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An open letter to recent SCO Linux licensees

Sep 08, 20034 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsLinux

Dear recent SCO Linux licensee, Were you that afraid of litigation that you bought a license for Linux from The SCO Group? I’m sorry, but that is pathetic.

Dear recent SCO Linux licensee, Were you that afraid of litigation that you bought a license for Linux from The SCO Group? I’m sorry, but that is pathetic.

Yes, it might be only $700 per processor and perhaps you think that’s better than paying the $1,400 license fee that SCO threatens after Oct. 15. Or maybe you purchased it because you’re afraid that you might have to pay damages of some kind should SCO prevail in its suit against IBM.

Do you realize that what you have done is given in to blackmail? At first I was going to classify what SCO is doing as highway robbery but highway robbery is at least more honest. In highway robbery the robbers show you the weapon when they threaten you. Blackmailers are far more underhanded – they simply threaten you with what they claim they will do if you don’t cough up.

And you gave in to it! Let’s look at this carefully. For a start, if you are using Linux and it turns out to be illegal, it is like reading a photocopied book. Reading it is not illegal – it was the copying and distribution that was illegal.

And that’s not my argument, that’s the very well informed legal opinion of Eben Moglen, a professor at Columbia Law School and general counsel for the Free Software Foundation.

In Moglen’s recent paper, “Questioning SCO: A Hard Look at Nebulous Claims,” he writes: “the Copyright Act doesn’t grant the copyright holder the exclusive right to use the work; that would vitiate the basic idea of copyright. . . . Software users are sometimes confused by the prevailing tendency to present software products with contracts under shrink-wrap; in order to use the software one has to accept a contract from the manufacturer. But that’s not because copyright law requires such a license. This is why lawsuits of the form that SCO appears to be threatening – against users of copyrighted works for infringement damages – do not actually happen.”

And Moglen is not alone with this opinion. Lawrence Rosen, general counsel for the Open Source Initiative, writes in his paper “Q&A re: SCO vs. IBM“: “Assume the very worst: Assume SCO wins its case against IBM and IBM writes a big check for damages. Assume SCO proves that some portion of Linux is a copy or derivative work of its trade secret software. Assume SCO gets an injunction to prevent anyone from using any version of Linux containing infringing code. . . . Long before that happens there will be a new open source version of Linux omitting any SCO code. . . . The SCO vs. IBM lawsuit is not likely to have any real impact on Linux users. It is a battle of big companies that will be resolved in due course by the court, perhaps by the payment of money. In the meantime, and forever, Linux is available for free.”

And how about the code in question? So far the code that has been shown has either been put in front of people who aren’t qualified to make a judgment (although in many cases they don’t seem to have held back even so) or has been shown to be irrelevant to the case. See “Analysis of SCO’s Las Vegas Slide Show”  by Bruce Perens about the SCO presentation shown in Las Vegas on Aug. 18.

As if that isn’t enough, you have got to check out “SCO’s evidence of copying between Linux and UnixWare” by Greg Lehey, a detailed analysis of the Las Vegas Slide Show code. There’s no gun, smoking or otherwise, to be found.

So what you chaps have done, of your own free will, is give in to the demands of blackmailers who only threatened you and never actually displayed their weapons. Sure, it was a cheap and safe course, but was it smart or necessary?


Mark Gibbs, backspin at


Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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