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SCO to IBM: Abandon that damned illegal GPL, you pirates!
August 16, 2003 9:18 AM   Subscribe

Take your hands off the GPL and back away from the keyboard... New twist in the SCO vs. IBM and the rest of the known computing universe: it appears SCO's primary argument in their case will in fact be that the GPL is invalid, trumped by US federal copyright law. (Quote redirect from via Inquirer from Wall Street Journal). And apparently, I'm not alone in beginning to think there's merit to the "Microsoft's behind all this!" conspiracy theories, since these "coincidences" are really starting to pile up...
posted by JollyWanker (29 comments total)

 
Microsoft being vilified by the omni-complaining GPL fanboys? That's surprising. Wait, is that the sound of a black helicopter circling overhead?
posted by Electric Jesus at 9:40 AM on August 16, 2003


SCO's argument rests on the claim that U.S. Copyright law says that you can make one copy of a piece of software for your personal use, as a backup. Which, actually it doesn't, but this has been added to the kinds of "fair use" that are allowed. They claim that because the GPL allows you to make as many copies of a work as you want, that its invalid because its less restrictive than fair use standards.

Now, IANAL, but that sounds ludicrous to me. If I want to give the public more rights than they have under copyright law, then that should be my prerogative. Their line of reasoning would also disallow alternative licenses such as the Creative Commons license.

SCO has no case, and they know it, and at this point they're like a mad dog, snapping and biting at anyone within reach.
posted by bshort at 9:47 AM on August 16, 2003


Actually, I'm kind of hoping that the GPL will get a real court test. Right now, a whole bunch of people are banking a great deal on a license that's never been tested.

Having the GPL stand up in court would be a big win to those who feel it is the correct license for their work.

SCO has no case, and they know it, and at this point they're like a mad dog, snapping and biting at anyone within reach.

Seems that way. They look increasingly desperate -- it was obvious that the plan was "Sue IBM, get bought out to halt the case." IBM telling them to go to hell wasn't part of the plan.

However, if this case reaches a courtroom, almost anything can happen. IBM & Red Hat have decided that this needs to be slapped down, not bought off. If they win, it makes life much more certain for GPL'ed software, if they lose, however, things get very, very ugly. And, in a court, there are no certainties.
posted by eriko at 10:17 AM on August 16, 2003


I'm not a lawyer either, but the idea that the GPL is invalid because it's less restrictive than copyright law seems asinine to me. The law doesn't exist to tell you how you can license your IP, it protects you from other people trying to use your IP without any license.

One thing that could be very good or very bad - if they stick to the argument that it's all about the GPL, then it will be a straight-up licensing issue, with no technological issues to cause a judges eyes to glaze over.
posted by RylandDotNet at 10:30 AM on August 16, 2003


Aside: is the inquirer a witless imitatiion of the Reg or what? The cutesy writing in that first linked article is unfunny to the point of being painful. Take a single piece of information from a WSJ article and dress it up in a lot of sad blather trying to pass for a breezy and witty style, and the result is neither journalism nor humor:

Seems like a bloody flimsy argument to us, but in the topsy-turvy Alice in Wonderland world of law, who knows what characters might suddenly turn into wild cards?

Ugh.

Has the whole world gone stark staring bonkers? [Yes. Ed.]

Ugh2. Is this inquirer a one-person operation? Because the only editor who'd let any of that past his desk is one who wrote it himself.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:51 AM on August 16, 2003


They claim that because the GPL allows you to make as many copies of a work as you want, that its invalid because its less restrictive than fair use standards.

This is actually a pretty nasty sweeping attack that I hope does not get very far. There are many more licenses that operate under a free copying model than just the GPL.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:57 AM on August 16, 2003


is the inquirer a witless imitatiion of the Reg or what?

Considering it was founded by the same guy who founded the Register, well, yeah. You expected something else?
posted by kindall at 11:03 AM on August 16, 2003


ohh, i can't wait for this to get to the courts. I've been watching this whole thing on the sidelines with popcorn. Watch Darl pump, and his buddies dump! it's freaking comedic gold- they are practically extorting payments out of fearful Linux-using companies without even giving up evidence of what the infraction is!

And don't even get me started on how they published GPL stuff, distributed Linux.. and don't they have some membership in UnitedLinux?

This is exactly the kind of high-profile ridiculous case the GPL needs to prove its worth.

