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May 28, 2003

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MozillaQuest Op-Ed

SCO-Caldera v IBM:

Is SCO Trying to Dictate Linux Kernel and GNU/Linux Development Procedures?

Linux and the SCO-Caldera v IBM Lawsuit

By Mike Angelo -- 28 May 2003 (C) -- Page 1

Kernel.Org and GNU/Linux Developers Have Clean Code Safeguards

Article Index

SCO-Caldera v. IBM:

SCO Clears Linux Kernel but Implicates Red Hat and SuSE

IBM Files Answer to SCO's Caldera v IBM Complaint

IBM Response to SCO-Caldera Complaint Is Outrageous!


SCO-Caldera & the GNU/Linux Community:

In a 29 April 2003 e-mail to us from SCO-Caldera's Blake Stowell there is a statement regarding Linux code policing:

However, SCO is still concerned that there is no mechanism in place in the Linux community to address what gets added to the kernel, and the periphery of the kernel, to make sure that there is no proprietary software being included. Yes, Linus [Torvalds] and Alan Cox and others control what gets added to the kernel, but how do they know that what is being contributed is not proprietary? SCO would still like to see this get resolved in some way at some point."

We had discussed these issues with kernel.org's Richard Gooch and GNU's Richard Stallman back in March. More recently we discussed these issues with Conectiva's Gordon Ho, Mandrake's Gaël Duval, and SuSE's Joeseph Eckert. The bottom line is that SCO is wrong (again). The Linux community does have clean-code safeguards in place.

Of course there is no army of Code Police with fixed-bayonets standing guard at every portal to every open source development project -- nor does there need to be. The Linux community reasonably does guard against unlicensed, proprietary code seeping into the official Linux kernel, GNU/Linux operating system, and Linux distributions.

In essence, SCO-Caldera is questioning and challenging Linux community code policing on the basis of SCO's naked allegations that there is SCO-owned code in what SCO-Caldera loosely refers to as Linux. This appears to be just another battlefront and attack in SCO-Caldera's war on Linux. And more SCO smoke to boot.

Perhaps even more out-of-line is the appearance that SCO-Caldera is trying to use the threat of copyright infringement lawsuits to dictate Linux kernel, GNU/Linux operating system, and Linux distribution maintenance and development practices and procedures.

One thing that makes all this even more sick is that at one time the Caldera part of SCO-Caldera was a leading Linux distribution provider (LDP). Caldera was a desktop Linux pioneer. It was a member of the Linux community. Additionally, Caldera had as much opportunity to participate in formulating Linux kernel, GNU/Linux operating system, and Linux distribution development and maintenance procedures and policies as any person, organization, or company.

Now as SCO-Caldera, it seeks to have such influence by force and threat of lawsuit. That is not a very pretty picture. Nor is it a nice thing to do either.

On 12 May 03, SCO-Caldera announced that it is suspending distribution of the GNU/Linux operating system. In effect, SCO-Caldera is no longer a Linux company -- nor is it now a member of the Linux community.

Note: while this article was in development, SCO-Caldera announced that it will let a hand-picked third-party panel look at Linux kernel code that SCO-Caldera claims is proprietary SCO-owned code -- under a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). (Linux Buzz: SCO to Reveal Allegedly Copied Code, Linux Journal, 15 May 03. Link in Resources section at end of this article. )

We believe that to be another SCO-Caldera smoke and mirrors scam. One reason is that if the members of the panel sign NDAs, then SCO-Caldera has control over what they may say publicly about the matter covered by the SCO NDA. The most honest way for SCO-Caldera to prove there is SCO-Owned code in the Linux kernel is to post its specific claims detailing the code in question to the linux-kernel mailing list or on the SCO-Caldera Web site. MozillaQuest Magazine will look into this new SCO-Caldera scam in an upcoming article.

Interestingly, it seems that SCO-Caldera does not own any Unix patents nor does it own the Unix trademark or Unix specification. Moreover, SCO might not own the Unix Copyrights either.

As this article was being laid out for publication today, Novell announced that SCO did not obtain the Unix copyrights when it purchased Novell's Unix business. This should make the entire SCO IP fracas very interesting.

In March, Allen Brown, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Open Group, told us that The Open Group got the Unix trademark and the Unix specification.

Don Marti, Linux Journal editor, did an interesting patent search in March. He found Caldera has never had a patent assigned to it . . . So, if SCO is interested in throwing the first stone in a licensing war, all they have to play with is copyright on UNIX source code. (Follow the Patents, People, Linux Journal News Notes 6 March 2003) Please also see Microsoft licenses a SCO patent? What patent?, also by Don Marti. Links in Resources section at the end of this article.)

Considering today's Novell announcement that SCO does not even own the Unix copyrights, SCO just might not have any rocks at all to throw.

Another sick thing about SCO-Caldera's demands for Code Police is that SCO-Caldera has not yet publicly listed any SCO-owned Unix code allegedly in Linux. Heck, by SCO-Caldera's own admission, it has not even looked for SCO-owned Unix code in the kernel.org Linux Kernel or the GNU/Linux operating system. Moreover, SCO might not even own the Unix copyrights. Please see the sidebar Note.

