Linux as Usual? The View from the Trenches

Have SCO's claims, threats and lawsuits had any effect on real, day-to-day Linux business?

I've been watching, along with everybody else, the whole SCO v. IBM saga unfold for the past six months now. I see people like Bruce Perens, Eric Raymond and our own Phil Hughes launch broadsides in the general direction of Utah, and I see Darl McBride continue to snipe back, raising a lot of sound and fury....

Any high schooler who has stumbled across Hamlet knows the end of that line. But, despite our fondest wishes in the Linux community, we all know that no court case in the American legal system is ever a certain thing. So I thought to answer the question what does SCO v. IBM really mean for you and me, folks who would read Linux Journal?

I'll tell you what I see.

The first thing I see, here in my own humble confines, is a brand-new copy of SuSE Linux Enterprise Server, which I reviewed last week. The date on the Web page for SLES 8 for the AMD-64 is 07/30/2003. The SCO Group started all this back in March and terminated IBM's license to System V in June.

The second thing I see is a note on my calendar about a conference call today concerning the startup of a new Linux consultancy. The gentleman spearheading this effort had been a loyal SCO customer since 1984 and had picked up Caldera Linux along the way. When the news of the lawsuit hit the Net, he promptly dumped SCO and went searching for a new Linux distribution with which to support his customers, coincidentally settling on SuSE.

I accompanied the gentleman in question on a trip to a client site last week. We installed a server running SuSE so they could share and back up their files. We also set up a hardware firewall and a hardware print server so they could print from any of their computers, including the salesman's laptop from on-site. The client seemed totally unconcerned that the new server ran Linux; he was happy just to see it working. The business, by the way, is a small wood shop; its sole reason for having computers is to facilitate sales and bookkeeping.

I now see here in my e-mail inbox a posting on SSC's "linux-list"; a gentleman I know is looking for small-form-factor computers. I know what he's doing. He's designing a portable classroom from which he can teach classes on open-source software.

I next see a note on a very popular blog-community site asking for help moving from Windows to Linux. The poster uses FreeBSD at work and also reads my blog; he can't have been insulated from all the furor the last six months have seen. However, having used Linux only as a server, he's unfamiliar with what desktops and applications are available. He posts a poll asking which Linux distribution he should use and follows it up with a request for comparable applications.

Then, I hit my favorite news site and search for Linux. I am rewarded with a fresh bit of news. IBM just announced that the new Library of Congress servers will run--again, coincidentally--SLES 8. The tag end of the article mentions that Red Hat's own enterprise-class release is due next month. A bit more poking around reveals an announcement from Hewlett-Packard that it is opening a new Linux lab in China and will work in collaboration with Oracle, Intel and BEA Systems on deploying the LinTel/Oracle platform in the Far East.

From last week, we have Motorola launching a new Linux-based mobile phone in Japan. Sony has a new set-top box. Phillips has a Linux-based remote control. These are consumer electronics, things you don't take to market unless you intend to sell a few million of them. These also are things that cost a lot less than the $700 per CPU license fee that SCO wants to collect from Linux users. One wag suggested that companies receiving invoices from SCO refer them to their German offices, but somehow I don't think that will work for Motorola, which is, after all, an American company. But SCO's claims don't seem to have prevented Motorola from not only releasing the new phone but selling their Symbian stock and partnering with TimeSys to produce a Linux-based RTOS for their VMEbus-based single board computers.

I'm no business analyst, but perhaps that's the point. If there's one thing I learned from following the Street through the dot-com boom and bust, it's that money talks. Press releases are a dime a dozen, but I see a lot of money being invested in R&D, plane tickets to China, new computers, consultant time and, in my friend's case, a shiny new Red Hat box set. When you have your livelihood or your company's razor-thin profit margin on the line, you don't spend bucks on something you don't think is going to be around for a while. Here we have Motorola, Sony, Phillips, HP, IBM and the US Library of Congress all making largish investments in Linux, and the ordinary man on the street following suit. I've seen a few rumblings from the likes of Dell as to how it isn't going to protect its clients from any lawsuit SCO might lodge against them, but I haven't seen any of the big players say they're discontinuing Linux sales or support.

