SCO Gets a Jury Trial
“There’s No Free Lunch–or Free Linux.” That was the title of SCO CEO Darl McBride’s keynote address at the Computer Digital Expo in Las Vegas back in 2003, and it signaled the start of a long legal siege. Earlier that day, SCO announced plans to file suit against a large-scale user of Linux as part of its campaign against the open-source operating system.
“For the last several months, we have consistently stated and maintained that our System V code is in Linux,” McBride explained. “The claims SCO has are both broad and deep. These claims touch not just IBM but other vendors as well. They also touch certain industry consortia and corporate Linux end users. Our claims aren’t trivial. The violations of our intellectual property are not easily repaired. It is our intention to vigorously protect and enforce SCO’s intellectual property, System V source code and our copyrights. We’re now fully prepared to do that.”
And they did. SCO subsequently filed suit against IBM (IBM), auto giant DaimlerChrysler and a coterie of other companies, each time sounding the same theme: Our copyrighted UNIX code was illegally cobbled into Linux. You’re using it without a license. Pay up.
But SCO never specified exactly the Linux code it believes infringes on its copyrights, even in the face of repeated calls to do so from its defendants and the open source community. Indeed, it could be said that the company’s legal campaign against Linux was defined by its utter failure to prove that the open-source operating system contains any of its intellectual property. Certainly, that was the opinion of the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, which found that the copyright to UNIX and UnixWare was owned by Novell. That decision drove SCO into bankruptcy and ended its high-profile legal attack on Linux.
But only for a time. Because a federal appeals court on Monday ruled that SCO is entitled to a jury trial on its claims to Unix, a ruling that might lead to a renewal of the company’s campaign against Linux. “We take no position on which party ultimately owns the Unix copyrights or which copyrights were required for Santa Cruz to exercise its rights under the agreement,” the court wrote in its ruling. “Such matters are for the finder of fact on remand.”
And so, astonishingly, this six-year battle is headed back to court once again, a development Darl McBride was quick to spin as a vindication in one of his typically pontifical pronouncements. “Today is not the end of the war but it certainly is a key battle that we’ve won,” he said of the decision. “Now it’s time to move on to the next series of battles with our victory in hand.”
Of course, for events to play out that way, SCO must prove that Unix contains its intellectual property, something it has so far failed abysmally to do. Indeed, the judge presiding over the original case compared SCO’s claims to those of a store owner accusing someone of shoplifting but refusing to say what items had been stolen. As Linux creator Linus Torvalds once said, “There really is a reason why nobody believes a word SCO is saying, and it’s because SCO is lying.”