Writing Linux History: Groklaw’s Role in the SCO Controversy

There’s nothing like a good legal battle to whip up passions, and the SCO Group-versus-the-open-source-world dogfight is no exception. Rhetoric runs high. From the open-source advocates, it’s “you’re stifling free thought in the name of greed.” SCO allies counter with “you’re attacking the core values of capitalism.”

As SCO president and CEO Darl McBride himself has put it, “The stakes are extremely high. The balance of the software industry is hanging on this.”

The “this” in question is SCO’s assertion that it owns some of the code now being used in Linux; its US$3 billion suit against IBM for copyright infringement; its attempts to convince enterprise Linux users to pay for licenses; and its threat to sue a noncomplying enterprise Linux end-user.

The cases now reaching the courts are complex because SCO’s actions affect not just one competitor, but the whole open-source software community. As open-source advocates see it, SCO threatens their entire collaborative philosophy, as well as the legal cornerstone of most open-source licensing, the General Public License (GPL).

The Birth of Grok

Many who felt they had an interest in the outcome found it hard, at first, to get information about the opposing players’ positions or the laws that underpinned them. In the words of one open-source developer, “Many of us who hold a personal stake in Linux — either we helped write it or our businesses depend upon it — were completely in the dark as to what SCO was claiming and what it meant to Linux.”

Enter Pamela Jones and Groklaw. A paralegal, Linux programmer and self-described geek, Jones is passionate about the benefits of open, worldwide intellectual collaboration — and dismissive of the ideas behind most proprietary development, which she says results in software that’s “like petrified wood.”

“Grok,” as most of you probably know, is a Martian verb coined by Robert A. Heinlein in his novel Stranger in a Strange Land, metaphorically meaning “to understand something so intimately as to become virtually one with it.”

When the SCO fracas began, Jones started a site where she presented the results of her legal research into the case. This site proved so popular with Linux and open-source regulars that she expanded the scope of the effort and moved it to a new Web site, Groklaw.net.

Case Law Focal Point

Groklaw.net hit the Web in May 2003, and, according to Jones, her readership doubled immediately. The site has become the primary resource for groups and individuals to research the legal labyrinths of SCO’s disputes with IBM and others. Jones is now assisted by a team of legal researchers and Web gurus.

At the beginning of February, Jones was named Director of Litigation Risk Research at Open Source Risk Management, LLC, on a one-year contract to help develop an insurance product aimed at protecting open-source users. She will, however, continue to edit Groklaw.net.

But what is Groklaw’s actual influence? Is it a soapbox for a bunch of wild-eyed zealots and naive idealists, or a serious attempt at — in one supporter’s words — illuminating the darkness? While the site has attracted wide praise from most members of the open-source community, others dismiss or vilify it.

One Linux developer noted, “By serving as the focal point for documenting the case — for example, through transcripts — Groklaw educated many of us as to the exact nature of what SCO claimed.” He went on to suggest that until about last May, he thought SCO could be right, but said he has “no doubt now that SCO’s directors are either mistaken, or they’re crooks.” He thanks Groklaw for that.

Conversions like that one help explain why SCO defenders take a dim view of Groklaw. Blake Stowell, the company’s director of public relations, says: “I think the unfortunate thing about Groklaw is that many people reference the site as a supposed ‘credible resource’ and take a lot of what is posted there as the absolute truth. I find that there is so much misinformation on Groklaw that is misconstrued and twisted that it’s probably one step above a lot of the ranting and dribble that takes place on Slashdot.”

Show Us Your Code!

One frequently raised legal point nicely illustrates the polarized views of the claimants. SCO has not yet revealed which portions of code it claims to own. Open-source spokespersons ask how SCO can press a case on the basis of evidence it won’t reveal, and they have said that, if it is published and is indeed found to be the same as what’s in the Linux kernel, they’ll have no problem with removing it.

SCO’s Darl McBride disagrees, saying: “This kind of cleanup is an Exxon-Valdez kind of cleanup. It’s not simple.”

In any case, one industry commentator points out that contractual agreements would prevent any public revelation of the code outside a trial. And, if it were removed from Linux, SCO — its owner — would never see a cent beyond initial damages.

Long-Term Litigation

That prospect pleases Pamela Jones, who has been quoted as saying, “Litigation isn’t a long-term business strategy, even if you ‘win.’ It’s a one-time payout. Then what? If you have no product people want, that’s the final chapter, especially if people really don’t like you and what you stand for.”

It may be that kind of intransigence that leads SCO’s Blake Stowell to hint at darker motives. “Doesn’t anyone find it the least bit ironic,” he asks, “that Pamela Jones lives … less than 10 miles from IBM’s worldwide headquarters, and that Groklaw is hosted, free, by a nonprofit outfit called iBiblio, which runs on $250,000 worth of Linux-based computers donated by IBM and a $2 million donation from a foundation set up by Robert Young, founder of Red Hat?”

