SCO Warns Linux Users of Legal Liability

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2003-05-14

SCO Warns Linux Users of Legal Liability

The SCO Group on Wednesday significantly raised the stakes in its battle to prevent what it sees as the illegal and unauthorized use of its Unix technologies in the Linux operating system, warning that legal liability for the use of Linux could extend to commercial users.

This is a turnabout for SCO, which said in March after announcing a $1 billion lawsuit against IBM that the case "has nothing to do with Linux or the open-source community."

"This case is not about the Linux community or us going after them. This is not about the open-source community or about UnitedLinux, of whom we are members and partners…This case is and is only about IBM and the contractual violations that we are alleging IBM has made and that we are going to enforce," Darl McBride, CEO and president of the SCO Group, stressed at that time.

But, on Wednesday, Chris Sontag, a senior vice president at SCO, said that until the "attendant risks with Linux are better understood and properly resolved, the company will also suspend all of its future sales of the Linux operating system. SCO is taking this important step because there are intellectual property issues with Linux," he said

"When SCOs own Unix software code is being illegally copied into Linux, we believe we have an obligation to educate commercial users of the potential liability that could rest with them for using such software to run their business. We feel so strongly about this issue that we are suspending sales and distribution of SCOLinux until these issues are resolved," Sontag said.

But SCO will continue to support existing SCO Linux and Caldera OpenLinux customers and "hold them harmless from any SCO intellectual property issues regarding SCO Linux and Caldera OpenLinux products," Sontag said.

This move also raises questions about SCOs continued participation in the UnitedLinux consortium. Richard Seibt, the CEO of SuSE Linux AG, in Nuremberg, Germany, already said in March that SuSE, which partners with SCO in the UnitedLinux distribution coalition, is "re-evaluating [its] relationship with SCO.

"That said, we want to very clearly and unequivocally voice our support of the ideals and goals of UnitedLinux and the Linux community," he said then. SuSE could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday.

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An IBM spokeswomen on Wednesday declined to comment on the latest SCO allegations, citing SCOs pending litigation against IBM. But Leigh Day, a spokeswoman for leading Linux distributor Red Hat Inc., told eWEEK on Wednesday that it had yet to see any formal complaints against it from SCO. The company had also not been contacted by SCO in this regard.

"Weve heard all these allegations and rumours and threats, but we havent seen any specific code referenced that we are in violation of. We have done extensive work to make sure that we are not in violation, and we take intellectual property very seriously. We remain certain that we are not in violation of anyones intellectual property," she said.

SCOs public warning on Wednesday follows a letter to this effect that the company sent to some 1,500 of the largest global enterprises earlier this week, in which it warned that it "believed that Linux infringes on our Unix intellectual property and other rights. We intend to aggressively protect and enforce these rights.

"Similar to analogous efforts underway in the music industry, we are prepared to take all actions necessary to stop the ongoing violation of our intellectual property or other rights. SCOs actions may prove unpopular with those who wish to advance or otherwise benefit from Linux as a free software system for use in enterprise applications.

"However, our property and contract rights are important and valuable; not only to us, but to every individual and every company whose livelihood depends on the continued viability of intellectual and intangible property rights in a digital age," the letter said.

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SCO also pointed commercial Linux customers and the media to a recent research note by Gartner analyst George Weiss, which said that IS departments using Linux or other open-source code should have an internal process, possibly with advice from their legal departments, to perform due diligence on the nature and origin of open-source code for possible infringement of patents.

"System administrators must be admonished to submit open-source code to inspection for potential violation of patents. An open-source quality assurance process should determine and approve allowable code for production systems. Such efforts may slow adoption of Linux in high-end production systems of critical applications," the note said.

Regardless of the outcome of the suit, SCO has already lost significant goodwill in the Linux community. "SCOs lawsuit can be construed as an attempt to raise shareholder value through claims of intellectual-property infringement or to pressure IBM into an acquisition. If the SCO lawsuit is not upheld, the SCO installed base would face a potentially weakened SCO and should then plan for migration from OpenServer and UnixWare within the next five years," the note said.

SCO has already come under fire from the Linux and open-source communities. Open-source-community activists and consultants expressed anger about what they saw as SCOs baseless legal action.

Bruce Perens, in Berkeley, Calif., an open-source consultant and activist who is a former senior global strategist for Linux at Hewlett-Packard Co., said at that time that SCO was "playing both sides: It is pointing out that its action is not against Linux or the open-source community, yet on the other hand, it is suing one of the largest players in the Linux and open-source communities.

"The Linux and open-source community are not deceived by this. We ... will now never recommend any products created by SCO or Caldera [International Inc.]," Perens said then.

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