SCO's Sontag on Linux, Unix, brewing legal fights

In two weeks, The SCO Group intends to begin showing analysts where the Unix code it owns has been illegally copied into the Linux kernel.

          In two weeks, The SCO Group intends to begin showing analysts where the Unix code it owns has been illegally copied into the Linux kernel.

          The source code will be made available to parties who agree not to disclose the Unix source code, but they will be able to share publicly their assessments of SCO's claim.

          SCO has filed a $US1 billion lawsuit against IBM alleging misappropriation of trade secrets and other claims and has warned some 1500 businesses that they may be using Linux at their legal peril.

          In an interview with Computerworld (US) reporter Patrick Thibodeau, SCO's Chris Sontag, a senior vice president and general manager of SCOsource Division, the group within SCO in charge of enforcing the company's intellectual property, discussed the company's position.

          Why should Linux end users take your claim seriously?

          Think about if I was the CIO of a company and I'm going to be running my business on an operating system that has an intellectual property foundation that, by almost everyone's admission, is built on quicksand.

          There is no mechanism in Linux to ensure [the legality of] that intellectual property of the source code being contributed by various people. We fully believe there are many contributions made by good, hard-working individuals into Linux that are not of issue. But based on the research that we have done, we have identified specific Unix System V code for which we have ownership rights that have ended up in Linux against our wishes.

          There is inappropriate intellectual property in Linux. The development process has no one that is ensuring that inappropriate code is not getting into Linux. All that's there is an honour system, and obviously there are a few, at least, that have broken that honor.

          Your letter to 1500 end-user companies outlining your claim was vague. What is it that you want from these companies?

          The one thing that we specifically want from those 1500 companies that we directly sent those letters to is for them to not take our word on the warning that we sent ... but to seek an opinion of their legal counsel as to the issues that we raised.

          What do you see as a company's options in the face of your warning?

          I would suspend any new Linux-related activities until this is all sorted out. But first get that opinion of your legal counsel. If they say there is no problem and no issue, then you probably have nothing to worry about.

          But I doubt there is any attorney worth his salt that is going to say there is no potential of an issue here. There is a big issue.

          Should companies remove Linux from their systems?

          We're not making any specific recommendations at this time. We're still getting our arms around the size of this problem. We're still identifying more and more code from Unix System V that is in Linux, and so we haven't even fully scoped the problem. It's hard to come up with solutions until you have the full problem identified, and as you may guess, it's a very big problem.

          Are you considering suing Linux end users that you notified?

          Anything is always a possibility. If you are going to enforce your contracts, claims and intellectual property, you have to be able to go to ultimately the endpoint of infringement.

          You're claiming that Linux has been polluted with Unix code that you own, but you have not produced any evidence of that. Will you?

          We will actually be providing some of the evidence next month to various industry analysts, respected press people and other industry leaders so that they don't have to take our word for it or wait until we show some of that evidence in court.

          We will actually be showing the code, and the basis for why we have made the allegations that we have. We are very confident about our case. Because we are dealing with confidential source code that we have never released without confidentiality agreements, we will have to put in place nondisclosures [agreements] simply to protect the source. But people will be able to give their opinion as to what they think.

          How many lines of code in the Linux kernel are a direct copyright violation?

          It's very extensive. It is many different sections of code ranging from five to 10 to 15 lines of code in multiple places that are of issue, up to large blocks of code that have been inappropriately copied into Linux in violation of our source-code licensing contract. That's in the kernel itself, so it is significant. It is not a line or two here or there. It was quite a surprise for us.

          Novell says the 1995 agreement governing SCO's purchase of Unix System V from Novell doesn't convey copyrights. What's your response?

          We certainly have a point of contention regarding their interpretation of that contract. We have statements from all the major parties that were involved in that contract that all the business and IP-related property of Unix and UnixWare was transferred to SCO. I think this is just a desperate act on their part to curry favor with the Linux community.

          Why did Microsoft get a licence from you?

          Completely unrelated. Microsoft has been adding more and more Unix compatibility and Unix interoperability into their products. We got in contact with them early this year to let them know that we had concerns about if they had all the appropriate intellectual property necessary to be providing that Unix capability. We ended up in negotiations where they have licensed some of our Unix Systems V intellectual property from us for use in their Services for Unix products. ... They recognised that it was important to have appropriate intellectual property licenses for the property they are using.

          Have you made a similar licensing offer to the 1500 companies that received your letter?

          We have no specific programme or solution for solving this Linux intellectual property problem right now.

          How is it that Microsoft can get a licence, and essentially get rid of its worry, and the other end users cannot?

          Microsoft is not using Linux. So the scope of any issues they may have are not as related to the specific Unix intellectual property they were using in their product or wanted to be able to use in their product in the future. It's a very well-defined set of intellectual property they were interested in licensing.

          Do you intend at any point to begin offering licences to Linux users?

          We would hope as quickly as possible to develop solutions with the industry to allow customers to move forward with whatever platforms they wanted to choose, so long as the appropriate intellectual property foundation is in place.

          Why didn't you act earlier? This move seems to arise with SCO's declining fortunes.

          We just announced our second quarter, and our financials are in very good position. The company is profitable. It is the first time in the history of the company, in almost seven years of existence, that it has been profitable. The point is we're really only recently seeing significant moves by many players, specifically IBM, to come out and state that they are moving wholesale to Linux.

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