SCO readies invoices for Linux

In its ongoing battle to protect its intellectual property, The SCO Group is stepping up its focus on corporate Linux users

In its ongoing battle to protect its intellectual property, The SCO Group is stepping up its focus on corporate Linux users. The software maker now plans to send invoices to companies in an effort to levy fees for the use of Linux, which SCO says illegally contains its copyrighted Unix code.

The plan escalates a program the company launched in August in which it urged customers using Linux based on Kernel 2.4 or higher to buy the SCO Intellectual Property License for Linux. The license, which is being offered for US$700 per CPU until October 15 (when the price will double), is aimed at getting customers "clean" and "square" with Linux "without having to go into the courtroom," says SCO CEO Darl McBride.

The invoices, which will be sent sometime this month or next, "help formalise the process of buying a license," says Blake Stowell, a spokesman for SCO. It wasn't clear how SCO would determine the invoice charges.

"We are doing a lot of research on who's using Linux and where they're using it. Beyond that I don't have any other details as to how we may invoice companies," Stowell says.

Users seem unfazed by this latest twist in SCO's battle to protect its intellectual property rights that began in March with a lawsuit against IBM Corp.The battle has since escalated into a skirmish with corporate Linux users. Most users say they wouldn't consider paying SCO; others say they might pay up just to get rid of the headache.

"If you think about how little you pay for Linux as it is, $699 for a box just to not have to deal with it is not that bad," says an IT executive who asked not to be named. "For me, the issue is it's an annoyance."

The user says he hasn't offered to buy an IP license for Linux, but if an invoice arrived on his desk he'd pay. "For anything less than $5,000, I would just pay them to make it go away," he says.

Bill Claybrook, an analyst at the Aberdeen Group , says paying such a fee would be ridiculous at this point.

"It's foolish for anyone to go out and buy licenses for Linux because there is a very good chance that you won't have to at all," he says. "And if you do have to, it isn't going to be any more than it is now. So why bother?"

While the Linux community for the most part has scoffed at SCO's efforts to charge license fees for Linux, the company says it had 900 calls in the first week it offered the license, 300 of which were companies seriously considering buying a license. In addition, at least one company, a Fortune 500 firm that SCO would not name, has purchased a license for "a significant amount."

SCO's lawsuit against IBM isn't scheduled for trial until April 2005. And copyright violations within Linux, which might affect commercial Linux users, isn't part of that original filing, SCO's Stowell says.

"The trial specifically just addresses Unix derivative code that IBM contributed to Linux," he says. "This (SCO Intellectual Property Linux License) would certainly cover that, but in addition the license also covers line-by-line copying of direct Unix System code from Unix into Linux. We've never accused IBM of direct line-by-line copying."

Snippets of code that SCO says are in violation have been discounted by Linux advocates who say the code at issue is legally part of Linux. Stowell says customers can take a look at the code in question - under a non-disclosure agreement - and then make up their own minds.

"If a company looks at that and still refuses to take out a license it's very possible that it would be at that point that we would take legal action," he says. "And that's when it would probably be proven in a court of law."

Meantime, SCO has found itself on the losing side of a court case in Germany in which it was fined $10,000 for continuing to include a letter on its German Web site that claims intellectual property violations in Linux. A German court had ruled that SCO could not make such claims without corresponding evidence.

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