses, however I did not find the license acknowledgments for card.io inside any of the apps (Uber is a good example of this).

What are the legal ramifications of not including the license acknowledgments in a visible part of the app (let's say it's a banking app here)?

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    "Add card.io's open source license acknowledgments to your app's acknowledgments." Did you find the acknowledgments for the apps you cite? Are you saying you found Uber's acknowledgments and card.io's was missing? Or are you saying you couldn't find card.io's acknowledgments anywhere but also didn't find any acknowledgments from Uber? Is it possible that if an app doesn't have any acknowledgments that card.io's requirement goes away? – Dave D Aug 28 '15 at 0:56
  • I clarified this now, some did have a license section, but did not have card.io. – paulvs Aug 28 '15 at 1:57
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When a piece of software explicitly requires that their open source license acknowledgments be included in derivative software (software that uses the open source software), is this a legally enforceable requirement?

Yes

What are the legal ramifications of not including the license acknowledgments in a visible part of the app (let's say it's a banking app here)?

That would depend on if it was a requirement that the acknowledgement be publically accessible; it may be buried in a copyright notice in the source code. Remember, Copyright in software resides in the code, images and displays as "literary" works - algorithms are not subject to copyright.

If the person has breached the copyright licence then the copyright holder can take action against them. Normally such action would be a request to comply with the license followed by a cease and desist order.

In this case what action they want to take is up to PayPal or the copyright holder who granted the licence to them.

  • Can you clarify the part "Remember, Copyright in software resides in the code, images and displays as "literary" works - algorithms are not subject to copyright.", please? I understand that copyrights can reside in code or be publicly accessible, but I don't understand what you mean about "images and displays as "literary" works" – paulvs Aug 28 '15 at 20:44
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    Copyright only exists in literary works; code, a novel, a picture, the way a computer screenshot looks. Ideas are not copyright - that's what patents are for, words and logos are not copyright - that's what trademarks are for, sculpture and physical objects are not copyright - that's what registered designs are for. – Dale M Aug 28 '15 at 21:08
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If the copyright holder states "you have the right to create derivative works of my software if you do X, Y and Z", and you don't do X, Y and Z, then creating a derivative work is copyright infringement. The copyright holder can sue you for copyright infringement.

The copyright holder cannot force you to do X, Y and Z. They can give you a hint that they wouldn't sue you for copyright infringement if you do X, Y and Z and that may be "an offer you cannot refuse".

You can not tell the court "I want to pay damages for breach of contract for not doing X, Y and Z" if that is cheaper. Say the license was "you can create a derivative work if you donate $10 to the Red Cross" you can't say the damage is just $10. You were offered a license for the cost of $10, you didn't take it, that's your own fault. You pay for copyright infringement.

  • Except that derivative work is a term of art, and there are rights to create such works without the consent of an original copyright owner. – feetwet Aug 30 '15 at 19:12

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