German firm stalls SCO's legal machine

A tiny German software company has thrown some sand in the gears of The SCO Group's legal machine.

A tiny German software company has thrown some sand in the gears of The SCO Group's legal machine.

Univention, a small startup in Bremen, has prevented SCO from making copyright infringement claims in Germany - Europe's largest open-source market.

Univention was one of three organisations last year to win a temporary restraining court order against the German arm of SCO, forcing it to stop spreading allegations about Linux copyright violations.

Last month, Univention struck an out-of-court settlement with the SCO unit, said Univention founder and managing director Peter Ganten.

"We told SCO that we intended to defend our position in court after the restraining court order expired," he said. "SCO could have challenged us in court but chose not to."

Gregory Blepp, vice-president of licensing at SCO in the US, said he was working to create legal conditions which require Linux users in Germany to purchase SCO's intellectual property licences.

"This statement is a bit astonishing," Ganten said. "It would really surprise us if SCO is already trying to breach our out-of-court settlement less than one month after signing it."

"We will take legal action if we determine that SCO is attempting to breach the out-of-court settlement," Ganten added.

The out-of-court settlement prohibits only employees of the German subsidiary from making copyright violation claims in the country.

On 4 March, just three days after Univention announced the out-of-court settlement, SCO in the US commissioned a public relations agency in Germany to translate and circulate a news release pointing to copyright claims.

"This is the sort of borderline behaviour we've seen from SCO since we reached the agreement," Ganten said.

In the February out-of-court settlement, the German SCO subsidiary agreed to refrain from maintaining or disseminating any of these four assertions:

  • Linux operating systems contain unlawfully acquired intellectual property from SCO Unix;
  • End users, if they use Linux, could be held liable for the violations of SCO intellectual properties;
  • Linux is an unauthorised derivative of Unix;
  • Buyers of Linux operating systems other than SCO Linux or Caldera Linux may be subject to criminal prosecution.

As part of the settlement, the German subsidiary agreed not to claim publicly that proofs of copyright violation would be provided soon, unless they are provided to Univention within one month from such an announcement. In addition, the unit committed to pay Univention a penalty of €10,000 for each instance of future violation of the agreed obligations.

With its unsubstantiated claims, SCO was intimidating Linux customers in Germany and damaging the reputation of Linux, Ganten said.

"We needed to react and we did, and we understand that US courts have caught wind of our settlement. Maybe that's why SCO is so nervous."

John Blau writes for IDG News Service

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