By Robert McMillan
The SCO Group Wednesday announced it was abandoning its Linux business and warned commercial Linux users they may be liable for intellectual property violations that, it alleges, exist in the Linux source code.
The move follows SCO’s March 7 lawsuit against IBM Corp., in which it charged that IBM misappropriated code it had acquired during an ill-fated effort to create a common Unix for the 64-bit Itanium chip architecture. SCO and IBM both were involved in that effort.
In Wednesday’s warning, SCO claimed that Linux’s source code contained “illegal inclusions of SCO Unix intellectual property.” SCO further claimed that commercial Linux customers could be legally liable for using this code.
“SCO owns the Unix operating system, and as we’ve been researching our suit against IBM, we’ve been doing our due diligence,” said Chris Sontag, the senior vice-president and general manager of SCOsource. “We’ve started identifying more and more lines of code that are derived from our Unix System V source,” he said.
SCO is moving development, sales and marketing personnel off SCO Linux projects, effective immediately, and “suspending any activities” it had with the UnitedLinux consortium, said Sontag. The Linux staff will now work on SCO’s proprietary Unix products, he said.
UnitedLinux is an effort to develop and market a standard Linux distribution, run by SCO and Linux vendors Conectiva SA, SuSE Linux AG and Turbolinux Inc.
“Suspending any activities,” however, does not mean that SCO is abandoning UnitedLinux. “We are not pulling out of UnitedLinux,” because company lawyers advised against it, Sontag said.
Though Sontag claimed that the Linux kernel, as well as “extended areas of Linux distributions,” contain copyright violations, he declined to say where the alleged violations have occurred. Over the next few weeks, SCO will begin to present this evidence, under nondisclosure agreement, to a select group of industry analysts, Sontag said.
One person who is particularly eager to see SCO’s evidence is Linux’s creator, Linus Torvalds. “I’d personally love to hear what it is they consider infringing, since I’d like to go back and see where it got adopted,” he said in an e-mail interview.
Torvalds said that because of the open nature of the Linux development process, it is possible to track the origin of any section of the Linux kernel. “We’ve got all the history available somewhere, and it should be pretty easy to show when something was added and what the lineage was,” he wrote.
Sontag declined to comment on whether or not Torvalds, who owns the Linux trademark, would be ultimately liable, but he advised commercial users to seek legal counsel about the use of the Linux operating system. “We are only concerned about commercial use,” he said, “Home or educational use, where there is no commercial benefit, we’re not concerned about,” he added.
SCO Linux customers would not be considered liable for using Linux, said Sontag, although that protection would not cover SCO Linux customers who also ran other Linux distributions. “We can only hold them harmless for the product they purchase from us,” he said.
At least one Linux reseller was unconcerned by the lawsuit. “With IBM having so much stake in this, I don’t think there isn’t much danger for anyone,” said Andrew Grygus, the president of Automation Access, a system integrator based in La Crescenta, Calif. “I think (SCO) are going to fall flat on their face very badly, if they survive that long,” he added.
IBM declined to comment on this story.