Much ink and a lot more keystrokes have been spent on what SCO's case means for Linux, the community, the GPL itself and IBM. But at the end of the day, from down here in the trenches, everything seems to be ticking along as usual. History will record whether Hamlet was right, but for the moment, he seems to be.

Glenn Stone is a Red Hat Certified Engineer, sysadmin, technical writer, cover model and general Linux flunkie. He has been hand-building computers for fun and profit since 1999, and he is a happy denizen of the Pacific Northwest.




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Re: Linux as Usual? The View from the Trenches

Anonymous's picture

This is all very interesting, and I suppose there's some good news in there. But what I would be more interested in hearing about is how many of the author's clients would cough up the extortion money to SCO, with only a grumble, if/when SCO came knocking.

That seems to me to be the key issue here. Reading closely, it seems clear that SCO is not actually trying to shut linux down or even scare people off from using it. Rather, they are trying to get Linux users to pay SCO. If enough do, they will become very rich by virtue of nothing other than legal threats. So the important question is not whether people continue to use, and even plan to begin using linux. The important question is how many businesses will pay up when SCO starts shaking them down.

And in fact, what seems to be good news in the author's article, might actually cut the other way: because a client has found linux so useful and attractive, they may be MORE willing to cough up, even if they hate to, just so they can get on with their business, uninterrupted/hassled by legal threats. It seems obvious to me that SCO is counting on this, as a central element of their business plan.

Re: Linux as Usual? The View from the Trenches

Anonymous's picture

Would you pay a robber who called you on the phone and said they were coming to steal $100,000 unless you payed them $700? If you believe that is what sco is banking on then buy sco stock now!

Re: Linux as Usual? The View from the Trenches

Anonymous's picture

That is the dumbest thing I have ever read.

Computer hardware manufacturers have different agenda than you (the end user).

The fact is that IBM wouldn't use embedded linux in their own commercial products, but IBM will try to sell you their powerpc chips for your embedded product. The IBM linux watch is just for PR value. Legal risks --- Strassemeyer states that "That is why we don't do distributions, and that's why we have distributors." The majority risks goes to Redhat and the end-user, the majority of the linux revenue goes to IBM

(Note: Strassemeyer's interview is specifically mentioned in SCO's lawsuit.)

The week after Motorola embraced linux cell phone, they also embraced a microsoft cell phone as well. Remember that Motorola is also a cpu/asic manufacturer --- they could be pulling an "IBM" --- using the linux cell phone as pure PR purposes and try to sell you their embedded chipsets.

Sony brings out a PROTOTYPE linux-based home entertainment HDD recorder, and everybody bought that linux is alright. But Sony also stated that they know that "the (consumer electronics) manufacturer would be held legally responsible if a third party were to sue for patent infringement even if the Linux source code was provided to the maker by a software vendor on the GNU General Public License (GPL) basis."

Sony also has a semiconductor subsidary as well --- are they pulling another "IBM".

Dell tells you that there is the SCO lawsuit is totally groundless, yet they don't want to indemify you. Remember what IBM states "that's why we have distributors". You, the end-user, is going to get sued. RedHat and SuSE is going to get sued. But Dell is protected.

The only guys willing to indemify their own linux product is --- SUN micro --- an investor of SCO.

The latest Evans Data survey states that something like 40%-50% of the people don't look into linux/GPL risks (or leave the issue to the engineers who have no idea how the legal system works).

Re: Linux as Usual? The View from the Trenches

Anonymous's picture

Hi Darl.

Dell's comment

Anonymous's picture

I didn't get to read what Dell actually said, but wouldn't be surprised if it went something like:

Journalist: Will you indemnify your customers if sued by SCO?
Dell: No, we cannot promise that
or even
Dell: We see no need

which sounds a perfectly sensible response to a leading question designed to give the headline "Dell won't indemnify users". It would be interesting to ask similar questions to other players, such as Microsoft.

It also seems to be assumed now that the customers are liable in the first place. All we have to support this is a lot of assertations from SCO, behaving as if the court case had already been won, the definition of "derived work" changed, and suddenly purchasers of plaguarised works become liable.

