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SCO vs. Linux: Novell argues AT&T retains Unix rights

Feb 17, 20043 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsLinux

* Novell says AT&T retains Unix rights; ODSL paper says Linux users should ignore SCO suits

When Novell jumped into the SCO vs. Linux fight, most of us weren’t aware that the networking company was already deep in negotiations to buy SuSE Linux. While this might make its actions more self-serving, most Linux enthusiasts will overlook it as Messmann & Co., being willing to lead the fight to protect the open source operating system from the attacks of SCO’s Darl MacBride and his cronies. I mention this, because there were a couple of developments last week.

First, though, a reminder that late last year Novell applied for, and got, copyright registration for Unix. Problem is, SCO also has a copyright registration for Unix. So SCO sued Novell to get it to relinquish its claim.

Last week, Novell released documents and letters purporting to show that AT&T retained rights to Unix even after Unix was sold to Novell and even after it was subsequently sold to SCO. Novell points out further that AT&T licensed its Unix code to Sequent in 1985; Sequent was acquired by IBM in 1999, and that all that activity pre-dates the agreement between SCO and IBM. It was that agreement (between SCO and IBM) which was the start of all the brouhaha SCO kicked up when it sued Big Blue for violating its (that is, SCO’s) intellectual property.

The situation is getting murkier by the week, which may be just what Novell (and the rest of the Linux community) wants. The longer the situation is drawn out, the less income SCO will likely have and the more likely that the company will be forced into receivership. To that end, the Open Source Development Labs (of which Novell is a member) released a white paper (link below) written by Columbia University law professor Eben Moglen. The document claims Linux users can safely ignore any suits brought against them by SCO until the whole ownership-of-copyright issue has been decided.

SCO has threatened to sue anyone using Linux for violating its intellectual property rights resulting from its claim that copyrighted parts Unix is illegally included in Linux distributions. It’s Professor Moglen’s contention (and he is a leading expert on software copyright law) that SCO can’t sue anyone for violating its copyright as long as the legality of that copyright itself is in doubt. Makes sense to me.

As we creep ever closer to a release of NetWare 7 on a Linux kernel though, (and expect to hear much more about this next month at BrainShare) Novell may find some of its customers reluctant to proceed to the new server operating system without a resolution of the copyright question. So in the latest development last week, Novell asked a Utah court to dismiss SCO’s lawsuit claiming that, in effect, Novell lied to obtain a copyright for Unix. In this suit, Novell claims that “without conclusively establishing that it owns the Unix and Unixware copyrights, SCO cannot show the Novell’s statements to the contrary are false.” ( Sounds reasonable to me. This has all the makings of a great soap opera, and just might run as long as “Days of Our Lives.”