20 January 2004 Linux distributor Red Hat has augmented its offer of legal protection to customers with a promise to replace any Linux code found to infringe copyright.
The latest move is in response to the legal campaign being waged by SCO Group, which claims that Linux contains intellectual property belonging to SCO.
Following the lead set by Hewlett-Packard and Novell, Red Hat is offering a warranty to all existing and future users of its Enterprise Linux products. The warranty promises to replace any code found to infringe SCO’s copyrights, should the courts rule in its favour.
A statement from Red Hat stated that its Open Source Assurance programme would provide customers with “a guarantee that their investment in open source solutions from Red Hat will generate long-term economic value”.
SCO’s argument is two-fold. First, it claims that IBM donated ‘derivative’ works from its Unix intellectual property to the open source community in contravention of its Unix licence. That is the subject of a breach of contract case between the two companies.
Second, SCO claims that a number of files from the freeware BSD operating system, based on Unix, have been wrongly copied into Linux. Those files are copyrighted to SCO, according to Chris Sontag, general manager of SCO’s intellectual property licensing arm SCOsource, and were used in BSD under licence.
As a result, SCO is threatening to take users to court unless they buy a licence.
But the Linux community has taken various steps to defend itself. The Open Source Development Labs, a not-for-profit consortium which employs Linux founder Linux Torvalds, has established a $10 million legal fund, with backing from IBM and Intel.
Novell, which purchased SuSE Linux in November 2003, has said it will provide protection of $1.5 million to users who have signed support agreements with it.
Novell, which used to own the Unix intellectual property, has also tackled SCO’s claims head-on by arguing that Novell in fact owns the relevant Unix copyrights, not SCO.