OSDL: Ignore SCO’s Linux Legal Threats

Based on arguments that SCO Group is spoiling its own legal efforts, Linux backer Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) has indicated most companies are ignoring the entire matter.

Referring to a position paper written by Columbia University law professor Eben Moglen and published by the Linux consortium, OSDL said Linux customers likely will ignore SCO’s legal threats until a court decision is rendered in SCO’s copyright suit against Novell. SCO started its legal assault on Linux with a suit against IBM. In that case, SCO has argued it owns Unix source code that was improperly brought into Linux-based operating systems.

The OSDL said it is disseminating the position paper to address concerns about SCO’s suits, adding that the document will comfort and help OSDL members, Linux developers and end users who have been told by SCO that they might be sued as soon as next week if they do not purchase a license from SCO.

Harvard Research Center vice president of Linux strategy Bill Claybrook told LinuxInsider that although companies are not seeking — and should not seek — to purchase SCO’s licenses to use Linux, they cannot simply ignore the issue either.

“A reasonable company would not respond by ignoring it,” Claybrook said. “You sort of have to pay attention to what SCO is doing because if [the case] was ruled in their favor, I don’t think anybody should say, ‘Just don’t worry. Nothing’s going to happen.’ People have gone to court with bad cases and won.”

Fouling Own Case

In the position paper — available at the OSDL site — Moglen argues that by suing Novell, SCO is admitting its claim to exclusive ownership of the Unix copyright is in doubt.

“Moglen argues that no judge would hold an end user liable for intentionally infringing on SCO Group’s rights when SCO Group itself has cast doubt on what it owns,” the OSDL said in a statement. “As a result, Linux customers have little incentive to purchase a license from SCO Group and instead will wait for a final decision on who owns the copyrights between SCO Group and Novell.”

Other legal experts also have questioned some of SCO’s logic, in particular the company’s questioning of the General Public License (GPL) that SCO itself has used to distribute Linux software.

Relax Regardless

Moglen, who told LinuxInsider that the proposed license from SCO would be incompatible with the existing GPL used by Linux developers and distributors, also argues in the paper that regardless of who prevails in the SCO dispute, Linux users still will have the right to use the code without a SCO license — based on the existing GPL.

“Since the GPL allows licensees to use, modify, copy and distribute the Linux code freely, the results of the litigation will have no effect on those rights, and customers will have no obligation to purchase another license from either SCO Group or Novell to ensure those rights,” the OSDL said.

Claybrook and other analysts have agreed with OSDL CEO Stuart Cohen’s contention that Linux deployments are continuing without impedance from SCO’s claims and suits.

“I don’t think it’s affected Linux deployment at all,” Claybrook said. “I think everybody believes IBM is going to win, and I don’t think anybody’s worried about it from a deployment standpoint.”

License or Litigate Nears

Nevertheless, SCO is moving forward with its plans to sue one or more high-profile commercial Linux users after the unnamed company or companies turned down SCO’s offer of a Linux license.

SCO spokesperson Blake Stowell told LinuxInsider that the company remains on track to take a would-be Linux licensee to court this month.

“We still stand behind what we said November 19th, which was that we would be in court within 90 days,” Stowell said. “That’s still our intention.”

In response to the OSDL position paper, SCO said in a statement, “We respectfully disagree with Eben Moglen’s position. SCO owns the Unix copyrights and will continue to protect them.”

Ignoring to an Extent

While the OSDL’s Cohen said the group sees “prudent customers” choosing to ignore SCO’s legal threats until the courts rule, Claybrook said companies using or distributing Linux should be — and likely are — watching the matter very closely.

“I think companies are ignoring it to the extent they won’t go buy the [SCO] license, but not ignoring the possibility that SCO may win all or some of the case,” Claybrook said. “The problem with all of us is we don’t know what’s going on legally.”

“Companies are looking at what they would do if this turns out unfavorably,” Claybrook added.

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