a perpetual work in progress
Posted: 2003-08-13 01:33
2 comment(s)
Author: Phil Gengler
Section: Stuff

Things have been mostly quiet on the copyright front since my last update (my which I mean really quiet, since it's been quite some time since I last wrote something). The most newsworthy topic (for here) has been SCO's continuing saga, something I haven't touched on here but I feel merits some discussion.

Back in March of this year, SCO Group, formerly Caldera, sued IBM, alleging that IBM had breached a contract and placed code from a joint Caldera/IBM project into the Linux kernel. Now far from a mere contract dispute, SCO Group is claiming that some of the code in the Linux kernel is their 'intellectual property', and is so deeply intertwined that it cannot be removed. As a result, according to SCO, they then have exclusive distribution rights to the entire kernel, and have announced a licensing program so that organizations can continue to use a (binary-only) kernel distribution.

For a single CPU system, SCO Group is offering a $699 license until Oct. 15; from then on, $1399. They've also announced pricing for multiple CPU systems.

Seems like the death knoll for Linux, except for one small problem: SCO's claims are completely baseless, and their claim to exclusive distribution is absurd. First, all the code in the Linux kernel has been contributed under the General Public License (GPL), which among the great freedoms it gives requires that any released code (or product) building from GPL-released code must be released under the GPL as well. How does this relate to the SCO issue? Well, SCO (as Caldera) has behind a Linux distribution, which was available even after the filing of their lawsuit against IBM. Caldera was making the Linux kernel available under the terms of the GPL, which would seemingly make any code of theirs placed in it available under the GPL. If we assume that any SCO/Caldera code in the kernel (assuming there is any, which is an issue I'll get to later), and that it was inadvertently placed in the kernel, or was done so without the knowledge and consent of Caldera/SCO, the fact remains that even after 'realizing' that some of their code was 'illegally' in the kernel, and even after filing a lawsuit alleging the same, the Linux kernel sources were still available for download from SCO's site, under the GPL (in fact, are still available). This means that Caldera/SCO knowingly and willingly has made this code available under the GPL, as required by the GPL.

Secondly, it is a complete absurdity for SCO to believe they have exclusive distribution rights over the whole kernel merely because some of their code allegedly appears there. Contributions to the Linux kernel have come from literally thousands of individuals and groups, each of whom own the copyrights to their respective contributions, which they have made available under the terms of the GPL. Their (copyrighted) code appears in the Linux kernel, and if a judge were to grant SCO exclusive distribution over the kernel, would be effectively granted SCO ownership of the work of others, completely without their consent. While the fact that these code contributions have been released under the GPL may well nullify any ability of these contributors to successfully sue SCO for copyright infringement, there is a very obvious case to be made SCO's violation of the license the code is under.

The story isn't only about SCO suing IBM, though. Red Hat has filed a suit against SCO, and IBM has countersued. Red Hat's filing alleges that SCO is deliberately making false statements against Linux in an effort to hurt adoption of Linux. IBM's countersuit says SCO cannot make its claims since they have released any questionable code under the GPL, as well as asserting that SCO's UnixWare product is in violation of 4 IBM patents and that SCO's attempt to revoke IBM's license to AIX has hurt IBM's business.

SCO CEO Darl McBride said he was "disappointed" by Red Hat's decision to sue, and that they might be facing legal action for copyright infringement and conspiracy; SCO's response to IBM was that they (IBM) should indemnify customers and move away from the GPL.

No respectable software company indemnifies its customers from any legal action; not IBM, not Red Hat, not even Microsoft does that. For SCO to state that IBM should do so runs completely against the grain of today's software world, and if it were something companies actually did, would expose them to much greater risk, running the possibility (probability?) that software development (and hence the entire development of most of the tech sector) wouldn't be anywhere near the level it is today, due to a greater unwillingness of companies to release or even develop new applications.

The GPL bit seems like an indication that SCO intends to fight against the GPL, perhaps arguing that as a license it isn't valid. I fail to see what they hope to accomplish from such an attack though, for even if they were to success in having the GPL ruled an invalid license, they open themselves up for thousands of cases of copyright infringement from every other developer who has code in the 2.4 and 2.5 series Linux kernels.

At this point, one may be wondering what possible motive SCO could have for doing this; theories abound. There are some very plausible theories out there, and I don't have one of my own; the evidence that exists either doesn't completely fit with them, or it points to more than one possibility.

Another thing you may be wondering at this point is why I bring this up here. Beyond the fact that I'm a Linux user and supporter, and supporter of the open-source movement in general, this case shows what happens when a company tries to take advantage of the generosity of others, and misuses, slanders, and libels their works. But this is not an anti-corporate tirade; for while I have my feelings about that whole can of worms, this is not because SCO is a corporation; this is because there are forces at work seeking to stifle the open-source movement. To attack open-source is to attack freedom of speech and of expression, and that I will not stand for.


Posted: 2004-04-09 09:59:02
Author: Anonymous

» to Anon
Posted: 2004-04-10 01:16:08
Author: Michael

Post something why don't ya when you wanna comment.

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