RealTime IT News

What to Do if SCO Comes Knocking

As the battle lines over Linux harden between The SCO Group and the open-source community regarding SCO's challenge to parts of the Linux kernel, IT managers are being warned to take measures to minimize their potential legal exposure.

The advice, from several industry analysts contacted by internetnews.com, comes amid apparent confirmation that Microsoft has been indirectly supporting SCO.

That news first came to light last week, when open source guru Eric Raymond posted a leaked SCO e-mail. The message, which SCO has confirmed is authentic, alleges Microsoft played a matchmaker role in helping SCO secure some $50 million in financing from the San Francisco venture fund Baystar Capital.

Today, as word of Microsoft's involvement in the deal appears clearer (BusinessWeek this week confirmed Microsoft referred Baystar to SCO), industry experts don't expect that SCO's legal onslaught will diminish anytime soon. Accordingly, IT managers are wondering just how to cope with what could be a persistently litigious environment for Linux users.

Analysts contacted by internetnews.com recommended three general strategies: be sure to consult with legal counsel, keep abreast of existing indemnification programs, and -- if your legal adviser deems it appropriate -- don't pay license fees.

The latter is the tack suggested by George Weiss, Gartner's analyst for Linux and operating systems. "Gartner has recommended that users not pay any license fees," to SCO, he told internetnews.com, noting that the recommendation is "not trying to pass judgment" on the validity of SCO's suits.

SCO has sued IBM and Novell over its claims to code in Linux. Last week, SCO filed its first end-user suits, against Autozone and DaimlerChrysler.

Rather, Weiss thinks that immediate payment isn't wise because the burden of proving that fees are required should be on the SCO camp and not on the user.

But what to do if, as a Linux user, your shop gets a letter from SCO raising issues about use of Linux and its own copyright claim? According to Weiss, the "user only has to respond in some way [to indicate] that they acknowledge being at the end of the threat."

Indeed, Weiss said the response might go on to note "that they are at this point unclear and uncertain about what the claims are, that no judgment has been rendered in a court, and that SCO needs to clearly state [its] case and show proof."

Weiss noted that SCO hasn't yet won any cases in court that clearly give it the right to extract fees from Linux users. So, in that sense, he added, asking for clear proof and evidence of any license claim makes sense. "Otherwise, any company that gets a letter in the mail stating they've violated intellectual property (IP) could be paying license fees to quacks."