Linux indemnification is unnecessary, says IBM

IBM has told attendees at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo that there is really no need for it to indemnify its growing pool of...

IBM has told attendees at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo that there is no need for it to indemnify its growing pool of 6,300 Linux customers.

"Our position hasn't changed," said Jim Stallings, IBM's general manager for Linux. The claims that have been alleged by the SCO Group against IBM have no basis, so indemnification is not needed. 

Even if customers still have concerns, both major Linux distributions - SuSE Linux and Red Hat Enterprise Linux - have customer protection programmes in place to help defend users against legal actions from SCO, Stallings said.

In addition, the Open Source Development Labs, a non-profit enterprise Linux advocacy group, has begun a defence fund that it hopes will bring in $10m for users entangled in any related legal fights. 

Despite recent legal threats from SCO that it could soon begin suing enterprise Linux users, use of the operating system among businesses has continued to grow, Stallings said.

Irving Wladawsky-Berger, vice-president of technology and strategy for IBM said indemnification is unnecessary because no court has yet to rule on SCO's claims. 

"We believe the [SCO] suit has zero merit," Wladawsky-Berger said. "In our legal system, you've got to go to court and get it over with. That's what we're doing. 

"I know there is a part of the US which believes that legal issues should be tried in the media," he said. "But it's not won in the media. We think the actions we're taking are the right actions to get these issues behind us." 

Matt Plociak, an analyst at Progressive Strategies, said IBM's argument against offering indemnification to its customers makes sense. 

"To me, if you offer indemnification, you're saying there may be a problem," he said. "IBM is saying there is no problem and [that they're] going to prove that in court. I think that's a reasonable strategy, and obviously their customers are confident with that because they have not stopped buying and using Linux." 

Al Gillen, an analyst at IDC, said that while IBM continues to pass on indemnification, the company has donated money to the legal defence fund created by the OSDL.

"I don't think there's any real need to provide any indemnification until they have a customer who's in some form of litigation," Gillen said. "Then the pressure would increase for them to do something." 

Red Hat announced this week the creation of a Open Source Assurance programme that will protect all existing and future Red Hat Enterprise Linux customers from legal challenges as long as they are using the software.

Under the included intellectual property warranty, the company would replace any software code that allegedly infringed on other code, so users and developers could continue to work with the products.

Money would be available from the Open Source Now legal defence fund for customers that might be sued for infringement issues. 

The Red Hat move comes on the heels of last week's decision by Novell, which has acquired SuSE Linux, to indemnify SuSE Linux customers against possible legal action from SCO. 

When Unix supplier SCO filed its lawsuit against IBM, which alleged that IBM had illegally contributed some of SCO's System V Unix code to the open-source Linux project.

Additional suits and countersuits have been filed by Red Hat and Novell since the case began.

Todd R Weiss writes for Computerworld

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