SCO puts spotlight on legal issues surrounding Linux

LINDON, UT: The argument over who owns Linux has escalated into a war of words in the media.

LINDON, UT: The argument over who owns Linux has escalated into a war of words in the media.

SCO Group shocked technology companies when it sued IBM for $1 billion in March, arguing that IBM's support and distribution of Linux software, the free open-source operating system, violated copyright and intellectual-property rights, as it uses part of the Unix code. SCO says that it owns that Unix source code.

Until now, the argument over whether open-source software such as Linux was subject to copyright and intellectual property restrictions has been a dull murmur. But with the

lawsuit against IBM, that argument has escalated into a roar that has caught everyone's attention - not just in the tech trades, but also in the mainstream business media.

Last month, SCO sent out 1,500 letters to companies that use Linux, saying that their use

of the free operating system could possibly expose them to similar lawsuits.

"Linux is really a Unix operating system," said Blake Stowell, director of corporate communications for SCO. "Part of the reason Linux is getting so much attention is because we made it an issue. Unix is a proprietary operating system. Linux is just a free way to use Unix. And while Linux is free, it's not free of intellectual-property issues."

Novell brought further media attention to the issue just a few weeks ago by claiming that SCO's lawsuits were bogus, saying Novell still held Unix copyrights and patents.

SCO's lawsuits and threat of more lawsuits, coupled with Novell's arguments, have propelled the Unix-versus-Linux issue from technology and trade magazines into the mainstream business media.

"This has become a big story because more and more companies are using Linux," said Hal Thayer, VP of corporate communications at Novell. "SCO has made this a PR battle. What we did was essentially challenge the veracity of their claims by making public a letter from our CEO, asking them to prove their claims. Our goal hasn't been to play this out in the media. It's been to get SCO to step up and prove their claims."

SCO stepped up to the challenge by offering to show the similar code in Unix and Linux to media and analysts who are willing to sign non-disclosure agreements.

"We just want to consistently get SCO's side of the story out there," said Dave Close, an EVP at Schwartz Communications, SCO's agency of record. "Linux has been a media darling for quite a while. We just want to make sure SCO's story is being heard."

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