Feeds

Linux users play the waiting game

Time is on your side

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

The Power of One Brief: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

Businesses running Linux and worried about legal action could be forgiven for responding to the announcement by acquiring SCO's license for the code that it alleges has been illegally copied into Linux.

They might be better advised not to rush into a decision, however, particularly as the history of SCO's complaint against Linux suggests that Linux users will have plenty of time to decide the best course of action.

Back in August, when SCO first stated that it had begun to invoice Linux users for their use of Unix code, Datamonitor advised Linux users to take legal advice and consider their options rather than rush into paying the invoice. The fact that those invoices never arrived, combined with increased confusion over SCO's tactics, mean that there is less motivation than ever to comply with SCO's requests.

It's in the post

In August, as SCO launched its licensing scheme, it said that invoices would be dispatched in the "next weeks or months". Poised to respond, the Linux community waited for the invoices to arrive. And waited. And waited.

While SCO announced later in August that an unnamed Fortune 500 company had voluntarily purchased one of its Unix intellectual property licenses, the invoices failed to materialize. That didn't stop the company stating that it was identifying Linux customers to take to court, however.

Again the Linux community prepared itself to respond and waited for the invoices to arrive. And waited. Little happened until October, when SCO suddenly announced that it would not be invoicing customers after all, stating that its voluntary licensing program had been successful enough. "We have met our goals," it said.

Strange then that the company announced in November that it was, in fact, about to invoice Linux users and take them to court if they failed to pay the requested fee. A change of mind? Not according to SCO: "The issue right now is we were going to give people a period of time to license. We have had some people license. Then we said we're going to move them into a litigation phase, so it is license or litigate, and what we are announcing today is that phase," said CEO, Darl McBride.

Mood swings

Aside from the issue of SCO's ever-changing mood, there are other good reasons to delay paying any invoice, by far the greatest being that the company has yet to prove its claims that any Unix code has been copied into Linux.

The two pieces of code that have so far been identified by SCO as evidence were quickly dismissed by the Linux community as not being SCO's intellectual property - one having been legally copied from BSD and the other being in the public domain and in any case later removed from Linux.

This indicates that SCO has more than one point to prove with regards to code it believes has been copied into Linux. The first is that Unix code is there in the first place, and the second is that SCO has any rights to it. This is especially relevant given the complexity of deciding whether Unix code developed by Unix licensees (such as IBM and SGI) should be considered a derivative work of the Unix System V code that SCO owns and has licensed to all Unix vendors (including also Sun and HP).

Whether this code is considered a derivative work depends on the contracts SCO has with its licensees, and this is another good reason for delaying paying any invoice. SCO has recently stated that its legal case against Linux has two strands: a contract dispute with IBM, and a copyright dispute with Linux users.

This is an accurate description of its cases, which helps in the understanding of its claims, but does not take into account the fact that the latter must surely depend on the former. Linux users should not pay SCO a penny for copyright infringement claims until it has proved that its copyright has been infringed.

A long wait for payment

That will involve the long and complex task of identifying "Unix" code, tracing where it originated and how it got into Linux, and deciding which company has the right to it. This is precisely what SCO's case against IBM will cover (among other things), but not until at least 2005, when it is expected to enter court.

Unless an extraordinary event occurs such as SCO being acquired or dropping its claims, both of which look unlikely at the moment, it is likely that the legal arguments around Linux will continue for several years. So far this appears to have had little impact on Linux deployments, with IDC reporting third quarter Linux server revenue up 49.8% and shipments up 51.4% year-on-year.

This trend is expected to continue, and while Linux users should take legal advice and be mindful of what an eventual SCO victory could do to their deployments (the same is true of SCO Unix customers considering what impact a legal defeat would have on SCO's longevity), there appears to be no need to rush into paying any invoice - should one ever arrive.

Source: Computerwire/Datamonitor

Related Research
The Linux and Open Source Outlook

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
KDE releases ice-cream coloured Plasma 5 just in time for summer
Melty but refreshing - popular rival to Mint's Cinnamon's still a work in progress
NO MORE ALL CAPS and other pleasures of Visual Studio 14
Unpicking a packed preview that breaks down ASP.NET
Cheer up, Nokia fans. It can start making mobes again in 18 months
The real winner of the Nokia sale is *drumroll* ... Nokia
Put down that Oracle database patch: It could cost $23,000 per CPU
On-by-default INMEMORY tech a boon for developers ... as long as they can afford it
Another day, another Firefox: Version 31 is upon us ALREADY
Web devs, Mozilla really wants you to like this one
Google shows off new Chrome OS look
Athena springs full-grown from Chromium project's head
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.