Unfairly indicting Sun for its SCO testimony?

Some are criticizing the company for standing by while Linux took unfair hits from the Unix rights holder. But isn't this what the law and corporate citizenship required of the company?

Pamela Jones of Groklaw rightly takes umbrage that Sun Microsystems apparently stood by while The SCO Group attempted to foul the pedigree of Linux, but how much righteous indignation is warranted is debatable. Jones writes:

And what an icky role Sun played, to judge from (Novell's Greg) Jones' description of the agreement. Look at all the damage that resulted from Sun's silence, the litigation that never had to happen....And as far as Linux is concerned, why didn't Sun speak out to help?

It had in the power of its hand the ability to protect Linux users. Silence. For years and years and years. While folks got sued, and the FUD campaign raged on.

Yes, but this overlooks one convenient point: Sun was competing with Linux. Hard. Not only did it not have a legal obligation to speak out, it may well have had a legal obligation to not speak out.

Every contract that I've negotiated in the last few years has, at the customer's or partner's insistence, a section in it that prohibits disclosure of the contract. I would guess that similar wording is to be found in the partnership agreement between Sun and SCO.

Even if Sun had an obligation, legal or otherwise, to disclose Linux's clean bill of health, why would it? We can argue that it may have had a moral obligation, but it also has a fiduciary duty to its shareholders, which arguably wouldn't have been well-served by propping up a competitor, however unfairly maligned.

I'm not suggesting that I personally could have stood by and watched, had I worked for Sun, but I also think it's important not to burden Sun's efforts to remedy some errors of its past with all the good it's doing now. I believe in that pesky repentance thing. :-)

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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