Thanks to Sunil Abraham and the Commons-Law mailing list (India) for
forwarding this. FN
---------- Forwarded message ----------
FSF Statement on SCO v. IBM
June 25, 2003
The lawsuit brought by the Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) against IBM has generated
many requests for comment by FSF. The Foundation has refrained from making
official comments on the litigation because only the plaintiff's allegations
have been reported; comment on unverified allegations would ordinarily be
premature. More disturbing than the lawsuit itself, however, have been public
statements by representatives of SCO, which have irresponsibly suggested doubts
about the legitimacy of free software overall. These statements require response.
SCO's lawsuit asserts that IBM has breached contractual obligations between the
two companies, and also that IBM has incorporated trade secret information
concerning the design of the UNIX operating system into what SCO calls generally
``Linux.'' This latter claim has recently been expanded in extra-judicial
statements by SCO employees and officers to include suggestions that ``Linux''
includes material copied from UNIX in violation of SCO's copyrights. An
allegation to this effect was contained in letters apparently sent by SCO to
1500 of the world's largest companies warning against use of free software on
grounds of possible infringement liability.
It is crucial to clarify certain confusions that SCO's spokesmen have shown no
disposition to dispel. In the first place, SCO has used ``Linux'' to mean ``all
free software,'' or ``all free software constituting a UNIX-like operating
system.'' This confusion, which the Free Software Foundation warned against in
the past, is here shown to have the misleading consequences the Foundation has
often predicted. ``Linux'' is the name of the kernel most often used in free
software systems. But the operating system as a whole contains many other
components, some of them products of the Foundation's GNU Project, others
written elsewhere and published under free software licenses; the totality is
GNU, the free operating system on which we have been working since 1984.
Approximately half GNU's components are copyrighted works of the Free Software
Foundation, including the C-compiler GCC, the GDB debugger, the C library Glibc,
the bash shell, among other essential parts. The combination of GNU and the
Linux kernel produces the GNU/Linux system, which is widely used on a variety of
hardware and which taken as a whole duplicates the functions once only performed
by the UNIX operating system.
SCO's confusing use of names makes the basis of its claims unclear: has SCO
alleged that trade secrets of UNIX's originator, AT&T--of which SCO is by
intermediate transactions the successor in interest--have been incorporated by
IBM in the kernel, Linux, or in parts of GNU? If the former, there is no
justification for the broad statements urging the Fortune 1500 to be cautious
about using free software, or GNU programs generally. If, on the other hand, SCO
claims that GNU contains any UNIX trade secret or copyrighted material, the
claim is almost surely false. Contributors to the GNU Project promise to follow
the Free Software Foundation's rules for the project, which specify--among other
things--that contributors must not enter into non-disclosure agreements for
technical information relevant to their work on GNU programs, and that they must
not consult or make any use of source code from non-free programs, including
specifically UNIX. The Foundation has no basis to believe that GNU contains any
material about which SCO or anyone else could assert valid trade secret or
copyright claims. Contributors could have made misrepresentations of fact in
their copyright assignment statements, but failing willful misrepresentation by
a contributor, which has never happened so far as the Foundation is aware, there
is no significant likelihood that our supervision of the freedom of our free
software has failed. The Foundation notes that despite the alarmist statements
SCO's employees have made, the Foundation has not been sued, nor has SCO,
despite our requests, identified any work whose copyright the Foundation
holds-including all of IBM's modifications to the kernel for use with IBM's
S/390 mainframe computers, assigned to the Foundation by IBM--that SCO asserts
infringes its rights in any way.
Moreover, there are straightforward legal reasons why SCO's assertions
concerning claims against the kernel or other free software are likely to fail.
As to its trade secret claims, which are the only claims actually made in the
lawsuit against IBM, there remains the simple fact that SCO has for years
distributed copies of the kernel, Linux, as part of GNU/Linux free software
systems. Those systems were distributed by SCO in full compliance with GPL, and
therefore included complete source code. So SCO itself has continuously
published, as part of its regular business, the material which it claims
includes its trade secrets. There is simply no legal basis on which SCO can
claim trade secret liability in others for material it widely and commercially
published itself under a license that specifically permitted unrestricted
copying and distribution.
The same fact stands as an irrevocable barrier to SCO's claim that ``Linux''
violates SCO's copyright on UNIX source code. Copyright, as the United States
Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized, covers expressions, not ideas.
Copyright on source code covers not how a program works, but only the specific
language in which the functionality is expressed. A program written from scratch
to express the function of an existing program in a new way does not infringe
the original program's copyright. GNU and Linux duplicate some aspects of UNIX
functionality, but are independent bodies, not copies of existing expressions.
But even if SCO could show that some portions of its UNIX source code were
copied into the kernel, the claim of copyright infringement would fail, because
SCO has itself distributed the kernel under GPL. By doing so, SCO licensed
everyone everywhere to copy, modify, and redistribute that code. SCO cannot now
turn around and argue that it sold people code under GPL, guaranteeing their
right to copy, modify and redistribute anything included, but that it somehow
did not license the copying and redistribution of any copyrighted material of
their own which that code contained.
In the face of these facts, SCO's public statements are at best misleading and
irresponsible. SCO has profited handily from the work of free software
contributors throughout the world. Its current public statement constitute a
gross abuse of the principles of the free software community, by a participant
who has employed all our work for its own economic benefit. The Free Software
Foundation calls upon SCO to retract its ill-advised and irresponsible
statements, and to proceed immediately to separate its commercial disagreements
with IBM from its obligations and responsibilities to the free software community.
Copyright © Free Software Foundation, 2003. Verbatim copying of this article is
permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.
Eben Moglen is General Counsel to FSF, and serves on its board of directors
Return to GNU's home page.
Support FSF's work by becoming an associate member.
Please send FSF & GNU inquiries & questions to gnu(a)gnu.org. There are also other
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Please send comments on these web pages to webmasters(a)gnu.org, send other
questions to gnu(a)gnu.org.
Updated: $Date: 2003/06/27 22:02:10 $ $Author: bkuhn $
Sunil Abraham, sunil(a)mahiti.org http://www.mahiti.org
MAHITI Infotech Pvt. Ltd.'Reducing the cost and complexity of ICTs'
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"If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples
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But if you have an idea and I have one idea and we exchange these
then each of us will have two ideas" George B. Shaw
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