*pass the popcorn*
posted by shadow45 at 11:23 AM on August 16, 2003


yeah.. El Reg does it but does it well. The Inquirer seems like they try too hard.. but then again, ntk.net has the same style of sarcastic alliteration. is this how techies are over on the other side of the pond?
posted by shadow45 at 11:26 AM on August 16, 2003


what evidence is there exactly to suggest that microsoft is in any way 'behind this.'

Microsoft itself has been attacking the GPL for years, but has been unable to make any headway. Even after declaring the Open Source software movement, and its GPL foundation, un-American, and then later changing that tack to saying the GPL was a threat to Intellectual Property, Microsoft's ploys have been seen to be exactly what they are, cheap attacks on a technology that is in many ways superior to its own offerings.

that is: microsoft's ploys have been seen to be exactly what they are--same old same old marketing tactics, all of which are employed outside of the courtroom.

At the same time, Microsoft was quick to "license" Unix from SCO, reportedly for some US$10 million, immediately after SCO first sued IBM.

i wonder how much ibm is spending--and is going to spend--on this lawsuit. i wonder if ten million dollars--pocket change for either ibm or microsoft--isn't, really, just an awfully small price to make it go away.

I'm not an attorney, but that is roughly the stupidest thing I have ever heard.

well, hey, i'm convinced.

can we leave the fanboy 'linux roolz microsoft droolz' polemic at the door please.
posted by kjh at 4:47 PM on August 16, 2003


Come on, SCO managed to screw itself by distributing whatever "infringing" source code under the GPL and now they're going to argue that they somehow didn't know what they were doing?

I'm sure that this will reflect well with SCO's current customers. But SCUM's stock price is up, and that's what it's really all about.
posted by clevershark at 4:57 PM on August 16, 2003


kjh -- Microsoft began showing interest in SCO and UNIX licensing only when the IBM claims came up. There are many (and I am one of those) who believe that M$ is merely opening a backdoor channel by which they can fund SCO's legal follies.
posted by clevershark at 5:00 PM on August 16, 2003


can we leave the fanboy 'linux roolz microsoft droolz' polemic at the door please.

where?
posted by Satapher at 5:01 PM on August 16, 2003


I'll give 99:1 odds that this will 1) turn out to be the successful test that cements the GPL or 2) get settled just short of being a successful test of the GPL when Micros~1 pays Darl to shut the fuck up already.

We should all hope that one of the two comes to pass; the alternative is that ALL author's rights will be explicitly enumerated in the United States Code - no free software, no open source, no creative commons, no noncommercial use, no public domain - in short, no intellectual property protections for anything aside from those explicitly codified, usually for the sake of the highest contributor.

This would essentially be the death of academic communication in the United States, and given that our research universities are pretty much the only non-McDonald's thing we've conclusively proven we do better than the rest of the world, we'd pretty much be fucked.
posted by Vetinari at 5:55 PM on August 16, 2003


oh, and another thing, any mass tort litigators out there should read up on SCO's Linux "non-infringement" (i.e. "protection money") license. You guys are going to have a field day ripping SCO apart after their fraud indictment, assuming IBM hasn't already liquidated them.
posted by Vetinari at 6:01 PM on August 16, 2003


Microsoft began showing interest in SCO and UNIX licensing only when the IBM claims came up.

it's hard to imagine why they would have cared at all before the legal sceptre was raised. i don't think microsoft needs another lawsuit.

There are many (and I am one of those) who believe that M$ is merely opening a backdoor channel by which they can fund SCO's legal follies.

i don't see any evidence for that. maybe you can enlighten me about the relationship between 'M$' and 'SCUM.'

really, we're talking about rats on a sinking ship here. it's disappointing enough that this non-issue continues to receive slavering coverage from tech journalists--thereby giving SCO the attention and the stock price boost they were after--but to mix in all this nonsense conspiracy theory is just too much.
posted by kjh at 6:10 PM on August 16, 2003


WTF? IDU. WAATA? WAYDT?
posted by HTuttle at 6:18 PM on August 16, 2003


What if Canopy is making SCO fall on its sword to benefit Linux NetworX?