If what SCO are trying to achieve were to become general practice, it would become dangerous to ever buy anything that could be copyright - in case the author copied someone else, and you get sued for it. I'd better stop reading Linux Journal now - just in case! Which leads to the question

Will Linux Journal indemnify me, the reader, should it be found that some content on the site, or even an abstract idea, belonged to someone else, and that someone else decided to sue Linux Journal readers for having read it?

Maybe can be legally infringers after all

Anonymous's picture

Actually there might be a legal basis to involve end users in copyright infringement that is somewhat unique to the GPL. Under the GPL, unlike most licenses and conditions of reciept of a copyrighted work, the end user has the unique right to further redistribute a work. Hence, in theory, the end user is, under the GPL, also uniquely empowered to further infringe if there is infringing code in a GPL'd work, and he chooses to further redistributes it. Since an end user can also be a "distributor", the end user can also potentially be liable just as the person that sold or distributed the software to them in the first place may be. This is of course a theoretical point, and one I did not see SCO publically claim, although I see no other legal basis SCO could possibly go after end users for "copyright infringement", and if they thought about this, I could see why they would keep that idea very quiet until they start trying to actually sue end users.

Re: Maybe can be legally infringers after all

Anonymous's picture

There is one point I forgot to mention in my other post in reply to this. There is no reason to expect any company that distributes Linux to indemnify users because as end users they are not liable, and as redistributors they have no reason to expect indemnification from a competing distributor.

To continue your train of thought ...

Anonymous's picture

The SCO Group declares the GPL is invalid. IBM counter sues and 'drags' the GPL into court. IBM with all of its resources overwhelms the SCO lawyers. The SCO lawyers 'fade' and the court rules the GPL is completely valid. (A classic judo move.) SCO then manages to get some odd hunk of code in Linux established as theirs. (The court throughs SCO's lawyers a bone so they are not completely discredited.) The Linux kernel-keepers remove the offending code. But, the thousands of Linux users who very likely used a single purchase of Linux source for one or more of their computers are now "infringing distributors." This is not much of a thread on which SCO can pull, but if it can keep their stock price up, The SCO Group the center of attention and their lawyers with a whole new field in which to ply their trade, why not.

Re: Maybe can be legally infringers after all

Anonymous's picture

I don't know about them trying to keep quiet about this line of reasoning; it seems fairly obvious. However, end users are still not liable until they do distribute. As soon as they distribute they are distributors, not just end users anymore, so end users are still not liable. The only reason to agree to the GPL, and the only indication that someone has agreed to it, is to redistribute the software, so, once again, it is only relevant to distributors.

Re: Linux as Usual? The View from the Trenches

Anonymous's picture

..full of sound and fury, signifying nothing..
Wasn't that Macbeth, not Hamlet?

Re: Linux as Usual? The View from the Trenches

Anonymous's picture

Yes, from the "tomorrow and tomarrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day..." speech. But alas, most high schoolers don't know that...

Re: Linux as Usual? The View from the Trenches

echidna's picture

" it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,signifying nothing."
Macbeth - Act 5. Scene V

Re: Linux as Usual? The View from the Trenches

Anonymous's picture

Yeah, I noticed this too. Act 5, Scene 5.

Here is a link:

Re: Linux as Usual? The View from the Trenches

Anonymous's picture

But did SCO successfully terminate IBM's AIX license? I think the correct thing to say would be they attempted to revoke IBM's license for AIX as Novell owned the rights to that and they told SCO they were not to revoke IBM's license...

Re: Linux as Usual? The View from the Trenches

Anonymous's picture

Read between the lines.
SCO's statements have been carefully crafted.

SCO's claims seem to just "imply" copyright violations and "imply" that you need a license
i.e. "to get you square with linux" (what does this mean anyway).

I think I'll just use the triangle Linux, no thanks anyway SCO.

They have never once said that this [chunk of code] violates our [chunk of code]
therefore we demand a license or remove the code.

