| In the line of fire
New Delhi, May 16: Linux, the free operating system software that has emerged as a serious threat to Microsoft Windows, is in danger of being tripped up by a charge that it is a Unix ripoff.
The SCO Group, the owner of the Unix operating system, has warned that Linux is an unauthorised derivative of Unix and that legal liability for the use of Linux may extend to commercial users.
The SCO Group, which is a major worldwide distributor of Linux operating systems, has suspended sales of the open source software developed by Linus Torvalds, the Norwegian software developer who has become the keyboard-pounding evangelist for the free software brigade.
The developments on this front will be closely watched in India by state governments like West Bengal and Kerala that have been leading champions of the open source software.
Since companies like SCO are the providers of back-up and after-sales services, the current fight between Linux and SCO is likely to affect Linux’s march across the world.
SCO has fired off letters to over 1,500 of the world’s largest companies warning them that they could become liable if they continue to use Linux software. Customers in India will receive similar letters soon.
The company also indicated that until the attendant risks with Linux are better understood and properly resolved, the company will suspend all future sales of the Linux operating system.
The SCO move dramatically broadens the Lindon, Utah-based company’s potential legal actions beyond its initial target, IBM. Big Blue, a SCO licensee, was sued in March for more than $ 1 billion on allegations that include inappropriately using Unix trade secrets to improve Linux.
In a statement released today in India, the company said, “Open source has proven itself as a viable alternative development model. It is only when an Open Source project includes copyright protected intellectual property (IP) that does not belong to it that there arises a problem.”
SCO’s action is based on substantial and credible evidence of its Unix IP in the Linux kernel. “SCO’s issue is with the misappropriation of its IP into Linux, which happens to be developed via an open source model. To the extent that other open source projects or organisations work to ensure that contributed code is free from any IP violations, SCO is supportive of the open source shared development model,” said Srikanta Acharya, country director, India and South-East Asia, SCO Group.
All sales of SCO Linux Server 4.0 (powered by UnitedLinux) will be suspended but SCO will continue to fulfil its obligations to the UnitedLinux consortium.
“SCO will continue to support existing SCO Linux and Caldera OpenLinux customers and hold them harmless from any SCO intellectual property issues regarding SCO Linux and Caldera OpenLinux products,” said Acharya.
“This could be a violation of highest magnitude in software piracy, because each software program is based on a source code. It is a copyrightable material. If this is assessed by independent software agencies and placed before the courts, the implications will be big,” said Vakul Sharma, leading advocate on cyber law.