SCO Rises from the Swamp

Jun 17, 2013

Longtime litigator revives an ancient suit against IBM alleging Linux infringes on Unix copyrights. 

Long-time Linux watchers received a blast from the past when the US District Court of Utah reopened the 10-year-old lawsuit known as SCO vs IBM. The company formerly known as Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) stayed in the headlines for years with their legal claim to ownership of Unix and (perhaps more importantly) their ascertion that Linux stole code from Unix, so all Linux users owed them a royalty payment.
SCO sued IBM for $1 Billion dollars for participating in the alleged infraction and even went after IBM clients such as Dimler-Chrystler. The lawsuit ate up many hours of court time (and years of headlines), but SCO never did actually reveal any significant evidence of Unix code that was copied into Linux. Before the case could be definitively settled, Novell stepped in with the claim that SCO didn't really even control the rights to Unix. According to Novell, although SCO purchased the rights to distribute Unix from Novell, Novell had retained control of Unix copyrights. The courts later agreed with Novell, which meant that SCO no longer had the standing to continue with the IBM case.
They also didn't have the money to continue – in 2007, SCO filed the Chapter 11 bankrupcy protection. At that point, most observers in the Free Software community thought the battle was over. However, the remnants of SCO must have come into some recent new funding. Their recent motion to reopen the case with IBM was at first rejected then later officially accepted on June 15.
Courts have ruled that SCO is obligated to accept Novell's right to Unix, so it isn't clear why SCO would want to reopen the case. Even if SCO could find evidence that Unix code was copied into Linux, they wouldn't stand to benefit from it. However, SCO's original licensing agreement with Novell included later addenda and some confusing passages that were the reason for the suit in the first place. It is possible that SCO thinks it might still have copyright to some portion of the Unix code – at least enough to reopen the claim. But SCO is known for bold claims that sometimes don't measure up under closer scrutiny.
According to Groklaw (an excellent source for FOSS legal information that rose to prominence in the SCO litigation era), SCO asserts that two of its original claims against IBM are still viable after the SCO vs Novell decision. SCO must now state why these claims are still valid, and IBM will then have until July 15 to file a motion for summary judgement.
In 2012, SCO filed to change their bankrupcy classification from Chapter 11 to Chapter 7. Chapter 11 is often used by companies that want to reorganize and reopen for business, whereas Chapter 7 is associated with liquidation. It is possible that SCO needs to try this suit now as part of the bankrupcy just to assign a value to whatever copyright claim it might still hold. Once the suit is reopened, they might hit the jackpot by discovering some significant Unix code in Linux – but don't hold your breath.         

Related content

  • Novell Claiming Payment from SCO

    In the current bankruptcy proceedings, Novell has filed a claim against SCO for payment of outstanding license fees and is seeking to have the proceedings moved to Utah.

  • SCO Insolvent

    SCO filed for protection under Chapter 11 of US bankruptcy laws on Friday.

  • It's Final: SCO Loses, Novell Wins

    After five years of litigation between SCO and Novell, the final judgment from the U.S. District Court in Utah is that the rights to Unix belong to Novell. SCO, which is already financially stressed, owes Novell around 2.5 million dollars.

  • Court decides: Unix belongs to Novell, not to SCO

    In the court case concerning Unix rights, it looks very much as if SCO has just lost the decisive round: in the considered opinion of Utah District Court, Novell is the owner of the code. The court refutes SCO's claims of ownership.

  • SCO Group Suffers Another Defeat

    The years long legal battle by the SCO Group over UNIX copyrights, which indirectly affect Linux, has resulted in another verdict in Utah court. The jury has ruled in favor of Novell.

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