Grokking the demise of SCO’s copyright lawsuits

Website that poseted everything to do with the case was a help, says Frank Hayes

The SCO Group’s US$5 billion (NZ$7.1 billion) threat against Linux is effectively finished. On Friday August 10, US District Judge Dale Kimball ruled that SCO doesn’t actually own the copyrights that it was using to threaten — and in some cases, sue — Linux users.

Of course, you’ve already got that news, thanks to everyone from The Wall Street Journal to IT news sources.

And they all got it thanks to Groklaw.

It was the website Groklaw.net that broke the news and posted the complete 102-page ruling. After that, it was picked up by the mainstream media and IT trade press. In fact, it’s Groklaw that has covered every aspect of SCO’s legal fights with Linux vendors IBM, Novell and Red Hat, and Linux users Daimler­Chrysler and AutoZone ever since paralegal Pamela Jones started the site as a hobby in 2003.

It’s Groklaw that has published every scrap of legal and technical information available on the cases — every brief, deposition and ruling, along with press releases, technical documentation and historical information.

It’s Groklaw’s loose network of volunteers that has haunted the Utah courthouse, collecting paperwork, reporting on hearings and transcribing everything in sight.

It’s that same crowd of volunteers that has picked apart arguments, dredged up old news stories and computer manuals, and generally followed the SCO lawsuits.

All that has made it easy for reporters, analysts and deep-thinkers keeping an eye on the lawsuits. We just filtered out the partisan crowd noise — no mistake, this is a pro-Linux crowd —and dug into that virtual mountain of legal documents. Everything was there, posted, transcribed, organised and searchable.

That’s why we all picked up the ruling from Groklaw.

And that treasure trove of documents is how we know now that SCO is stick-a-fork-in-it done.

See, those of us who have actually read our way through the SCO legal saga over the past four and a half years have already heard the claims and counterclaims in excruciating detail, walked them past legal eagles and made sense of the minutiae along the way.

So when Judge Kimball ruled this month that Novell, not SCO, owns the copyrights to Unix, we know he eliminated the basis for SCO’s copyright claims against IBM, Red Hat and AutoZone, too. (DaimlerChrysler went to court in 2004 and demolished SCO’s lawsuit against it with a different set of arguments).

And when the judge ruled that Novell has the right to quash any lawsuits based on Unix licences, we know he gutted what remained of SCO’s legal threats.

We even have a good idea of how likely SCO is to successfully appeal. (The odds aren’t good).

But those rulings weren’t much of a surprise, either. Once documents in the lawsuits started to pile up, it was possible to draw hard conclusions based on the evidence presented to the court, rather than public-relations bluster.

Which explains why so many analysts were able to tell their clients there wasn’t much legal risk to worry about with Linux — and tell them so literally years before the hammer finally fell on the litigation.

All thanks to the Groklaw crowd’s desire to pile up every suit-related document they could find.

Did Groklaw really have an impact on those court cases? No. The impact was on the rest of us. That collection of documents gave SCO’s suits a transparency that’s impossible to come by with most IT industry litigation.

And we need it. It’s tough enough to make IT decisions based on vendor claims, technology promises and user requirements. Lawsuits just muddy the waters more.

Anything that helps provide a little more clarity is good news. For that, we all owe Groklaw thanks.

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