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Monday, 19 January 2004


European businesses are being urged to buy a licence for Linux (the operating system with the cute penguin trade mark) in order to avoid legal action by SCO, which claims the operating system unlawfully includes some of its computer code. California-based SCO has hitherto been pursuing US companies for the same reason but now is extending the licensing program overseas. SCO said it would probably launch legal action this year against high profile European companies that decline the chance to take out a licence. The company has put aside $16m for a litigation fighting fund. This will fuel its global legal fight to win cash back from Linux users as well as its forthcoming action against IBM, which SCO claims has taken some of its intellectual property and used it in Linux. SCO's claim that Unix was the inspiration for parts of Linux is widely disputed. Many Linux users worry that the threat of legal action will scare people off adopting the free-to-use operating system that has recently become popular. The widening of the licensing programme raises the prospect of SCO launching many more lawsuits against end users of Linux that do not take up a licence. In 2003 SCO wrote to more than 1,000 US firms known to be using Linux, asking them to take out a licence if they used the disputed elements of the program. Few are thought to have taken out a licence and so far SCO has not launched legal action against any US end users.

SCO is taking legal action against users of Linux, rather than the creators of the software, because of the terms under which the open source program is used. "We do not want our product, our property, our IP given away for free", said Chris Sontag, head of the SCO Source division seeking licence payments from users. "We are defending our rights" he told BBC News Online. Sontag said taking out a licence was a cheap way to avoid potential legal action and was less expensive than the indemnification schemes set up by firms such as Novell to bail out Linux users that end up in court.

The IPKat is frankly sceptical of SCO’s claims which, like the estate of John Cage’s demands for royalties (see IPKat blog “When Silence is a Racket”, 13 January 2004), look suspiciously like an unwarranted demand with menaces.

Linux’s GNU General Public Licence here; SCO’s licence here
How to deal with bullies here, here and here

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