PORTLAND, Ore.—The contentious issue of the SCO Groups lawsuit against IBM and its claims that the Linux operating system is an unauthorized derivative of Unix, to which SCO owns the rights, reared its ugly head at the OReilly Open Source Convention (Oscon) here on Wednesday.
In a late afternoon panel discussion titled “The IP Wars: SCO Versus Linux,” moderator Chris DiBona, vice president and founder of Damage Studios, said the topic essentially involves a “SCO versus everybody else talk,” adding that the lawsuit was probably brought for financial reasons as IBM is a player with a lot of money.
Lawrence Rosen, general counsel for the Open Source Initiative (OSI), said he has sued many people, adding that he hates suing poor clients. “The rich ones have deep pockets,” he said.
Bradley Kuhn, executive director of the Free Software Foundation, which is the copyright holder for much of the GNU Linux operating system, said if a company is not after money, suing is not the way to go.
The Free Software Foundation has never sued anyone who was in beach of the GNU General Public License (GPL) as it simply wants them to come into compliance with the license.
But it wasnt long before the finger was also pointed at Microsoft Corp., which in May licensed SCOs Unix technology.
“Microsoft has identified the GNU GPL as their biggest competitor and is making sure that it does not lose any deals on price to GPLd software in Europe. That had a lot to do with why they took a license; their goal is to make the GPL look bad,” he said.
As recently as May, SCO was shipping copies of Linux off their FTP site under the terms of the GPL, which allows users can copy and redistribute it. “So, whatever happens, you will still have Linux under GPL,” Rosen said.
Alan Nugent, chief technology officer for Novell Inc., which once owned the rights to Unix before selling them to SCO, said his company is committed to helping the community “get over this. We believe all the things that have gone on are pretty baseless, and we want to move on from here,” Nugent said.
Asked about Novells copyright claims with regard to Unix System V, Nugent would only say that when the transfer deals took place, “not all things were transferred and the things that were transferred are not necessarily the things that will help [SCOs] case.”
The OSIs Rosen said the matter is really SCO versus IBM, which makes a big difference, as one is an enormous company and the other is a firm that was recently bankrolled, referring to Microsofts recent Unix license deal with SCO.
“This proves that Microsoft and proprietary software vendors have a great deal to fear from intellectual property held by others. Maybe Microsoft felt it had something in its software to fear, and perhaps thats maybe why it took out that license,” he said.
IBM and others in the open-source community need to understand the origin of their code and to carefully vet where those contributions came from. This case is also a contract dispute, not an IP war.
“SCO has filed a list of factual allegations against IBM, which Big Blue has denied,” Rosen said. “There is a lot of misinformation going on here about what this case means and the implications it has for Linux and open source.”
If it turned out for some reason or another that a piece of code “has been taken wrongly, not willfully, then well find someone in this room to rewrite it,” he said.
People in the open-source community should also not accept software under the Microsoft Shared Source license as they could become “contaminated” and should also not sign non-disclosure agreements and should not use software that could restrict what they can do with it. “If you dont accept trade secrets, you can never be sued for having them,” he said.
The FSFs Kuhn advised free software writers to register their copyrights in the United States, even if they do not reside in the country.
But Eric Raymond, co-founder and president of the OSI, cautioned that the industry should not respond to the SCO matter by trying to further regulate the open-source code and contribution process.
The volume and quality of contributions to open source are very sensitive to the “overheads of submission and increasing these overheads to the development process could do long-term damage to the industry,” he said.