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SCO plans more Linux lawsuits

The Linux antagonist vows to widen its legal battle against the open-source operating system, saying it intends to sue large-scale Linux users for copyright infringement.

David Becker Staff Writer, CNET News.com
David Becker
covers games and gadgets.
David Becker
3 min read
LAS VEGAS--Linux antagonist SCO Group vowed Tuesday to widen its legal battle against the open-source operating system, saying it intends to sue large-scale Linux users for copyright infringement.

CEO Darl McBride said the company had signed an agreement with the law firm of David Boies, already handling SCO's case against computing giant IBM, to include Linux-related copyright cases. SCO plans to begin filing suits within the next few months, targeting large companies that have significant Linux installations.

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To date, SCO's legal battle has focused on alleged breaches in IBM's contract to use the Unix code that SCO owns. IBM, one of the biggest corporate proponents of Linux, came under attack from SCO early this year when the software maker filed a $3 billion lawsuit accusing Big Blue of illegally incorporating SCO-controlled Unix code into Linux software distributed by IBM.

The case has gone on to challenge the foundations of the Linux movement, with SCO promising to bill Linux users and threatening legal action against companies and individuals who don't pay licensing fees.

SCO has since backed off the billing plan, but the company is still serious about enforcing its copyrights, said Chris Sontag, senior vice president in charge of SCO's legal efforts. He said lawsuits targeting Linux users will be filed within 90 days, with initial suits targeting 1,500 companies that have significant Linux systems.

McBride added that lawsuits likely will be preceded, and possibly prevented, by communications offering businesses an opportunity to accord with SCO. "We'll be communicating with users what our expectations are," he said.

McBride said it's appropriate to start targeting the Linux users now, rather than wait for the IBM suit to be concluded, partly because the copyright cases will be much less complex than the IBM dispute and should give a much quicker judicial perspective on SCO's claims.

"I think it'd be good for all of us to get some closure," he said. "ISVs (independent software vendors), end-users, customers--they all want this cleared up."

McBride was here to deliver a speech at the Computer Digital Expo, a new Jupitermedia event competing with the more familiar Comdex. McBride used the speech to lay out his objections to the general public license (GPL) that governs many open-source software releases.

In an interview before the speech, McBride said the GPL helped create the Linux user lawsuits that SCO is preparing by putting all legal responsibility on the user, rather than the on companies distributing the software.

"The structure of the GPL pushes the problem down to the end-user," he said. "You start out with Red Hat or IBM, but it ends up on the end-user."

McBride said that besides being weak on copyright protection, the GPL runs counter to basic business principles.

"The GPL-based products have to come to grips with the realities of business," he said, blaming GPL products for "grinding away at the value" of competing commercial software. "It's a tremendous problem, and it's getting bigger."

McBride said in his speech that SCO shouldn't get the blame for putting the GPL at risk; however, he maintained that it was IBM's countersuit against SCO that brought the issue to a head. "The GPL is definitely at risk," he said. "But we're not the ones who put it there. IBM put the GPL in the line of fire."

He went on to predict major changes in open-source software, with market forces favoring those who innovate for profit. "We are in a tug-of-war between those who believe software should be free and those who think proprietary licensing is OK," McBride said. "When you look at what drives an economy, it's capitalist principles."