Companies running the Linux operating system have little to fear from SCO Group Inc’s threats to sue them for copyright infringement, according to the latest positioning paper from the Open Source Development Lab.
The paper has been prepared for the OSDL by Eben Moglen, professor of law and legal history at Columbia Law School and general counsel for the Free Software Foundation, and argues that SCO will have to overcome its copyright argument with Novell Inc before it can target Linux users.
Lindon, Utah-based SCO has claimed that Linux contains portions of its Unix System V code, and that under the terms of the General Public License, the responsibility for copyright infringement rests with end users.
In late December the company wrote to select Fortune 1,000 Linux end-users providing notice that SCO believes them to be in infringement of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and the company has threatened to launch litigation against a Linux users on or around February 18 to prove its claim.
However, the company faces opposition from Waltham, Massachusetts-based Novell, which claims it retained some of the rights to Unix System V when it sold the code to Santa Cruz Operation Inc that later sold it to Caldera, which changed its name to SCO Group.
In response to that claim, SCO has launched an IP slander lawsuit against Novell, and it is this lawsuit that Moglen and the OSDL believe protects Linux users.
SCO itself has put the ownership of the relevant copyrights in doubt by suing over them, wrote Moglen in the paper, which is based on a presentation given to the OSDL’s User Advisory Council in January.
No judge would hold that it is intentional infringement to refrain from taking a license while the plaintiff itself scrambles to show it owns what it is trying to sell, he said.
Moglen also argued that by continuing to distribute Linux under the GPL after it had made its claims, SCO has given Linux users a license to use, copy, modify and redistribute the code. This is a statement that SCO disagrees with, maintaining that it is not possible to accidentally give away its intellectual property.
Legal arguments over the nature of the GPL aside, the OSDL’s paper raises some important issues about how much Linux customers have to fear from SCO. The company’s litigation against Novell would appear to give any Linux users good grounds to delay any action taken against them.
It has given the targets of its licensing campaign the clearest possible reason for remaining on the sidelines, wrote Moglen. The paper was written before SCO filed a motion to amend its case against IBM Corp to add copyright infringement claims, a move that, if approved by the judge, would also push Novell’s claims over Unix copyrights to the top of the agenda.
This article is based on material originally published by ComputerWire