“Call me crazy,” adds Stowell, “but I somehow think that Pamela Jones isn’t just a paralegal with nothing better to do with her life than host a Web site called Groklaw that is dedicated to bashing SCO. I think there is a lot more to her background and intentions than she is willing to reveal publicly. I believe that Big Blue looms large behind Pamela Jones.”

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  • "It may be that kind of intransigence that leads SCO’s Blake Stowell to hint at darker motives. "Doesn’t anyone find it the least bit ironic," he asks, "that Pamela Jones lives … less than 10 miles from IBM’s worldwide headquarters,…"

  • I can’t help but wonder how SCOldera can pretend not to know about the actual efforts of Caldera, among others, to include legacy code and methods into Linux. The current SCO is capitalist in the same sense as Al Capone was. When Messrs McBride
    and Stowell decry the ‘violent’ Linux ‘zealots’, they fail to recognize just how ethically bankrupt their position is, and the magnitude of the threat they believe they pose to F/OSS. I have followed Linux from Slackware 3.0, and have read a great deal of information regarding Caldera/IBM/SCO contributions that have always seemed to have the official stamp of approval on them. I find it astonishing that the current SCO has chosen to ignore them.

  • Call me crazy, but I somehow think that David Halperin isn’t just a journalist with nothing better to do with his life than writing articles which are dedicated to bashing Pamela Jones. I think there is a lot more to his background and intentions than he is willing to reveal publicly. I believe that the Redmond Evil Empire looms large behind David Halperin.

    • Your commentary smacks of a bitter Anonymous poster who has been causing trouble by posting inappropriate content on Groklaw.
      I have disagreed with PJ and I have seen postings from others who have disagreed with PJ.
      Your post does not jibe with my experience.
      How does she know what goes into creating quality software? Simple – she uses computers and any user can tell you simply by using it if software is any good or not.
      Concerning the GPL and OSS, as far as I have seen, she "gets it".
      So please, Mr. Fox, take your opinions elsewhere.

  • "A paralegal, Linux programmer and self-described geek, "
    WRONG! She’s not a linux programmer – not any kind of programmer in fact.
    Yes, she’s passionate and dismissive. If you don’t agree with her, she tags you as a SCO lover and needing "GPL summer school". PJ needs to stop reading her own press… I’m curious – how does a non-programmer, Mac user have any idea of what goes into creating quality software? What qualification does she have to comment on software dev? PJ should stick to the law (like she did at first, when groklaw was good). PJ is just like all the others she condemns – she doesn’t care about the case – just getting famous…
    if (entity == SCO) {
    //seg fault
    else if (entity == PJ) {
    //mute volume
    else {
    //safe to continue

  • From the message board rules:
    "Personal attacks are not permitted."
    And yet, you allow Stowell to attack PJ personally: she’s a stooge for IBM (lie), and by the way, he knows where she lives (threat). That’s a double blow below the belt, and I can’t believe you let that stand. Frankly, that upsets me very much.

  • I certainly hope you folk at LinuxInsider do the right thing, and do it quickly. A simple right-of-reply for Pamela Jones would be a step in the right direction.
    I’d also welcome a commitment from your editors to check facts before printing conspiracy theories.

  • When you let PJ get kicked around by SCO in your article and don’t give her the opportunity respond to the allegations you print from SCO you are not only spreading FUD ,but, you are in fact protecting it as the only truth you want to tell us. You should get both sides to a story and comments from both sides. I am sure if you contacted PJ she would be more than happy to give you something to write about.

  • .
    You gave enormous amounts of space to SCO’s comments and discussed very little about what makes Groklaw special.
    You failed to mention that Groklaw posts copies of the legal contracts that bind IBM, SCO, AT&T, Novell, etc.,
    You didn’t mention that all the court filings and legal transcripts are posted at Groklaw.
    You didn’t mention the database of SCO’s (and other’s) public comments at Groklaw.
    You didn’t mention the fact that Groklaw has printed the correspondance between Novell and SCO.
    You didn’t discuss the line-by-line code analysis at Groklaw.
    You didn’t mention Groklaw’s reports on what SCO and Caldera have contributed to the Linux kernel – including SMP, JFS, XFS, and "enterprise" style enhancements, complete with links to the Linux Kernel Mailing List so readers can judge for themselves.
    In other words, you didn’t mention any of the things that make Groklaw different from an opinion site. Shame on you.

