Mohandas Gandhi, a master of the tactics of civil disobedience against civilized foes, once had this to say about the stages of a successful campaign for an idea whose time has come: “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.”
Advocates of open-source software development and the Linux operating system love this quote and have emblazoned it on t-shirts next to Tux the penguin. It has even been condensed into a verbal shorthand that plays off the U.S. military’s DefCon levels for defensive alerts; it’s used to describe the stages of acceptance of open source at workplaces.
So when a fellow geek says, “We’ve reached GandhiCon Three at my company,” that means, “They’ve stopped laughing and started fighting. I expect we’ll win shortly.” If we in the community of open-source hackers at large needed confirmation that it has come to GandhiCon Three, the antics of SCO would provide it.
It all started as an implausible lawsuit against IBM that slandered open-source developers in passing, with SCO asserting that the Linux operating system had been worthless junk produced by incompetents before IBM injected stolen SCO technologyinto it. Since then, SCO has escalated its claims into a full-throated attack on Linux and the entire community around it.
Linux developers have responded with a simple offer: Show us what code in Linux you can prove to be your property, and we’ll remove it. SCO’s answer has been to stonewall, to mutter mathematically impossible accusations about a million lines of stolen code, and to try to shake down Linux users for license fees before any court has ruled that SCOowns anything at all.
SCO had to do some embarrassing back-pedaling recently after it disclosed what was supposed to be smoking-gun evidence of massive code theft in Linux.
Within hours, several experts pointed out that SCO didn’t own the code that it alleged had been stolen, that there were reasonable paths for Linux to legally incorporate it from sources which were freed either by the outcome of the AT&T-vs.-BSD lawsuit in 1993 or by SCO-Caldera’s own open-source releases of the “ancient Unix” code in 2002.
Breach of Good Faith
Now SCO’s chief of PR is rewriting history, saying they were never claiming the disclosed code was stolen.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, SCO CEO Darl McBride has been indulging in public episodes of paranoid ranting — claiming that all the opposition to the lawsuit is a sham, an insidious conspiracy masterminded by little gray men from Armonk. Either McBride islying for tactical reasons or he is incapable of recognizing genuine grassroots outrage when he sees it.
And make no mistake, open-source developers are outraged. There is massive license violation and theft of intellectual property going on, all right — but it’s SCO doing the thieving. By breaching the terms of the GNU General Public License as it has done, SCO has violated the copyrights of thousands of Linux hackers who contributedtheir work in good faith.
SCO made money from that work for eight years, and has now turned around and betrayed the community that created its product by claiming to own all the code they wrote. But there is worse.
SCO has not stopped at claiming to own Linux. They have announced that they are going to try to get all open-source software licenses invalidated by the courts.
They’re aiming to destroy the entire open-source community, the people whose creativity and vision and hard work gave us the Internet and the World Wide Web, by making it legally impossible for programmers to cooperate without having their work hijacked by third parties.
And why are they doing that? Well, SCO’s lawsuit is now being funded to the tune of more than six megabucks by Microsoft, which is known to regard Linux as its only serious competition.
If you believe that is mere coincidence, can I interest you in some prime Nigerian oilfield leases?
Eric S. Raymond is an observer-participant anthropologist in the Internet hacker culture. His research has helped explain the decentralized open-source model of software development that has proven so effective in the evolution of the Internet.