Mainstream Press Questions Credibility of Linux, Litigation

Is the legal strategy embraced by SCO Group a “good faith” effort to protect its intellectual property? Or a project to boost the share price on the Lindon, Utah, software firm?

A new article, in the current issue of Fortune Magazine, one of the leading business publications in the United States, raises those issues and more, calling SCO a “much-loathed would-be Linux slayer,” provocative claims that are today causing a hullabaloo among Linux devotees all over the world.

The article is headlined “Gunning for Linux,” and is promoted by a photo of the apparently incensed SCO CEO Darl McBride — on the magazine’s cover — in a pose evoking a statue of a Roman warrior, perhaps even Julius Caesar.

The tone of the narrative varies somewhat unsteadily throughout the piece, often conceding that SCO may have a point in suing IBM, AutoZone and others, and stating that there is a “structural problem” with open-source software.

But the article also pokes holes in the company’s legal arguments, calling them “aggressive, but not preposterous,” and is critical of the founders of the open source software factions.

State Court Suits

“Finally, this March, SCO sued two Linux end users, AutoZone and Daimler-Chrysler, in state courts, in Nevada and Michigan, forcing even the sleepiest of corporate counsels to take notice,” the magazine states. “Every business that either had switched to Linux or was contemplating doing so — and it was a rare company that didn’t fall into one or the other category — now had to worry about becoming the next AutoZone. Some discovered that they were at least theoretically exposed to even worse doomsday scenarios.”

The article marks the emergence of the risks of Linux as a major, mainstream business issue for executives at all sizeable enterprises, just as the legal controversy itself may be receding, some observers said.

“I have been watching Linux since its release in the early 1990s, and watching SCO vs. IBM since it began,” Douglas Blank, an assistant professor in the computer science program at Bryn Mawr College, told LinuxInsider. “I believe most people in the industry feel that it is not a growing controversy, but a dying controversy. That is probably the nature of the speed at which items enter the mainstream: It takes a while.”

Blank notes that some of SCO’s claims have changed substantially since the case was first made.

He said that, at first, SCO was claiming that the license under which Linux is released — the GNU General Public License — violated the Constitution. “Many saw that as purely playing to the press, and it was eventually dropped from their lawsuit,” said Blank. “The case now is about a contract dispute. That is also true about the other cases SCO has filed — against DaimlerChrysler and AutoZone.”

SCO Stock Rising

Furthermore, Blank believes there is a difference between what is being said in the courts by SCO lawyers, and in the court of public opinion, through its press releases.

“SCO claims through press releases that they own Unix — under dispute by Novell — and that the case is about pieces of Unix in Linux,” said Blank. “But the legal case isn’t about that at all.”

The magazine article also claims that SCO’s stock price “rose sharply” in the aftermath of the IBM lawsuit, going from US$1.09 in mid-February last year to $20.50 last fall. “Some officers and directors were regularly selling chunks of stock,” the article asserted.

This has apparently caused some Linux devotees — including the listserve manager at the open-source operating systems discussion group, Xinqui.net, to become quite upset.

‘Stock Scam’ Claim

“This is about an 18-month-old lawsuit brought by The SCO Group against IBM, which primarily looks like a pump-and-dump stock scam,” the list manager, who goes by the name of “Liam,” told LinuxInsider in an e-mail. “All their posturing about copyright infringement has been in the press — in the last round of court documents there is now no mention of copyright infringements.”

The URL Xinqui.net is registered to an individual named Philip Plane in Wellington, New Zealand.

For its part, the SCO public relations team tried to put on a good face in response to the nasty publicity from the Fortune article.

“I understand you read the Fortune article covering the intellectual property rights debate and wanted to offer you a chance to speak with an executive from SCO on your upcoming piece focused on the topic,” a SCO spokesperson, Payal P. Patel, told LinuxInsider. “Are you available to speak with a SCO executive?”

But no SCO executive was actually made available to LinuxInsider during Friday morning to discuss the controversy.

The article, however, is not just critical of SCO, for it portrays the founder of the free software movement, Richard Stallman, in an undated photograph in which he looks like a disheveled cast member of the touring company of the Broadway hippie musical, “Hair,” an image unlikely to evoke sympathy in the executive suites where the magazine is read.

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