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September 10, 2006: Infringing Copyrighted Material

In June 2006, we learned that Katzer took JMRI copyrighted code, stripped out authors' names and JMRI copyright notices, converted it to his own use and then distributed it as his own.

DecoderPro is able to easily configure more than 300 types of devices because hobbyists have contributed more than 100 decoder definition files. These definitions, produced by lots of separate contributors, are what makes the program so useful, since they express a model railroader's view of how best to configure a particular device. DecoderPro first started using this approach in September of 2001.

In 2004, Matt Katzer started talking about "his" Decoder Commander product. It was finally released in 2005; on his web site, Katzer used to claim:

In June 2005 at the [NMRA] Cincinnati convention we Introduced Decoder Commander. The first XML based distributed programmer.(sic)
(Untrue, as JMRI predated this by years) Imagine our surprise when we discovered that he had copied the JMRI decoder definitions for distribution on his CDs and even tried to claim them as his own work, saying in the product manual
All decoders have unique characteristics. KAM has created a set of Decoder Templates that has these characteristics in an XML configuration file.
A separate page discusses some of the evidence for the copying in detail, but we can summarize some key points:
  • He distributed a copy of each of the JMRI files. For example, the content of the JMRI QSI_Electric.xml file was included on the Decoder Commander CD in a file called QSI_Electric.tpl.xml; the names are identical except for adding the ".tpl" modifier. All of the files on the KAM version 304 CD were based on JMRI files in this way; no extra files were present on the KAM version 304 CD.
  • Original JMRI definition files contain the version, the date modified, the author's name, and a copyright notice. These have free-form content, so there are many formats. The version strings and the modification date strings in the KAM files are EXACTLY the same as those in the original JMRI files they were copied from. The author's name, however, was not copied into the KAM file, nor was the JMRI copyright information.
  • Many details of the content of the original JMRI files were copied exactly: Misspellings, odd capitalizations, technical errors, even the order in which options are described were all copied over exactly.
KAM created a tool that copies JMRI definitions and stores them in the KAM format, deliberately omitting all evidence of their origin with DecoderPro. Katzer even advertises this tool as a feature of "his" product, without even mentioning that they're the work of JMRI.
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