SCO takes legal action against Linux users

It was an appropriate way to mark the first anniversary of its new notoriety. Nearly a year to the day after SCO Group began claiming that the Linux open source operating system infringed its intellectual property rights to Unix, the small Utah-based software company fired off the first of its long-promised lawsuits against users of Linux.

Its choice of adversaries – automotive giant DaimlerChrysler and US car parts retailer AutoZone – was hardly random. In fact, they are two of SCO’s flagship customers. The reason for choosing them is that SCO has no intrinsic right to sue any company that uses Linux. Instead, it needs to build a case against customers that are, according to the company, in breach of their UnixWare licences by dint of using Linux (and, by default, using the lines of SCO’s Unix technology that have allegedly ended up there). Neither DaimlerChrysler nor AutoZone had made any secret of using Linux – at least until SCO’s complaints, there was no reason why they should.

Under the terms of its UnixWare contracts, SCO has the right to check customer systems for appropriate use of the licence. The argument is that if SCO’s Unix technology has been extended to Linux – and the customer is indeed using that operating system – then SCO has the right to inspect that code too.

Aside from DaimlerChrysler and AutoZone, SCO has written to around 1,500 UnixWare corporate users, warning them that if they do not pay licence fees for using Linux then they could also face legal action.

SCO maintains that Linux contains “millions of lines” of code copied from its proprietary version of Unix (System V). If it can prove that in court – and it remains a big if – then SCO will have the right to go fishing for evidence of Linux usage. As part of that effort, it is suing IBM for $5 billion for allegedly distributing lines of Unix to the Linux community.

What all this means for Daimler-Chrysler, AutoZone and any other organisation sued by SCO is that they can probably rest easy for now. They will not be required to ‘confess’ to Linux usage until SCO can first prove that Linux contains parts of its Unix code.

And this is not likely to happen any time soon, since the legal fight with IBM that is seeking to resolve this key question could run for months, if not years. That said, SCO faces a critical hearing in May, at which it must begin to present key evidence in its case against IBM. It is possible that the judge, on seeing the evidence, will dismiss the suit.

All this activity hides the fact that SCO’s business is stalling. At a time when most attention was focused on the lawsuits, SCO released some disappointing financial figures that revealed the legal campaign is costing it $3.4 million every quarter yet pulling in only $20,000 in licensing income. Still, SCO has plenty of money in the bank. It might need it.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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