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11/24/2003 Archived Entry: "SCO vs. IBM"

In my previous post I referred to the Groklaw blog. This brings up the whole dreary subject of the SCO vs. IBM lawsuit, and its implications for free (libre) software and intellectual property rights.

Briefly: earlier this year a small software company, SCO (formerly Caldera), sued IBM for contributing software to the Linux operating system. Originally this was a contract dispute: IBM says they own the code they wrote, and SCO says their contract gives the code to them. But SCO has broadened their attack to include many ridiculous claims, e.g., that Linux is pirated from Unix (SCO owns the copyright to certain versions of Unix), or that the Linux software license is unconstitutional. After almost a year they've provided no credible evidence of copyright violation, and -- though I Am Not A Lawyer -- their legal arguments seem to me to be totally without merit.

For a quick read on the case, I suggest the Mozillaquest web page -- see the overview in the sidebar -- and also the statement by the Free Software Foundation. SCO's factual claims are dissected in detail by the Open Source Initiative (long!), and some of their licensing arguments (they change weekly) are addressed by an open letter from the Groklaw team.

Most of the actual court documents, including SCO's complaint and IBM's response, are available at Groklaw, along with excellent commentary by Groklaw's Pamela Jones. She really makes the legal arguments accessible, and has given me a new appreciation for the legal profession. A case must be built both in logic and in legal precedent, and the work of IBM's legal team is often a treat to read.

This may well become the first legal test of the GNU General Public License, (GPL) under which many programmers distribute their work. The GPL is indeed a software license, and its terms are essentially these: "You can use this software freely, and even use its source code. But if you modify this software, or build it into some other software product, then that new software must also be made available under the GPL." I haven't fully made up my mind about the GPL -- I may choose to release some of my work under the more liberal BSD license -- but I understand and respect the wishes of those programmers who use the GPL. SCO has taken the conflicting positions that the GPL is invalid, that the software they distribute under the GPL is proprietary, and that the software others distribute under the GPL is public-domain.

Meanwhile, I'm tracking the case on Groklaw, the best place to watch for detailed day-to-day coverage. For a lighter read, just search for the terms "SCO Linux" at news.google.com or news.yahoo.com.

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