Intel, IBM behind protection fund for Linux users

Intel and IBM have put their weight and their wallets behind a new fund set-up to fight SCO Group’s attempts to extract licence fees from Linux users.

The two industry giants have pledged their support to the fund established by the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL), a non-profit industry consortium which promotes Linux usage. The OSDL also employs Linux creator Linus Torvalds.

The OSDL hopes to raise $10 million to fund a legal defence for the flagship Linux users that SCO is threatening to sue. $3 million has already been raised following the donations from Intel and IBM.

“We want to continue to provide peace of mind to end users,” Stuart Cohen, chief executive of OSDL, told the Wall Street Journal. “We don’t want to see the momentum or deployment of Linux slowed down.”

SCO began its Linux campaign in March 2003, when it sued IBM for $1 billion, later raised to $3 billion. It accused IBM of improperly donating Unix technology to the open source community in contravention of its 1985 Unix licensing agreement.

That legal action sparked a wider confrontation between SCO and the open source software movement. Relations worsened after SCO sent 1,500 letters to Linux users, invoking the US digital millennium copyright act (DCMA) and demanding payments of about $700 per server for running Linux.

That campaign was abruptly stopped after only one of the companies responded.

Instead, SCO has said that it will sue one prominent corporate Linux user in a test case in February. But SCO’s legal threat can only be carried out against companies that also hold a Unix licence specifying how the technology may be used.

In addition, Novell has challenged SCO’s claim that it owns the Unix copyrights, calling into question most of the basis of SCO’s legal action. It emerged in December 2003 that both Novell and SCO filed claims with the US Copyright Office.

And further developments in the IBM case are expected this week, when the deadline for SCO to hand over its evidence to IBM. The row has been confused by the multiple claims that have come from SCO and its refusal to publicly state which elements of Linux it believes have been purloined from its Unix intellectual property.

On top of that, the legitimacy of much of SCO’s intellectual property could be called into question as a result of an 11-year-old court case against the freeware BSD operating system, which, like Linux, is based on Unix principles.

The-then owners of the Unix intellectual property lost that case when the court concluded that large chunks of code had been copied from BSD into Unix, not the other way round. Much of Linux is based on BSD.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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