SCO: Linux users are 'building on quicksand'

Businesses using the Linux open-source operating system are building their enterprises on intellectual property "quicksand".

Businesses using the Linux open-source operating system are building their enterprises on intellectual property "quicksand".

That is the shock warning from Chris Sontag, senior vice president and general manager of SCOsource, the division of SCO Group in charge of protecting the company's intellectual property.

He made the statement as the SCO Group prepared to show analysts which parts of the Unix code that it owns have been illegally copied into the Linux kernel.

Sontag was adamant that Linux users should take the SCO threats seriously. "Think about if I was the CIO of a company and I'm going to be running my business on an operating system that has an intellectual property foundation that, by almost everyone's admission, is built on quicksand," he said.

"There is no mechanism in Linux to ensure [the legality of] that intellectual property - the source code being contributed by various people."

SCO last month sent letters to 1,500 user companies outlining its claims against Linux. "The one thing that we specifically want from those 1,500 companies is for them to not take our word but to seek an opinion of their legal counsel as to the issues that we raised," Sontag suggested.

He did not say users should remove Linux from their systems.  "We're not making any specific recommendations at this time," the SCOsource executive said, but he did not rule out taking legal action against users in future.

"Anything is always a possibility," said Sontag. "If you are going to enforce your contracts, claims and intellectual property, you have to be able to go to ultimately the endpoint of infringement."

He claimed that many lines of code in the Linux kernel were a direct copyright violation of SCO source code.

"It is many different sections of code ranging from five to 10 to 15 lines of code in multiple places that are of issue, up to large blocks of code that have been inappropriately copied into Linux in violation of our source-code licensing contract. It is not a line or two here or there. It was quite a surprise for us."

Sontag insisted that Microsoft's recent decision to acquire a SCO licence had nothing to do with the dispute with open-source users.

It was, he said, "completely unrelated. Microsoft has been adding more and more Unix compatibility and Unix interoperability into their products. We got in contact with them early this year to let them know that we had concerns about if they had all the appropriate intellectual property necessary to be providing that Unix capability.

"They recognised that it was important to have appropriate intellectual property licenses for the property they are using."

When asked if SCO had made a similar licensing offer to the 1,500 global companies that received warning letters, Sontag said, "We have no specific program or solution for solving this Linux intellectual property problem right now."

Patrick Thibodeau writes for Computerworld

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