Open Source Smack-Down, Linux is an “open source” program, meaning anyone is free to view and modify its source code, or basic underlying instructions.
Posted by egovindia on June 30, 2006
Open Source Smack-Down
Daniel Lyons, 06.29.06, 4:25 PM ET
Fans of the free Linux operating system should be popping champagne tonight. A judge has tossed out most of the claims in a case claiming Linux contained stolen code.
SCO Group (nasdaq: SCOX – news – people ), of Lindon, Utah, is suing IBM (nyse: IBM – news – people ), claiming IBM stole code from Unix, for which SCO holds some copyrights, and put it into Linux, which is distributed free. SCO is seeking billions in damages.
The case, filed in 2003, is scheduled for trial in 2007. But Wednesday night, in a blistering 39-page ruling, Magistrate Judge Brooke C. Wells of the United States District Court in Utah tossed out two-thirds of SCO’s claims against IBM.
Wells tossed the claims because SCO refused, after repeated requests, to provide specific details about which lines of code were stolen.
SCO claims it could not provide detailed information for these items because they involved “methods and concepts” rather than specific lines of code. IBM insisted that SCO should still be able to provide the relevant lines of code to show where the methods and concepts were stolen.
“SCO’s arguments are akin to SCO telling IBM, ‘Sorry, we are not going to tell you what you did wrong because you already know,’ ” Wells wrote in her ruling. “Given the amount of code that SCO has received in discovery the court finds it inexcusable that SCO is in essence still not placing all the details on the table. Certainly if an individual was stopped and accused of shoplifting after walking out of Neiman Marcus they would expect to be eventually told what they allegedly stole.”
Blake Stowell, a spokesman for SCO said, “Our legal team is reviewing the judge’s ruling and will determine our next steps in the near future.”
IBM officials declined to comment on the ruling.
The ruling is a devastating blow to SCO and one that will warm the hearts of Linux fans who have long viewed SCO’s case as a groundless, desperate shakedown attempt by a dying software company.
SCO’s Unix business has been gutted by Linux, which is fast becoming the lingua franca of the next era of computing, powering everything from cellphones to network routers to the world’s biggest supercomputers.
Should SCO prevail, its case could have huge impact not just on IBM but on Linux distributors such as Red Hat (nasdaq: RHAT – news – people ) and Novell (nasdaq: NOVL – news – people ), as well as on Linux promoters such as Dell (nasdaq: DELL – news – people ) and Hewlett-Packard (nyse: HPQ – news – people ). Hundreds of companies using Linux as an embedded operating system in hardware devices also would be hurt, as well as thousands of companies around the world that use Linux servers to power Web sites and handle other tasks. These include top Wall Street firms and companies such as Google (nasdaq: GOOG – news – people ), which operates hundreds of thousands of Linux-based servers.
Linux is an “open source” program, meaning anyone is free to view and modify its source code, or basic underlying instructions. With thousands of developers making changes and sharing them with each other, Linux has evolved at hyper-speed, eclipsing other operating systems such as Unix and Windows in some areas.
SCO filed its claim in March 2003, hiring celebrity lawyer David Boies to lead the attack. SCO soon launched a huge publicity campaign claiming to have found vast amounts of copied code in Linux.
In her ruling, Judge Wells chastised SCO for its “siren song sounding the strength of its case to the public.” She cited examples of statements SCO execs had made to the press about how extensive their case was against IBM, including a quote from SCO Senior Vice President Chris Sontag that “there are over 1 million lines of code that we have identified …”
The judge also cited letters SCO sent to users of Linux warning them that the code they were using contained stolen code.
After years of legal wrangling SCO finally provided 294 examples of allegedly purloined code. Two-thirds of those examples, however, involved “methods and concepts,” for which SCO claimed it could not provide specific source code.
To be sure, other claims still will go forward, but Linux fans clearly viewed this ruling as a victory. Leading the rejoicing was blogger Pamela Jones, a paralegal who for years has bashed SCO on her Web site, Groklaw. “My eyeballs are bugging out. What an absolute farce. One thing is certain. There will be no billions of dollars in damages, even if SCO could prevail on these puny items,” Jones wrote.