Stowell raises essentially two issues in his 29 April e-mail to us:

(1) whose responsibility is it to police the Linux kernel, GNU/Linux operating system, and Linux distribution code to insure that unlicensed SCO-owned Unix code does not get into the Linux kernel, GNU/Linux operating system, and Linux distribution code and

(2) what steps do the Linux kernel, GNU/Linux OS, and Linux distribution developers take to insure their code is clean?

If you would like to skip ahead to the meat of these issues go to SCO's Rubber Hammer -- Dictating to the Linux Community.

Background and Perspective

To put today's discussion in perspective let's quickly review the part of our 28 April article that is the subject of Stowell's 29 April e-mail to us.

Our 21 May article, Is SCO Trying to Renege on Clearing Linux Kernel ?, addressed some issues raised by the 29 April e-mail from SCO's Blake Stowell. In that e-mail, he requested a correction to our 28 April article SCO-Caldera v IBM: SCO Clears Linux Kernel but Implicates Red Hat and SuSE.

In his request for a correction, Stowell raised issues essentially regarding, (a) is there unlicensed SCO-owned Unix code in the official, kernel.org, Linux kernel and (b) code policing.

The 28 April story looked into SCO-Caldera's vague and naked claims that there is SCO-owned code in Linux. There, SCO's Chris Sontag said that SCO-Caldera had not found any SCO-owned code in the kernel.org Linux kernel.

"In an e-mail discussion that took place 24 and 25 April, SCO-Caldera Senior Vice President Chris Sontag told MozillaQuest Magazine that there is SCO-owned code in Red Hat and SuSE Linux distributions. He also told MozillaQuest Magazine that the tainted code is not in the Linux kernel that Linus [Torvalds] and others have helped develop. We're talking about what's on the periphery of the Linux kernel." (SCO-Caldera v IBM: SCO Clears Linux Kernel but Implicates Red Hat and SuSE)

On 29 April, the day after the article was published, we received an e-mail from SCO's Blake Stowell asking us to make a correction in the story as to Sontag's statement clearing the kernel.org Linux kernel of containing any SCO-owned code.

However, there was nothing to correct. We printed what Sontag had said:

We're not talking about the Linux kernel that Linus and others have helped develop. We're talking about what's on the periphery of the Linux kernel.

When discussing accusations of unlicensed, proprietary code in Linux, it is very important to distinguish between the official Linux kernel, other Linux kernels, the GNU/Linux operating system, Linux distributions, and so forth. The official Linux kernel that Linus Torvalds and others developed and continue to develop is maintained by kernel.org.

However, anyone or any organization may adapt and patch that kernel for their own use, such as developing a Linux-based operating system or a Linux distribution. For more information about that please see the Mechanisms of Tainting Linux Distribution Code section in our article SCO Clears Linux Kernel but Implicates Red Hat and SuSE.

Here is that with which Blake Stowell wanted us to replace Sontag's verbatim statement -- after it had been published.

Blake Stowell (29 April 2003): What Chris Sontag was saying was that "SCO has not identified any current issues with the code that is in the kernel today. However, SCO is still concerned that there is no mechanism in place in the Linux community to address what gets added to the kernel, and the periphery of the kernel, to make sure that there is no proprietary software being included. Yes, Linus [Torvalds] and Alan Cox and others control what gets added to the kernel, but how do they know that what is being contributed is not proprietary? SCO would still like to see this get resolved in some way at some point."

Although that is not a correction, it is a new statement, an interesting change in what Sontag says is the way things are, and it raises additional issues and confusions. That makes Sontag's new statement worth a follow-up story -- but not a correction. So, we sent an e-mail to Blake Stowell letting Blake know that we would not make a correction to the SCO Clears Linux Kernel story -- because there was nothing to correct, but that we would run a follow-up story.

Sontag's new statement raised some additional issues and questions. Thus, we also asked Blake some questions about this new Sontag statement. To date neither Blake Stowell nor anyone else at SCO-Caldera has answered these questions directly. The questions we asked, but were not answered, are appended at the end of this article for your reading pleasure.

In asking Stowell these questions one of our concerns was that someone at SCO suddenly realized that by admitting there is no SCO-owned code in the kernel.org code, SCO had lost much of the vague, nebulous, and somewhat rubbery intellectual property (IP) hammer it is trying to hold over the entire Linux community. It also appeared to us that this new statement from Sontag was designed to restore the uncertainty and vagueness about SCO's unsupported copyright claims -- so that SCO-Caldera might regain some, if not all, of that rubbery IP hammer that SCO is trying to hold over the entire Linux community -- which had been diminished by Sontag's earlier statement clearing the kernel.org Linux kernel of SCO-owned code.

  • See SCO's Rubber Hammer -- Dictating to the Linux Community on Page 2 ----->

  • Please see the first two parts of our series about SCO-Caldera's IP claims plus its intentions to enforce and license its intellectual property rights.

    SCO-Caldera & the GNU/Linux Community: The SCOsource IP Matter

    SCO-Caldera & the GNU/Linux Community: Part 2, Under the Iceberg's Tip



    Related MozillaQuest Articles


    SCO-Caldera v IBM:


    SCO-Caldera & the GNU/Linux Community: The SCOsource IP Matter

    SCO-Caldera & the GNU/Linux Community: Part 2, Under the Iceberg's Tip

    About the "Hey SCO, sue me" Petition


    Caldera OpenLinux 3.1.1 Available

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