The SCO Group has turned its focus to Linux customers, making it clear for the first time that it could sue them for using code that the company claims violates its intellectual property rights. Furthermore, in an effort to protect its claimed rights, SCO plans to roll out a UnixWare for Linux licensing program in the next few weeks.
"Rather than go out and just say, 'Let's go sue everybody now,' we're coming out with a well-thought-out program," SCO's CEO Darl McBride said last week while announcing the plans. "Essentially, the legal fairway we're working with just got a lot wider," he said.
Whether or not this fairway will encroach on their home turf is undoubtedly on the minds of some Linux users this week. They wonder why Linux vendors such as Red hat and IBM will not indemnify their customers, and why they should pay a license based on IP (intellectual property) violations that have not yet been publicly disclosed, much less proven in a court of law.
"This is more of a PR move in an attempt to put pressure on end-user organization to put pressure on IBM to settle quickly," said Dan Kuznetsky, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. Like other observers, he questioned the wisdom of buying an SCO license sight unseen. "What happens if they lose? Are they going to issue refunds? The cart and the horse are in reverse order here."
"I think everybody who is involved should be monitoring the situation, but I don't think there is any cause for sudden alarm or hasty actions," said Jeffrey Neuberger, an IP lawyer at the New York firm Brown Raysman Millstein Felder & Steiner, who has been following the case. "History shows that these things have a way of working out. This is a very high-profile case, but it's very likely that it will be resolved in a way that leaves the user base untouched," he said.
Customers can do a number of things to mitigate their risk, Kuznetsky said, starting with a call to their Linux vendor. "If I was an IBM customer, I'd turn to IBM and say, 'What are you doing for me?'" IBM, for example, has said it plans to stand by its users, but a frank discussion about the terms of customers' primary agreements may shed some light on what exactly that means.
For those who are not comfortable with the wait-and-see approach, there is always BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution). Its features are similar to Linux's, but it was already the subject of a protracted copyright dispute in the 1990s, so BSD users are considered to be a less likely target for SCO's lawyers.
Those looking for an insurance policy against a lawsuit can simply factor the cost of a UnixWare license into their budgets. While Lindon, Utah-based SCO has yet to announce the cost of its UnixWare for Linux license, the company says that current UnixWare licensing fees are in the ballpark of what they'll be charging. A single user, single processor UnixWare 7.1.3 Base Edition license costs $720.