  • I think this article highlights perfectly the caution with which you should approach a lot of the coverage of the SCO case.
    It is a problem that a lot of the journalism surrounding the case and reporting on the issues is often not very well researched and seems to represent the opionions of columnists rather than presenting any reasoned arguments or facts which might back up their opinions.
    I would invite everyone to read the articles presented on Groklaw as I am sure you will find, as I have, that they are very well researched backed up by factual evidence, credible legal opinions and extensive links to external documentation supporting their arguments.
    Compare this with the articles on other sites which often provide no evidence of their claims, do not represent the opinions of all parties and have not researched the legal basis of the situation.
    You should make up your own mind as to the legality of and likely success of SCO’s claims as I have but you can only do that by examining the evidence in a forensic and factual manner rather than relying on inaccurate sensastionalist opinion and rumour.

  • I stumbled on the article and was initially intrigued. I was surprised by the personal attacks and the bias exhibited in the article. Is this a "flamebait" simply to get more hits? I see the article in the most read stories at LinuxInsider – maybe that is the purpose; draw visitor, to hell with editorial integrity.
    Some examples of poor writing:
    – The article is full of direct quotes from one side (SCO CEO Darl McBride, Director of PR Blake Stowell, etc.) but no direct quote from Groklaw founder (just quote from other publications)
    – The article quotes the CEO of SCO saying Pamela lives within 10 miles of IBM HQ. This is something that can be checked. She says she does not live within 10 miles of IBM HQ and I will take it at face value. This shows that the SCO CEO’s assertions have to be carefully scrutinized especially when he attacks personally.
    – A para on how SCO is now personally attacking (fairly viciously with innuendo by the PR Direector) Groklaw founder instead of just arguing issues would have provided a better balance.
    I sure hope that before a lot of inks (or bytes) get wasted some attention is turned to facts and a more balancing reporting is undertaken.

  • There are (and will always be) two sides to this issue. Besides the two often entrenched – and opinionated – sides to this discussion are the FACTS. Groklaw’s best offering to the world is its warehouse of FACTS in the case: the actual documents and evidence filed in the courts are available for everyone to see on the Groklaw website. You don’t have to simply take the litigant’s version of the issue as reported in the press – you can actually look at what they actually filed with the court. AND (here comes the opinion part,) when you actually see what has been filed in the court you find the press statements from SCO lacking in clarity, verbosity, and honesty. The discrepancies between what SCO offers the press and what SCO offers the court are glaring.

  • I’ve enjoyed Paul Murphy’s articles about SCO here at Linux Insider quite a bit. You say that Pamela Jones is a programmer, but that isn’t really the case.
    I enjoy the group of people over at Groklaw and the resources there are great, but the way PJ insists on running things has turned the whole thing into a big disappointment for me.
    I parted company with them on research a couple of weeks back. PJ doesn’t really share the things she finds in her research – in fact she holds back a lot of useful information.
    For example, I emailed her on 8 December 2003 that Novell had had registered the UNIX copyrights. Another Groklaw member even posted them all as comments on Groklaw that same night. She immediately asked everyone involved to not mention it. On 19 December 2003 she emailed me and said that it wasn’t "right in her eyes" that I was discussing this information with others, and trying to claim this public domain registration information as some kind of Groklaw research.
    Things like that continued with the Novell APA material, and the ABI research. She insists on "editorial control". I guess, that means putting comments about loosing your virginity and false claims of rape in a group research article about ABIs and then ignoring requests that they be removed.
    She refuses to delegate things and uses drastic measures as a result. People think there is no moderation because they can see their own posts, but that doesn’t mean the public or any other IP address can. PJ hides posts she disagrees with. She finally got to the point that she was too busy to read all of the posts, so she instituted "auothide" where she simply blacklists people. This includes people she merely supects of having a connection to the SCO Group.
    Now she open admits that she will delete any political comments. Well why bother even mentioning software patents, the RIAA, The DVD Content Control Association, and the DMCA if you aren’t actually allowed to advocate DOING something about them? I don’t think that the fact she lives near IBM has anything to do with anything.
    On the other hand the fact that she has a blog where free speech is suppressed on ibiblio.org might have something to do with the fact that Center for the Public Domain and ibiblio.org are connected with IBM and Red Hat – and they like what they are hearing.

  • I read your posting rules, which say "no personal
    attacks." Why then, do you print stories like this,
    that are in large part, personal attacks?
    Why don’t you actually look at Groklaw and come
    up with some specific instance to validate
    BS’s "complaint," rather than simply print his
    attack without even considering his motivation.
    I note that your article refers not just to
    Darl McBride, but to "Darl McBride HIMSELF."
    Last time I checked on writing nuances, that is
    fundamentally a mechanism for "putting someone
    on a pedestal" and adding to their "authority."
    Are we therefore to take these rantings as
    "the word of God?"

