Suppliers need to settle code dispute without involving users

In seeking to extend its battle over alleged copyright infringement to small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK, there is...

In seeking to extend its battle over alleged copyright infringement to small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK, there is little doubt that SCO has shaken the confidence of users and suppliers of Linux.

Aside from those who have already deployed Linux, unaware of the potential additional cost involved, the move comes at a time when many businesses are conducting trials, both formal and informal. How are those businesses supposed to compose a return on investment case now, given that the costs cannot be pinned down with certainty?

As we report this week, there is doubt among some legal experts that SCO will be able to prove a claim that it can enforce against users. However, irrespective of the merits of SCO's case, its decision to move against Linux users creates uncertainty regarding the cost of adoption.

It is unlikely the issue will be resolved until the courts establish the veracity of SCO's copyright claim. In the meantime, the best legal advice seems to be to sit tight and await definitive guidance from the courts. Users should not, however, assume that the limited indemnities offered by Novell and others remove all their potential liability.

It is regrettable that we have arrived at this situation, where a dispute between suppliers about whether copyright code has been used in open source software results in the users of that software being asked to pay a licence fee after they have implemented it. Users have the right to expect that these same suppliers can sort the matter out between them, without requiring the payment of additional fees.

The best advice for IT directors would be to ensure that they are aware of the extent of their potential liability, including where unofficial Linux development work is being conducted by staff within their department.

It is unlikely that anyone involved in this dispute will emerge with any credit. The best that can be hoped is that the parties in dispute can resolve their differences and remove the threat hanging over users. This would allow users to return to evaluating Linux on its technical and business merits.

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