"Hey SCO, Sue Me": What's Next?

by Taran Rampersad

Editor's Note: This article was updated on June 6, 2003. The SCO petition tar file is up and ready for downloading here.

The "Hey SCO, Sue Me" petition made a brief stir on the Internet with words that still echo:


I am a Linux user. I feel that SCO's tactics toward an operating system of my choice are unjust, ill founded and bizarre. I am willing to be sued because I am confident that SCO's tactics toward Linux will fail. If I have published my email address as part of this petition it is so SCO representatives can email me and begin the process of serving me a court order.

The response was not something the author of the petition, John Everitt, expected. With expectations of perhaps 10 signatories, he was amazed when thousands of Linux users signed it. He probably wasn't the only one surprised by the outpouring of support; many conservative voices within the Linux community expressed discomfort with their fellow users opening themselves to litigation. Yet the list of signatories grew. Had the petition not been cut short, there's no telling how many signatures would be on the list. The last time if was available when I checked, the signatures numbered more than 4,000.

The last available public communication about the petition itself was pretty explanatory:

Dear Signatories: I've sent this via public forums rather than send thousands of emails. http://www.petitiononline.com/scosueme/ The Caldera SCO sue me petition is dead on May 24th. I've set a cut off point rather than edit a list numbering up to projected tens of thousands. I can't cope with the phenomenal response. It's amazing that one company could generate so much bad feeling. When the list is shut I am going to edit the petition and send it off to Caldera SCO.

What a response! I expected ten people to sign. Including myself! The size of the list reflects the chutzpah of those signing and how Caldera/SCO has managed to alienate the wider world. For every one person that signed there were a hundred that wanted to, but were worried by the American court system. It's shame, but perfectly understandable.

This is a fight against IP pomposity and injustice. Your vibrancy and energy will make a difference. But! Organisations such as the Free Software Foundation *need* your support too. IBM can look after itself.

'If you tolerate this then your children will be next'. Something the Free Software Foundation realised when a lot of future Linux users were in diapers (I was just out).

Through all of the bromides, fashion and technological breakthroughs of Linux, the Free Software Foundation has remained reliable. Those guys and girls were in the process of switching from commercial Unix before Linux. They were doing what is fashionable now before it was fashionable. So every time you type gcc or emacs think not of Linux or BSD or OS-X; think of the man hours the FSF have put into promoting and protecting such software.

Some people talk of trenches. The FSF dug them.

How can you help them? Well the most obvious is cash. Not all can afford a donation. But like free software that doesn't matter:


Do what you can. The FSF is as good a way of fighting Caldera SCO as [is] any petition. Although I do feel that our petition showed a degree of verve, humour and irony that escapes a lot of zealots.

The FSF is not the *only* worthy organisation. For instance, SCO Sue Me was made possible by Petition Online, who rely on charitable donations to maintain the service. I'm donating £10. If you can afford it do it, even a dollar helps.

IBM and the FSF were in NO way involved with this petition and did not endorse it. Neither were they asked or made explicitly aware of the petition. My views may reflect yours but are by no means representative of the wider community. You should see some of the flames...

Thanks to you all. You are very brave.

- John

This message has since disappeared, as the cut off time has passed, and even the petition itself has disappeared from public view. A few e-mails with Everitt revealed how the list will be used.

The petition will not lie dormant, that's a certainty. Everitt has created an insecure Copyright Management System, forcing SCO to agree to the GPL to extract the names. The document itself--containing the actual names and e-mail addresses of the signatories--will be licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. So any changes made to the document have to be released.

The file itself requires two GPLed programs to operate: Ruby and Gnu Privacy Guard. It's in beta right now, and the beta isn't available for distribution because two separate versions would be difficult to control. John permitted me to see the beta, and it's real--it's happening. Of course, it was a beta, so it wasn't perfect. But, it's being worked on with the same diligence that caused signatories to flock to it in such numbers that it was necessary to cut it off.

To use the list, SCO will have to acknowledge the GPL, which may or may not make them a bit leery of using it.

As for the petition itself? Perhaps it's an interesting thing from a legal perspective; I'm not qualified to discuss those aspects. It wouldn't be responsible for any publication to tell its readers to sign themselves up to be sued, and yet, thousands of people have signed. If anything, the signers of the petition showed that the Linux community is made up of not only users, but people who consider themselves stake holders in the operating system of their choice.

One is left to wonder whether a proprietary operating system would get such support from its user community.

Taran Rampersad is a freelance writer and multiplatform FOSS developer; he also is a signer of the "Hey SCO, Sue Me" petition. He's presenting at the FLOS Caribbean conference and can be reached through his web site.

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