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SCO versus IBM: a groundless legal action

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SCO sues IBM[1] for damages for one billion dollars on an groundless basis. SCO does not court legal redress for a perceived or actual wrong, but rather intends to intimidate Free Software developers and users. It is the very soundness of Free Software copyright that is being put to the test.

Paris, May 21, 2003. The action SCO has brought against IBM mainly concerns its involvement in the development of the Linux kernel, and, more generally, in the development of the GNU/Linux operating system. Due to the Free Software status of GNU/Linux, SCO claims that their industrial secrets have been illegally published by IBM. However, SCO has been distributing GNU/Linux for many years, and continues to do so[2].

It is difficult to believe that IBM is being sued for releasing the same software as the plaintiff, SCO. The true motivations behind this lawsuit must therefore, lie elsewhere. The media coverage of the trial carries a warning message: proprietary software editors are attacking Free Software editors. Every person or business developing Free Software must now wonder if they will be cited in the next lawsuit. IBM can afford its defense, but few other entities have IBM's financial girth or its legal department. However, this attempt at intimidation is in vain as free software's very founding elements protect the weak from the strong (David from Goliath), these elements are the law and copyright.

Moreover, in its lawsuit, SCO only refers to possible violations of its copyright, without claiming that such violations have actually occurred. However, the legal devices brought forth in this lawsuit include non-disclosure agreements and software patents that are the source of unfounded claims. Industrial secrets, protected by non-disclosure agreements, are SCO's main tool. For nearly twenty years now, the Free Software Foundation has recommended that all Free Software developers reject non-disclosure agreements. The Free Software community is aware that such agreements are likely to threaten the design and the distribution of software, because the agreements' reach lacks precision. Finally, SCO evokes the threat of software patents, still illegal in Europe, but allowed in the United States. Without claiming to hold patents that threaten to misappropriate ideas contained in the Linux kernel, SCO reminds us that every piece of software is under the permanent threat of software patents. The impossibility for anyone to escape this threat is at the heart of the fight for freeing the world from software patents[3].

Therefore, the SCO's attempt at intimidation has the merit of reminding everyone the need to continue to reject legal measures - software patents- and contractual obligations - non-disclosure agreements - that place the weak at the mercy of the strong. Copyright is also given to be the best legal bulwark in protecting Free Software authors and end-users, whether they are rich or poor.

1. References

[1] Complaint SCO vs IBM

[2] GNU/Linux distribued by SCO

[3] EuroLinux

2. Contacts

Loïc Dachary. E-mail : Tel : 01 42 76 05 49

Frédéric Couchet. E-mail : Tel : 06 60 68 89 31

Addendum: see also FSF's Position regarding SCO's attacks on Free Software

Translated to English par Katixa Rybalka and Laurent Bercot.

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Updated: $Date: 2004-01-26 12:56:23 +0100 (Mon, 26 Jan 2004) $ $Author: taz $