    • An awful lot of lawyers, paralegals, secretaries, and other people live near IBM’s headquarters, cause it’s right near NYC. Ergo, all the 18 million people in the tristate area must work directly or surreptiously for IBM and its interests. QED

      • An awful lot of lawyers, paralegals, secretaries and others live near IBM’s headquarters. Ergo the 18 million residents of the tristate area must either work directly or surreptiously for IBM. QED

  • I think it is a bit irresponsible of David Halperin to not give Pamela Jones the opportunity to respond in kind to Blake Stowell’s comments. Is this reporting or an opinion piece? While I personally do not use either Linux or SCO’s Unix, I must say that standing back from the fray and trying to look at both sides of the argument impartially, I have to find SCO’s antics more than a little disconcerting. This causes me to ask several questions and form some opinions:
    1. Aren’t you supposed to contact the company that is supposed to be infringing to correct the issue before you take someone to court?
    2. Lumping a few radical Linux individuals in with the rest of the Linux community and charging them all with DDOS attacks and personal death threats is kind of like lumping the KKK in with the Christian community and saying the Christian community is burning crosses in everyones back yard.
    3. David did not even investigate Blake Stowell’s intimation that Pamela Jones was a flunky of IBM’s. By the same intimation that Blake used, SCO would be a flunky of Cisco’s because Blake uses the Internet and Cisco products are used throughout the Internet.
    4. I can hire bodyguards to protect myself from the SCO zealots. I could also produce hate mail to substantiate my claims. It proves nothing and looks good in print when you are trying to influence the press.
    5. SCO uses Open-Source products in their version of Unix yet say that the GPL is invalid. If in fact the GPL is invalid, why are they still distributing GPL’d product? If you don’t like the license, stop distributing the product.
    6. SCO attacks the GPL as an anti-american, unconstitutional document, yet continues to distribute a version of Linux under the GPL. Which is it going to be?
    7. SCO continues to demand payment for IP from Linux users without having proved that their code has been appropriated, or that they even have legal possession of the IP. I understand that this could be likened to extortion, demanding money from someone under a threat (lawsuit) without having legal (proven) right to the property in question. At this time, there is question whether SCO owns the IP for their Unix.
    8. Groklaw does have a slant towards the Open-Source community. On a regular basis their "team of legal researchers and Web gurus" and others post articles either debunking the claims that SCO makes, or trying to clarify the mystery behind SCO’s numerous, and at times wildly divergent claims. They are doing what some "reporters" refuse to do. They are investigating the claims and printing the results for everyone to see. Has SCO done anything akin to this?
    I could continue, but the point is, if this is reporting it is very shallow and one sided. It is the reporter’s duty to get both sides of the story and write it up in such a way as to give all of the facts and let the reader judge for themselves, not act as judge, jury and executioner.
    If this is an opinion piece, then it should be labelled as such and not as "reporting".

  • From this side of the pond, in England, I can only gather that serious, honest journalistic practice with full and scrupulously accurate research was not the precursor to your article about Groklaw. I assume that the American tradition of fair play will now lead you to allow Groklaw’s editor to respond with the truth. I am a Windows user and have no partisan view but your article leads me to wonder why you represent such biased opinions. Perhaps you could explain. Soon.

  • Groklaw provides a commentary on SCO’s case against IBM, and collects all relevant documents in one place, but it has no real effect on the actual case itself. SCO’s win or loss doesn’t depend on some subtle technical point that Groklaw (or some other site) unearths. SCO’s case has some very large holes, and, SCO knows it is well on its way to losing the case.
    So, I don’t know why Stowell felt it necessary to attack Groklaw & PJ. He doesn’t do a very good job of it either. He provides no real evidence to link PJ with IBM, nor does he explain how Groklaw "twisted" the facts. May be we need an NDA to see his evidence!!

  • Interesting that Stowell first smears PJ without any specifics ("so much misinformation", "misconstrued and twisted") which has been par for the course with SCO since this whole circus began, then goes for an ad-hominem attack, claiming she must be a paid shill for IBM (because why else would she be critical of poor widdle us? 🙂 )
    Unfortunate that you didn’t bother to provide a chance for PJ to respond; would be nice to see you do so in the near future.

  • While I’m not at all surprised Stowell would dismiss all the damning evidence against SCO presented at Groklaw.net with an ad hominem attack against Pamela Jones…he didn’t even use a very good one. SCO said the same thing about ESR months ago. "Big Blue looms large behind Pamela Jones." ROFL!
    What’s funnier is that the only evidence Stowell gives for this is that Jones lives near IBM HQ. As if that makes a difference.

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