The battle between The SCO Group and the open source community is getting nastier. Now, SCO has taken its fight to Capitol Hill. Earlier this month, the company sent the 535 members of the US Congress a letter that called Linux, and open source software, a threat to the security and economy of the country.
The letter is dated 8 January and was published on the Internet this week by an open source lobbying organisation, called the Open Source and Industry Alliance (OSAIA). It states that the commoditising influence of open source software such as the Linux operating system is bad for the U.S. economy and argues that open source also skirts export controls that govern commercial products.
"A computer expert in North Korea who has a number of personal computers and an Internet connection can download the latest version of Linux, complete with multiprocessing capabilities misappropriated from Unix, and, in short order, build a virtual supercomputer," the letter says.
The letter, which is signed by SCO Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Darl McBride was meant to educate US lawmakers on "infringement issues with regard to Linux," said Blake Stowell, an SCO spokesman.
With dozens of countries considering legislating the use of open source, SCO believes it's "only a matter of time before others in our country would put legislation on the table around open source software," said Stowell.
Linux creator Linus Torvalds disputed SCO's claim that Linux contained misappropriated code.
SCO is also wrong to suggest that US export controls apply to software, Torvalds said. "Those export controls apply to hardware, not software," he said in an e-mail interview. Either way, a computer's operating system is not much help when it comes to designing atomic warheads, he said. "You don't do much with a supercomputer if you don't have the software to run on top of it."
SCO sued IBM Corp. in March of last year, claiming that Big Blue illegally contributed code to Linux that was derived from SCO's version of Unix, called System V Unix. SCO has since claimed that Linux also includes other code that violates its System V copyrights, but the company has been heavily criticised for failing to back up these assertions with proof.
In fact, Linux vendor Novell now maintains that SCO does not even own the copyrights to the System V source code. SCO filed a slander lawsuit with Novell over this matter earlier this week.
SCO's attempt to lobby Congress against open source software shows that it does not believe its own claims, said Ed Black, the president and CEO of the OSAIA. If its allegations are true, SCO should be encouraging people to use Linux instead of criticising it, said Black. "If you had a (legitimate) claim, you'd say, 'The more people who are using it, the more I can collect from.'"
Black believes that SCO is operating at the behest of Microsoft, whose Windows operating system is threatened by Linux's popularity. "Most people believe that SCO is... a foil for our friends in Redmond to create fear, uncertainty and doubt about Linux."
After calling Linux and open-source software un-American and a cancer, Microsoft last July announced that it had switched tactics and would resort to analyst reports and case studies instead of name-calling in its battle against Linux.
SCO, which was paid millions of dollars in software licensing fees by Microsoft last year, has picked up where the software giant left off, said Black. "They've become a PR firm and a litigation firm for Microsoft," said Black. "At one time they actually had a product, but that doesn't exist anymore."
SCO continues to sell its UnixWare and OpenServer software, but increasingly, SCO's activities have focused on the company's Linux battle. SCO has been ramping up its licensing efforts. Last week, the company began making its Intellectual Property License for Linux available to small and medium businesses in the US for the first time.
Microsoft had no influence on the 8 January letter, said Stowell. SCO and Microsoft have discussed the Linux intellectual property issues, he said, but Stowell disputed Black's claim that his company was working for Microsoft to attack Linux. "It's not something we have strategy meetings on or anything," he said.
The letter is available online at http://www.osaia.org/letters/sco_hill.pdf.
Separately, SCO on Thursday revealed that a court hearing in the IBM lawsuit in the US District Court for the District of Utah, scheduled for Friday, had been postponed until 6 February. The court had been expected to examine whether SCO had complied with a December court order compelling it to provide meaningful details of how IBM allegedly violated its intellectual property.
"Both sides felt we would be better served if the hearing were postponed," said Stowell.