Week in review: Copyright fights

The tech world keeps court dockets working overtime as the recording industry sues hundreds of people it can't name, the SCO Group gets tough with a rival, and Microsoft got a little too rough with a teenager.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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Steven Musil
4 min read
The technology world kept court dockets full this week as the recording industry sued hundreds of people it can't yet name, the SCO Group got tough with rival Novell, and Microsoft got a little too rough with a Canadian teenager.

The recording industry launched its largest wave of file-swapping lawsuits to date, filing new copyright infringement suits against 532 currently unnamed individuals. The suits are the industry group's first since an appeals court in December blocked its original strategy of identifying alleged file swappers before filing lawsuits by sending subpoenas to their Internet service providers.

The move comes after a month of mixed news for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which had a series of legal setbacks--including the appeals court ruling on the subpoena issue--and some indications that the dampening effect of lawsuits on file swapping may be wearing off.

Meanwhile, the Linux-Unix controversy heated back up as the SCO Group sued rival software maker Novell, alleging that Novell has falsely claimed that it controls the Unix operating system. The suit accuses Novell of slander and seeks an order that would require Novell to assign to SCO all Unix-related copyrights and to withdraw any statements claiming ownership of Unix.

SCO rattled the technology world last year when it filed a $3 billion lawsuit against IBM, claiming that the computing giant illegally incorporated into its Linux software source code from the Unix OS, which SCO controls. Novell became an early combatant in the dispute, claiming that it retained certain copyrights when it sold the Unix rights to SCO.

As protective as the tech industry is, Microsoft says it may have gone too far in threatening Web entrepreneur Mike Rowe over the name of his Web site, Mikerowesoft.com. The 17-year-old student registered Mikerowesoft.com to front his part-time Web site design business in August 2003. Three months later, he received an e-mail from Microsoft's lawyers, asking him to transfer the domain name to Microsoft.

The courts were relieved of one case. The DVD Copy Control Association has dropped a long-running lawsuit against a California programmer it accused of putting DVD-cracking code online. The group sued Andrew Bunner four years ago, alleging that the act of posting code called DeCSS, which can help in the process of decoding and copying DVDs, violated its trade secret rights.

Bunner's attorneys called the unexpected decision a victory for free speech, but attorneys for the group said in a statement it was "evolving" its legal strategies, and that the California state trade secrets case was no longer necessary.

Penguin power
The theme of the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in New York this year could have been "can't we all just get along?"--a far cry from the days of "peace, love and Linux."

Linux convert Novell kicked off the convention by proclaiming its strong support for open-source programming, but made the case for a pragmatic approach that blends in its own proprietary applications. "I think it's critical to get beyond religious wars," Novell CEO Jack Messman said. "The two can and must coexist for some time. This is good, not bad."

Novell has no plans to open the source code of software such as its GroupWise e-mail server product, but the company said it does plan to cooperate with programmers and that the open-source movement is expanding from today's foundational products, such as Linux, to higher-level software.

Intel wants its Centrino chips to get along better with the Linux community. The chipmaker is considering a two-phase approach to providing software that Linux needs to take advantage of the chip. The chipmaker likely will begin by releasing a driver, followed perhaps by an open-source driver that the general Linux programming community may scrutinize and reshape if desired.

The move would mean Intel is working to ensure that its Centrino support for Linux is on par with that for Microsoft Windows, which has had full support since the chip bundle for wireless notebooks launched in March 2003. Though Linux is not a major force on desktop and mobile computers, the lack of Centrino support has rankled Linux fans and given them little reason to spend money on Intel's premier laptop technology.

However, as the SCO suit indicates, life in Linux land isn't always friendly. Hewlett-Packard says it garnered $75 million in revenue in 2003 with a program that encourages customers of rival Sun Microsystems to move to HP servers that run Linux. The program, which offers $25,000 worth of migration services, has attracted 50 customers since it launched in October.

Security concern
The first major worm of the new year began spreading this week, suggesting a more concerted attack may be coming. The worm--dubbed Bagle.a--carries an expiration date, possibly indicating that more robust versions of the worm could be slated for release soon.

As the number of customers reporting a Bagle infection declined, concerns remained that Bagle--which seems patterned on last year's most effective virus, Sobig--is just the first of a series of programs that will become more effective at attacking PCs with each new version.

In addition, PCs infected with Bagle.a, also known as Beagle.a, may already have had other programs installed on their system by the virus, uploaded from a Web site that has since been closed down. Bagle attempts to install the Mitglieder network proxy program, which allows intruders and spammers access to a victim's PC, in addition to trying to upload a password-stealing program.

Also of note
America Online is testing an antispam filter intended to accurately trace the origin of e-mail messages, a move that could bring new accountability to the Net if it proves reliable...Four computer security experts warned that creating an e-voting system that both guarantees each person votes once and protects the voter's identity is impossible on the current Internet system...President Bush called for the renewal of the USA Patriot Act, the controversial law that has expanded Internet surveillance powers for police and is set to partially expire next year.