Re: Linux as Usual? The View from the Trenches

Anonymous's picture

At the very worst US Linux users get burdened. In the rest of the world, Russia, China, India, Europe we can continue modifying, selling, using without having any of your legal problems. The only people the SCO cases hurts directly are US users and (indirectly) international users tarring them, by implication, with the same legal bull***** that eminates from your courts. The case hurts innovation and hurts the US more than anyone else because this penalises US customers - there is no juristiction elsewhere. SCO is damaging America's substantial contribution to free software, open source and the internet by trying to make Americans, and Americans only, pay.Can you imagine SCO trying to take on the Chinese government over Red Flag Linux? Telling China that tens of thousands of their users have to cough-up a fee? No, I can't imagine that. Perversly China is far from the land of the free ...

Re: Linux as Usual? The View from the Trenches

Anonymous's picture

Hey, it's a global community now. The US can, and does, export it's sick concept of "legality" under any of a number of treaties and, um, "other guidance". Copyright is pretty well normalized around the world (Yes, with variations but try and find a place to mint a few DVD knock-offs). If you can't hide enough to knock off DVDs, why would your corner of the world be legally blind to knocking off SCO's copyrights?

No matter how sick it gets, always remember that in today's world... You can run, but you can't hide. The world today is very much in a race to the bottom.

The US system is designed to hurt innovation. It wasn't always so, but money, and other forms of greed, eventually takes a toll on every system of government. Meaningful Innovation implies substantial competition, competition implies change, and change is a political curse. No, there can be no meaningful nnovation here.

Anyway, most of the population in China is probably just as "free" as most people in the US. There are differences in "implementation", but the end result is pretty much the same, dollar for dollar. China is not so rich as the US, and ones degree of "freedom" is pretty much defined by dollars held.

Re: Linux as Usual? The View from the Trenches

Anonymous's picture

Re: DVD knock-offs I travel to India once a month (New Delhi) and while 'knocked-off' DVDs are illegal, the law isn't enforced. you can get them virtually anwhere, they're rubbish quality though and they've cut out a lot of sex scenes because in India censorship in the name of public morality is more important than international copyright. The proof required in China for 'ownership' and copyright is actually harsher than the US; SCO's case wouldn't even get to court. Equally under European copyright law SCO's case stands a good chance of been kicked out of court. That leaves individual EU states their own copyright laws, but I can't see France, Germany or 'old-Europe' as Don' Rumsfeld so bluntly put it cooperating with anything outside of existing copyright agreements. Russian copyright is odd. Many cases go back to the Berne convention and the Universal Copyright Protection (intl. law), which the SCO case wouldn't stand a chance under. For any international chances SCO is going to have to use:

  • International law.
  • Individual country's law.
  • Or pressure from US trade agreements. I would suggest a case as flimsey as SCO's wouldn't stand a chance in most countries and wouldn't even get to the court in most countries. Unless the US government chucked its weight around on behalf of SCO.
  • Re: Linux as Usual? The View from the Trenches

    Anonymous's picture

    You have to remember that SCO has not started any kind of copyright case. They keep saying in the press that Linux violates their copyrights, but they have never started a legal proceeding that claims this. When asked directly if the code contributed by IBM to the Linux kernel was the copyright of SCO, they have answered, "No." Their claim is that their contract with IBM prohibited them from contributing the code, not that they own the code (this is actually a very difficult position to take, from a legal standpoint). If they stick with this position, the case with IBM has almost no repercussions, however it turns out, for the rest of the Linux community. The only way that this would support an infringement case is if they change their position, and it is upheld by a court, to say that this code actually is their copyright (an even more difficult case to prove from a legal standpoint).

    SCO has used the case with IBM as a springboard for copyright infringement claims even though when pressed they admit that the IBM case is not about copyright. They contradict this all time by implication. They say that revealing the copyright infringing code in LInux would be revealing key evidence before they went to trial, but there is no case in progress that involves infringing code, so there is no trial, that this would be evidence in, upcoming. Their call for buying licenses from them to run Linux is based on no legal proceedings whatsoever, but only a lot of smoke and mirrors to make it look like the IBM case is relevant to this issue.

    Part of the reason the IBM case can get further than you would expect a copyright case to get is because it is a contract dispute case. Contract dispute cases depend on reviewing contracts, which have to be studied, both on their own and in light of contract law and any other relevant law. This makes the cases a lot harder to dismiss out of hand. If a contract was violated, then damages also have to be assessed. If a company did not suffer any damages from a breach of contract, they have no case for a judgement even if the contract was breached.

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