SCO Group Inc has taken its battle with open source software to Capitol Hill, with a letter to US senators and representatives in which it claims that open source software threatens the US economy, technological innovation, and even national security.
Signed by Lindon, Utah-based SCO’s president and CEO, Darl McBride, the letter argues that the GPL (General Public License) under which Linux and other open source software is released, is a danger to the US software industry. It also repeats SCO’s claims that Linux contains its Unix System V code and that the GPL contradicts the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and US copyright law.
Free or low-cost open source software, full of proprietary code, is grabbing an increasing portion of the software market, McBride wrote. This means fewer jobs, less software revenue and reduced incentives for software companies to innovate.
McBride also makes the claim that open source software is a threat to America’s national security. I assert that open source software – available widely through the Internet – has the potential to provide our nation’s enemies or potential enemies with computing capabilities that are restricted by US law.
The letter has been dismissed by the Open Source And Industry Alliance as excessive hyperbole. It was sent to political leaders on January 8, 2004, and has now been posted on the OSAIA’s web site with a response.
Ed Black, president and CEO of OSAIA, dismissed SCO’s claims about national security, pointing out that all US software developers, including Linux vendors, are bound by the same export controls that restrict licensing of SCO’s products.
SCO’s letter also contains statements about the GPL, free software, and the open source community that many people with knowledge of the principles of open source software and the GPL will consider to be misleading, and in some cases, incorrect.
The author of the GPL is well-known for his view that proprietary software (meaning software as an intellectual asset from which the designer can derive profit) is unacceptable, writes McBride, for example.
While Richard Stallman, the founder of the GNU project and the president of the FSF (Free Software Foundation), does believe that software should not have owners, the free software definition clearly states: Free software is a matter of liberty, not price.
Further, the philosophy of the FSF states: Selling a copy of a free program is legitimate, and we encourage it. And: Actually we encourage people who redistribute free software to charge as much as they wish or can.
McBride also writes that GPL is called copyleft by its authors to emphasize that it is the opposite of copyright. This statement is also contradicted by a reading of the principles of the GPL, which explain that copyleft is in fact based on copyright.
To copyleft a program, we first state that it is copyrighted; then we add distribution terms, it states. Proprietary software developers use copyright to take away the users’ freedom; we use copyright to guarantee their freedom. That’s why we reverse the name, changing copyright into copyleft.
In the letter, McBride also stated that: The GPL is carefully designed to have a rival effect – it ‘frees’ the software that is proprietary, licensable, and a source of income from the companies that developed it.
This is also misleading. Certainly if a company were to combine its own code with software licensed under the GPL then the whole of the new software code would be subject to the GPL, but only if the company chose to distribute it, and even then the company has already benefited from the original code and the terms of the GPL.
Why should a software company invest to develop exciting new capabilities when their software could end up ‘freed’ as part of Linux under the GPL? asks McBride. Unless a company chooses to license its code using the GPL this is not possible. Even if the code was made part of Linux without the company’s knowledge it is not possible, according to SCO’s own legal counsel.
You can’t inadvertently, accidentally give away your copyright, said Mark Heise of SCO’s law firm Boies Schiller and Flexner in August 2003. The GPL says that the legal copyright owner has to assign copyright to the GPL. SCO hasn’t done that.
This article is based on material originally published by ComputerWire