--Dan
posted by effugas at 6:22 PM on August 16, 2003


IANAL. I'm not even an American. But if the GPL violates copyright law by not allowing you to give your own code away, wouldn't the US Federal copyright law then violate your right to free speech guaranteed by the US constitution?
posted by Pigpen at 9:17 PM on August 16, 2003


Err, sorry, I mean that the copyright law doesn't allow you to give your own code away.
posted by Pigpen at 9:18 PM on August 16, 2003


We should all hope that one of the two comes to pass; the alternative is that ALL author's rights will be explicitly enumerated in the United States Code - no free software, no open source, no creative commons, no noncommercial use, no public domain - in short, no intellectual property protections for anything aside from those explicitly codified, usually for the sake of the highest contributor.

Isn't that pretty much the case now except for fair use? The entire legal basis for the GPL is that current copyright gives authors the right to demand that derivative works be distributed under the same license.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:48 PM on August 16, 2003


SCO's argument rests on the claim that U.S. Copyright law says that you can make one copy of a piece of software for your personal use, as a backup. Which, actually it doesn't, but this has been added to the kinds of "fair use" that are allowed. They claim that because the GPL allows you to make as many copies of a work as you want, that its invalid because its less restrictive than fair use standards.


Now, IANAL, but that sounds ludicrous to me.


Almost as ludicrous as a non-lawyer attempting to summarize SCO's legal argument. I haven't managed to connect to the www.theinquirer.net link, but I tend to think that SCO has a slightly more cogent argument that what you've spun.
posted by Ayn Marx at 10:00 PM on August 16, 2003


But if the GPL violates copyright law by not allowing you to give your own code away, wouldn't the US Federal copyright law then violate your right to free speech guaranteed by the US constitution?

that predicates on the idea that source code constitutes free speech. despite what feels like endless rhetoric from the stallman camp, this has not been established in law. significantly, the distribution of the decss dvd decryptor was not found to be covered by the first amendment.
posted by kjh at 10:51 PM on August 16, 2003


kjh: Both the Sixth and Ninth Circuit courts of appeals in the US have ruled that source code is a protected form of speech (rather than being a "device", etc.). The contradictory ruling in the DeCSS case (MPAA vs. 2600) was from a district court in the southern district of New York, which is in the Second Circuit. In the DeCSS case, 2600 didn't go on to appeal.

So, in fourteen states, the precedent is that source code is free speech. In the southern part of New York State, the precedent is otherwise. In the rest of the country, it has not been put to the test.
posted by hattifattener at 11:31 PM on August 16, 2003


How can you even invalidate the GPL? At its core its just a version of what we commonly call public domain, except if you modify it you have to make the changes available.

My early computing experiences were all public domain programs. I don't see this as an attack on the GPL alone, but on the idea of non-ownership and shared-ownership. Not to mention it more or less blows my mind that the software industry defends to the death even the craziest click-through End User License Agreements and "shrink-wrap licenses" yet the GPL is under fire? If the GPL goes down so do a lot of things like the public domain, EULAs, Shrink-wrap, etc. I don't think SCO and MS really understand what would happen if they truly got their way.

Meanwhile, SCO execs are dumping stock and MS is happy to have scared some IT managers thinking of saving some money by shifting to Linux.

There's so much wrong here. I think when this is all over people will use SCO as an example of everything that's wrong in the IT world: absurd patents, copyright bullying, profiteering, legal nonsense, etc the same way we use Enron for what's wrong with deregulation, corporate corruption, and government/industry collusion.
posted by skallas at 11:38 PM on August 16, 2003


You aren't paranoid enough by half. If anyone is actually "behind" SCO's capering about, it's IBM. MS bought the liscense before they realized what was really going on.
posted by wobh at 12:20 AM on August 17, 2003


of course MS are backing SCO - if SCO wins it'll be a HUGE win for MS, linux development will either be set back years or will no longer be free. It'll be bad news for a lot of other people sure. But on the other hand do you think IBM are fighting SCO because of a love for linux? no way - they stand to lose as much as MS and SCO stand to gain.

I view this as MS's opening salvo in the war on linux. It's cut throat times we're living in and the future looks uncertain.
posted by carfilhiot at 10:59 AM on August 17, 2003


I live near these guys in Utah. I'm going to leave a bag of burning dog poop on their porch, ring the doorbell and run away.
posted by mecran01 at 5:49 AM on August 19, 2003


...Almost as ludicrous as a non-lawyer attempting to summarize SCO's legal argument.


Well, Ayn, why don't you edumacate everyone.

My 3 sentance summary isn't based on my own reading of the court documents. It's based on reading cogent summaries on sites like Groklaw and Slashdot.
posted by bshort at 5:54 PM on August 20, 2003


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