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AT&T Trips Up SCO

By Frank Hayes
February 16, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - This is the week. On Nov. 18, 2003, The SCO Group announced that it would sue some corporate Linux user within 90 days. That put the deadline at Monday, Feb. 16. Has SCO sued? I don't know -- I'm writing this a few days before that deadline, and my time machine is in the shop, so you'll have to go to Computerworld.com for the latest news. (Editor's note: No new legal actions have been announced as yet this week.)
But regardless of whether SCO has already sued a user or is just running a little behind schedule, winning any Linux lawsuits may have just gotten a lot harder for SCO.
Who said so? AT&T -- in 1985.
Here's what happened: On Friday, Feb. 6, at a court hearing in SCO's lawsuit against IBM, SCO laid out its clearest explanation yet of why it believes it owns source code that's in Linux.
SCO argued that it doesn't own just the Unix source code originally written by AT&T. SCO said it also owns all additions to Unix that were ever made by companies that licensed Unix source code -- including IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems and even Microsoft.
Those additions are "derivative works" of Unix. And the Unix licenses that AT&T issued said derivative works are to be treated "as part of the original software product."
So since IBM developed a file system and added code for it to AIX, IBM's version of Unix, SCO argued that the code now belongs to SCO. And since IBM later donated that IBM-developed file-system code to Linux, it's in Linux without SCO's permission.
As a result of such donations, there are millions of lines of vendor-contributed, SCO-owned code in Linux. At least that's SCO's interpretation of the Unix license.
Not surprisingly, IBM disagrees. So does Novell, which bought the Unix source code from AT&T and sold the Unix business to SCO in 1995.
IBM believes that it still owns any code it added to the AT&T Unix code for AIX. So IBM can remove and reuse that code in its own products, or even give it away to Linux. That's how "derivative works" function under copyright law, though the Unix license is a contract.
Who's right? Looks like a nasty he said/she said court fight over what that derivative-works clause means, doesn't it?
But on the same day SCO's lawyer was explaining his legal theory in court, Novell was faxing something to SCO's offices.
It was a copy of "$ echo," a newsletter published by AT&T in 1985 for its Unix licensees. In it, AT&T clarified what that



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