Customers who buy Linux from Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) can worry a little less about The SCO Group Inc.'s threats of lawsuits.
Starting Oct. 1, customers who purchase Linux systems from HP will be indemnified against any legal action relating to SCO's intellectual property claims against Linux, the company announced in a conference call on Wednesday.
"Today HP becomes the first major Linux hardware vendor to offer certain Linux customers indemnification," said Martin Fink, the general manager of HP's Linux systems division.
Under HP's indemnification plan, Linux customers would sign an agreement allowing HP's legal counsel to represent them in court, should they be sued by SCO. HP would then assume any legal liabilities relating to the SCO lawsuit.
The indemnification would cover customers who buy their Linux distribution directly from HP and have a valid support contract with the Palo Alto, California, company. However, not all HP Linux users will be covered. Customers without support contracts would not be indemnified. Those who make their own changes to the Linux source, or who purchase systems through an HP reseller could qualify for indemnification, but HP would only provide that on a case-by-case basis, the company said.
Customers will still be indemnified if they add patches to their Linux distributions, however, so long as they are supplied by HP's Linux partners like Red Hat Inc. or Suse Linux AG.
Current HP Linux customers will be able to sign an addendum to their support contracts that will offer them the indemnification at no extra charge, Fink said.
Fink declined to say how much the indemnification plan is costing HP or to speculate on whether it would still apply should SCO be acquired by another company.
The issue of whether or not Linux vendors will indemnify their customers against legal action from SCO has become an issue in the industry since the tiny Unix company threatened to sue Linux users in August of this year. At issue, is SCO's contention that Linux contains source code that violates SCO's Unix intellectual property (IP) rights.
In March, SCO sued IBM, saying the Armonk, New York, company had inappropriately contributed code to Linux. Five months later, SCO announced a $700/processor licensing scheme that would bring Linux users into compliance with its IP claims. The company is now threatening to sue Linux users who do not sign up for this scheme. [See, "Linux users shrug off SCO's new legal threats," Computerworld, July 25.]
Today's indemnification means that many HP customers no longer have to worry about SCO claims, which have yet to be tried in court.
SCO was quick to cite HP's announcement as an endorsement of some of their claims. "I think it sends a pretty strong message to Linux users that Linux is not free," said SCO spokesman Blake Stowell. "HP is now offering indemnification. We're offering a license. Because there are IP issues with Linux, it isn't free."
"It's a revenue opportunity. It's great for them," said Stowell, referring to the fact that customers would have to subscribe to an HP support contract in order to be indemnified.
One HP customer, who asked not to be identified, said he was pleased by today's news. "We do use HP-supported Linux, and I'm pleased to see HP standing behind their customers," he said.
"I don't believe they're doing this as a marketing stunt. They're probably doing this because they view it as what's right for their customers," he said.