SCO's Tantrums (a melodrama)


Setting: a community of penguins working together
Time: present day

melodrama.gifLinux is a computer operating system developed by a lot of volunteers--some of them are geeky boys and girls; others are big companies. IBM loves Linux and has devoted a lot of resources to it, including donating bits of code to make it better.

Linux is free, "open-source" software and it's distributed under a special license agreement called the GPL. The GPL says that you must pass the software along with its source (the human-readable code that allows anyone to make changes to it) and that you are not allowed to add any more restrictive license requirements than the GPL.

In other words, if you add something to Linux, you can't require anyone to put your logo on it and you can't start charging people to use the part that you created. You give it for free, or you don't give it at all.

Enter the villain, twisting his mustache.

SCO was an important player in the Unix world but have gone downhill somewhat since its glory days. In fact, a few years ago, they bought a small company that had a beef with Microsoft so they could sue Microsoft. SCO won.

Now SCO is back at the judge's bench. They claim that Linux incorporates some of the Unix code that they own the intellectual property (IP) right to. They say that code entered Linux via IBM's donation.

The Unix world is filled with people buying and selling rights to bits of code, so it's not a surprise that IBM had some of SCO's old code. IBM and SCO worked together on Project Minerva in 1999, but abandoned the project in 2001. SCO says IBM stole their ideas and recycled them into Linux.

The good guys speak up

Now if it's true that Linux includes SCO's code, it isn't really a big deal. The Linux volunteers could remove the SCO code and write new bits to do the same things. The IP infringement ends when the code is removed. Problem solved.

The plot thickens

But SCO isn't saying exactly what parts are theirs and that means they can't be removed. If they aren't removed, then the IP infringement is still on and SCO can go to court. In March they sued IBM. The suit began with 1 billion dollars and currently seeks 3 billion dollars in damages.

SCO is a small company at the end of its life. Maybe what it wants is to create a nuisance and get itself bought out. IBM wasn't taking the bait. They prepared to go to court. Now there are two countersuits against SCO.

The villain wrings his hands...

Perhaps SCO worried that IBM would win. Last week, SCO demanded $699 for every CPU running Linux and $32 for every device with Linux embedded, like your TiVo and internet phone. This fee licenses the SCO proprietary code; anyone who doesn't pay faces a lawsuit.

Naturally, they are looking for companies that have lots of Linux computers. And of the Fortune 500, one company has agreed to pay up. Terms are not disclosed, nor the company.

The barbershop quartet sings a funny song

Ironically, and a very key point, is that SCO is a founding member of UnitedLinux, a consortium of companies promoting and distributing Linux under the GPL.

They have been distributing the disputed code under the GPL for over a year. By demanding a licensing fee, SCO violates the GPL they agreed to follow. So, according to the GPL, they can't distribute Linux anymore. But neither can anyone else.

Choose your own ending

A) Someone finds and removes all the SCO code from Linux. (read here)
B) Investigators uncover a SCO-Microsoft conspiracy to discredit Linux (read here)
C) Linux dies of lawsuit-itis (read here)
D) SCO loses the lawsuits and goes bankrupt, giving their IP to IBM to cover costs.


Glad to see that I'm not the only gaijin blogger watching this case unfold.

I suspect that the case will eventually backfire on SCO, though I rather doubt that IBM will get the IP windfall described in ending D).

Oh yes but the fun doesn't end here. This type of suit something that we will see more and more of.

There is an issue at present involving some fonts that have been shipped with Linux that were attained from a different machine and used for acedemic purposes. That is fine until somebody tries to sell a solution using said fonts which were covered under a device specific licence agreement. This will probably get settled by a very large payout which is just what the company is hoping for. Who wants a big court case?

There is all sorts of fireworks happening at present but of course I can't name names.. although I would really love to. (^_^)

p.s. It is not my company in case you were wondering.

What insane greed. I like Option A. Delete, delete.

Nice artwork!

>Nice artwork!

James Joyce? :-)

I don't personally think (a) is a legally realistic option.

If you made Star Wars and later found out that the guy that wrote a segment of the movie stole that scene from someone else it would not be a simple matter of removing that scene and continuing because you could claim that Star Wars got it's success based in part on that scene. Removing the scene does not compensate the writer of that scene for his work that was used help make Star Wars a hit.

The same is true for Linux

As for SCO distributing Linux under the GPL you can read here how that's not an issue. Also there is how reviewers at MIT and other places have basically verified the code is SCO's. Now it's up to IBM to prove it's not.

This could be a big problem for Linux and Open Source in general because generally with commerical software there are indemnity clauses, at least between corporations, which say "you guarntee this code you are selling me, that you have the right to sell it to me and if it turns you later you were lying and we get sued for it you will take responsibility for the suit". With Open Source you don't get that, nobody signs anything, you just assume, hope and pray that some volunteer didn't steal the code from someone else.

Oops, here's the link

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Recent Comments

  • GMan: Oops, here's the link read more
  • GMan: I don't personally think (a) is a legally realistic option. read more
  • Arthur: >Nice artwork! James Joyce? :-) read more
  • Distal Zou: Nice artwork! read more
  • Jennifer: What insane greed. I like Option A. Delete, delete. read more
  • Tracey: Oh yes but the fun doesn't end here. This type read more
  • Sako: Glad to see that I'm not the only gaijin blogger read more