SCO v. End Users, Introduction

Update available

  1. Who is SCO and why would they sue anyone?

  2. Who'd they sue first and why?

  3. Who else is SCO targeting?

  4. What basis in Copyright law exists for SCO's demands, and do they have a shot at winning an infringement case against end users?

Who is SCO and why would they sue anyone?

SCO (The SCO Group, Inc.) is a software publisher. Their main business is the development and sale of a suite of computer server operating system (O.S.) products. The cornerstone of their business is that they are the current owners of the source code to the UNIX operating system. Several other companies with more familiar names (IBM, Sun Microsystems, Microsoft, etc.) have licensed UNIX source code either from SCO or one of SCO's predecessors for use in their own server O.S.'s.

SCO's business has been foundering in recent years, under onslaught from three directions. First, Microsoft has increased the capability of their Windows Server O.S. to crowd SCO at the low end; second, the other makers of UNIX-like operating systems have poured more resources into their products than SCO could match; and finally, an O.S. that is not the product of any one company has been gaining ground in the market at a frenetic pace. That O.S. is called GNU/Linux, more often (but inaccurately) referred to simply as Linux. All these forces brought pressure on SCO, and early in 2003 SCO exploded. After some aggressive saber-rattling, SCO went to court to fight back.

Who'd they sue first and why?

SCO brought suit against IBM, a UNIX licensee with access to the UNIX source code, in March 2003. SCO claimed that IBM had inappropriately contributed significant portions of UNIX source code to an "Open Source" project. Specifically,  their claim is that parts of UNIX were in Linux.  SCO asserted that the rapid improvements in Linux's scalability and enterprise readiness were not due just to its developers' diligent efforts. Rather, SCO claimed that certain key technologies (here come the acronyms) including SMP, NUMA, RCU,  & JFS had been copied from UNIX into Linux. To make matters worse for IBM, SCO's claim was based on literal copying of source code, not some more defensible "close similarity" or other form of resemblance. SCO presumably picked IBM because their  comparison of the UNIX and Linux kernel code revealed some very similar files with IBM employees' names attached.

Who else is SCO targeting?

As the suit against IBM developed, SCO made threats against other UNIX licensees. SCO also directed statements at non-licensees, calling on companies that were selling GNU/Linux to "indemnify" their customers.  In more recent developments, SCO has threatened to send invoices to large commercial users of Linux, and offered all end users "licenses" for the use of SCO's intellectual property. Finally, SCO has said it intends to demand payments from end users, and pursue those claims in court.

Although SCO's suit against IBM is based in trade secrets and negotiated commercial contracts, SCO's rights vis-a-vis end users can only derive from Copyright.

What basis in Copyright law exists for SCO's demands, and do they have a shot at winning an infringement case against end users?

Well, that's the question we're going to look at. If you're following along so far, go on to --> Part 1.  Otherwise, you might review some of the links below to get more background.

Common Questions/Info:

SCO v. End Users Update!
Part 1 Part 2 Analysis

© Copyright 2003, 2004 Marinus Damm
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License