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Open source group establishes legal defence fund

Daniel Thomas

A £5.5m legal defence fund is being set up to protect Linux users from lawsuits alleging copyright infringement that might be filed against them by the SCO Group.

Open Source Development Labs, a non-profit group set up in 2000 to accelerate the adoption of Linux, said it has already raised £1.6m from companies including Intel and IBM. The fund will be used to help pay the legal expenses of Linux users which have been or might be sued by SCO.

Last month, SCO began sending out written notices to its 6,000 Unix licensees requiring them to certify that they are in full compliance with their Unix source-code agreements and are not using Unix code in Linux.

"OSDL is responding to a call for leadership on this issue," said its chief executive officer Stuart Cohen. "This fund sends a clear message that OSDL, [and] others throughout the Linux industry, will stand firm against legal threats levied by the SCO Group."

SCO said the defence fund would not affect its claims about abuse of its intellectual property in Linux or its claims for compensation.

SCO and Linux: a brief history       

1969: Ken Thompson and Dennis Richie begin work on the original version of Unix at Bell Telephone Labs, then part of AT&T 

1979: SCO launches its first Xenix version of Unix 

1987-1990: IBM develops its own form of Unix, AIX 

1991:  Linus Torvalds creates Linux 

1995:   SCO acquires the Bell Labs' Unix codebase. It sells two types of Unix: Openserver, based on its own Xenix code, and an early form of Unixware, based on the AT&T code 

1998:   SCO, IBM and Intel begin the ill-fated Project Monterey to port Unix for Intel's 64-bit Itanium chip 

2001:   SCO splits, with part of the company focusing on its Tarantella product, while the core SCO brand is taken over by Caldera 

2002: Caldera starts trading as SCO 

March 2003:   SCO sues IBM for contract violation, claiming IBM released SCO's V Unix code into the open source community. IBM strenuously denies the claim 

May 2003:   SCO sends letters to 1,500 large enterprises warning that their Linux code may contain SCO's intellectual property 

June 2003:   SCO terminates IBM's Unix licence  July 2003 SCO claims users of software containing the Linux kernel will have to buy a licence 

August 2003:   IBM files counter lawsuit against SCO 

September 2003:   Hewlett-Packard announces it will indemnify its Linux customers against action by SCO 

October 2003:   SCO announces it will target Fortune 1,000 companies for licence revenue  November 2003 Novell buys German-based Linux distributor SuSE  

December 2003:   SCO asks its 6,000 Unix licensees to certify they are not using Unix code in Linux. It also writes to 1,500 global companies asserting its licence claims.

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