Now SCO is demanding Linux licence payments from SMEs

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Now SCO is demanding Linux licence payments from SMEs

Cliff Saran

Legal experts adivse Linux users not to be pressurised into buying a licence form SCO.

SCO is extending its demands for licence payments from Linux users to include small and medium-sized businesses.

The move, announced last week, is the latest twist in SCO's attempts to assert its intellectual property rights over the Linux kernal.

It follows a letter sent last month to 1,500 of the world's largest companies demanding similar licence payments, and the launch last year of legal action against IBM for allegedly incorporating SCOcode into the Linux kernel.

SCO's action received a luke-warm response from IT lawyers familiar with the dispute.

Kit Burden, a partner at law firm Barlow Lyde & Gilbert, said users should not feel pressurised by a letter from SCO. "If you believe SCO will win the case, it may be less expensive to buy its IP licence. My advice is to hold off and wait to see the form of the evidence in the SCO files."

Chris Sontag, general manager for Scosource, the intellectual property division of SCO, was in the UK last week to spell out the company's plans.

"We will defend our intellectual property. Any company, wherever they operate, could face legal action with SCO," Sontag told Computer Weekly.

He warned that SCO would not offer organisations that had installed Linux in good faith any amnesty, should it win its dispute with IBM. "We have already given users a significant amount of time. Since June 2003 the meter has been running and Linux users are liable from that date."

Users had three options, he added, "Buy our IP licence or stop using Linux; move on to Unix-Ware or continue using Linux and face legal action by SCO."

Roger Bickerstaff, head of the IT group at law firm Bird & Bird, backed Burden's "wait and see" strategy.

"Do not take an offer from SCO to buy its IP Licence for Linux. It still has to win the case against IBM in the US," he said.

John Collins, partner at law firm Marks and Clerk, said, "SCO is trying to spread fear and uncertainty in the hope of picking up licensees, which will boost its fighting fund."

David Roberts, chairman of the Corporate IT Forum Tif, said, "The view of our members has been to ignore SCO. I have not met any user who sees it as a valid claim."

What you should know about the case       

  • SCO is targeting users of all versions of Linux 
  • Users of FreeBSD, the other open source Unix-derived OS, Apache, MySQL and other open source products are not affected 
  • If it wins, SCO will seek payment from users back-dated to June 2003 
  • SCO needs to prove its copyright has been infringed by demonstrating that Linux contains code derived from the Unix OS 
  • SCO may not even own the Unix copyright. Novell claims it is the rightful owner. Unless it can prove copyright ownership, SCO's action would be invalid.

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