SCO may send Unix license invoices to corporate Linux users

A company spokesman denies 'a witch hunt'

As it continues its Unix legal battle against IBM, The SCO Group Inc. is now contemplating new ways to convince businesses to pay SCO licensing fees for using Linux.

One option being considered, according to Blake Stowell, a spokesman for the Lindon, Utah-based Unix vendor, is to mail invoices to corporate Linux users identified through Internet searches and even press interviews, asking the companies to pay $699 per processor for the right to run Linux.

Since March, when SCO filed a lawsuit against IBM that now seeks at least $3 billion in damages (see story), SCO has alleged that IBM illegally contributed SCO's System V Unix code into the Linux open-source project to benefit IBM's business.

No such invoices have yet been printed or prepared for mailing, Stowell said, but the option is seen as a way to get enterprise Linux users to respect SCO's claims of intellectual property rights for the Unix code.

The proposed invoices are being considered for about 1,000 corporate Linux users that are being identified internally by SCO employees through Web site searches of Linux customers of vendors, including IBM and others with Linux programs, Stowell said. The searches also include culling corporate user names from news stories published since the SCO lawsuit against IBM unleashed a torrent of media coverage, he said.

"There's really one way to find out who's using Linux," by examining competitor's Web sites that tout customer references and by using search engines, Stowell said. "We're not trying to make this into a witch hunt."

In a new twist to the case, Stowell said SCO sees the licensing program for corporate customers as a separate issue from the IBM lawsuit, which will likely take years to resolve through the courts.

The suit against IBM is about the allegedly illegal copying and use of derivative Unix code, while the corporate licensing program is about getting user companies to pay for the SCO code that they're using without authorization, he said. "It's not the user's fault" that the licensing issue has arisen, but users are caught in the middle, Stowell added. "It's the [software] distributor's fault and the open-source community's fault for allowing it to get in there," he said.

Even if SCO were to eventually lose the IBM case, customers who don't pay the SCO licensing fee requests could be sued separately, Stowell said. "There will most likely be some kind of lawsuit," he said. "I don't think that SCO is completely dependent on the SCO/IBM case to prove that Unix is in Linux."

Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst at market research firm IDC in Framingham, Mass., said the problem with SCO sending out any invoices is that the company's assertions haven't been proved in any courtroom. "I do find the whole situation somewhat questionable because it is not at all clear that The SCO Group owns anything that's inside a typical box of Linux," he said. "I think there's so much in question that it would not be reasonable or prudent for a company to give money to the SCO Group until all of this is settled."

In an interview at the SCO Forum in Las Vegas, Darl McBride, SCO's CEO and president, was asked if the company would consider creating an escrow account to reassure potential licensees that they could get their money back if a court eventually ruled that SCO wasn't entitled to the fees. "We haven't built that in," he said.

Last month, SCO announced its $699-per-processor fee for a special "SCO Intellectual Property License for Linux," which would allow corporate users to run Linux on their servers in binary form only without violating SCO's intellectual property rights (see story).

At the SCO Forum, company officials said that they don't intend to sue every corporate Linux user but that they are looking for ways to protect the company's rights and the interests of SCO shareholders.


Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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