Group sees Linux users unfazed by SCO suits

Linux customers are unlikely to be deterred by legal threats from the SCO Group, even while the outcome of its legal battle with Novell remains undecided, according to the OSDL.

Matt Hines Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Matt Hines
covers business software, with a particular focus on enterprise applications.
Matt Hines
4 min read
Linux customers are unlikely to be deterred by legal threats from the SCO Group, even while the outcome of SCO's legal battle with Novell remains undecided, according to a leading open-source group.

Open Source Development Labs, one of the main groups promoting the business use of open-source software, published a position paper Tuesday to address concerns among its members and users of the Linux operating system about SCO's legal campaign. Besides its lawsuits against Novell and IBM, prominent backers of Linux, SCO has threatened to target enterprises using the software.

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The research, posted on OSDL's Web site, forecasts that Linux advocates will continue to use the operating system, while SCO wages its legal battle against Novell, a maker of server software. Written by Eben Moglen, a Columbia University professor who specializes in antitrust issues and chief legal counsel for the Free Software Foundation, the paper is intended to help Linux users navigate the complicated legal waters surrounding the open-source software.

In January, SCO sued Novell, charging that Novell falsely claimed control of the Unix operating system, on which Linux is based. The suit, filed in Utah's Third District Court in Salt Lake City, accuses Novell of slander and seeks an order to require the company to sign over all Unix-related copyrights to SCO and withdraw any statements claiming ownership of Unix.

SCO, which maintains ownership to a number of Unix copyrights, is also embroiled in a $5 billion suit against IBM that contends that the computing giant illegally created derivative works based on SCO-controlled code. It also argues that IBM encouraged Novell to make copyright claims against SCO as part of a campaign to undermine SCO's position.

In his manuscript, Moglen asserts that by suing Novell, SCO throws its own claim to Unix copyrights into question. He says judges would be unlikely to hold Linux users accountable for copyright infringement, based on confusion surrounding ongoing claims made by the two companies, and said people would probably wait for a final decision as to who owns the copyrights before buying licenses from either company.

SCO has begun offering licenses to businesses to allow them to use Linux without threat of legal action.

The document further argues that even when the legal disputes have been resolved, end users will retain rights to use the Linux code in question, without purchasing a license from SCO or Novell. Moglen bases this argument on the fact that both SCO and Novell have distributed Linux code under the General Public License (GPL), thereby granting licensees the ability to use, modify, copy and distribute Linux code freely, without having to purchase additional software licenses.

OSDL executives highlighted their support of Moglen's conclusions and encouraged Linux users to ignore SCO's claims.

"We see Linux deployments continuing around the world, and many prudent customers are choosing to ignore SCO's legal threats until the courts rule, particularly given SCO's admitted uncertainty about its own rights," Stuart Cohen, chief executive of the OSDL, said in a statement.

Shrugging off SCO
However, the back-and-forth between SCO and groups like ODSL seems to have had more effect on the media and Linux supporters than it has with businesses already using Linux.

Ted Schadler, an analyst with Boston-based Forrester Research, said a recent poll of companies regarding Linux and security found that some 57 percent of those surveyed planned to use more Linux-based software in the coming years, with an additional 30 percent intending to use existing systems and applications. Only 3 percent of the businesses polled planned to reduce the number of Linux-oriented tools they currently use.

"This is something that is playing out in the press more than in the enterprise," Schadler said. "SCO's lawsuit is one of (companies') smallest concerns regarding Linux, with issues such as vendor support and long-term viability of Linux products becoming far more important to businesses."

Schadler believes that Moglen's views firmly represent the position of the free-software camp, and he pointed out that the ODSL is looking to create a more relaxed environment for Linux development by publishing the paper. According to the analyst, most companies that use Linux have already made preparations, in case SCO wins claim to license fees, by setting aside small amounts of money and by conducting software code reviews to minimize possible liability.

"If there are any damages, they will likely amount to standard licensing fees, which are not substantial," Schadler said. "This battle between SCO and ODSL is a war of ideals as much as anything, while companies have other, more important concerns regarding Linux."