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SCO Shuts Down German Site

SCO Group has shut down its German Web site, in response to a restraining order obtained in that country by German Linux advocacy group LinuxTag.

SCO spokesman Blake Stowell told internetnews.com that the company took down its German site, which now simply comes up blank, on Friday. The company has also removed links to the site from its U.S. site.

"We had received a temporary restraining order by a German court on behalf of LinuxTag," Stowell said, adding that the company is duking it out in court.

In May, LinuxTag was roused by letters SCO sent to some 1,350 companies warning them they may be held liable for using Linux, which SCO claims "is an unauthorized derivative of Unix," to which SCO claims rights.

Although SCO has only taken legal action against IBM for misappropriation of trade secrets (for allegedly releasing Unix code or derivative works to the Linux community in breach of its contract with SCO), SCO continues to claim that substantial amounts of Unix code has been written into Linux.

"We're especially concerned about version 2.4 and beyond of the Linux kernel," SCO's Chris Sontag, senior vice president of its SCOsource intellectual property licensing division, said last week.

Responding to SCO's assertions, LinuxTag accused SCO of "unfair competitive practices," and said on May 23 that "SCO Group is sowing uncertainty among the community of GNU/Linux users, developers and suppliers."

"SCO needs to stop claiming that the standard Linux kernel violates its copyrights, or they need to lay the evidence for their claim on the table," LinuxTag's Michael Kleinhenz said at the time.

The association demanded that the German SCO subsidiary retract its claims regarding ownership of Linux kernel code by May 30, or make its evidence public. "SCO must not be allowed to damage its competitors by unsubstantiated claims, to intimidate their customers, and to inflict lasting damage on the reputation of GNU/Linux as an open platform," Kleinhenz added.

SCO removed the copy of the letter from its Web site, but in the meantime LinuxTag obtained a temporary restraining order against the company.

In the meantime, SCO faces a potentially more serious challenge from Novell , the company which sold Unix to SCO in 1995.

On May 28, Jack L. Messman, chairman, president and CEO of Novell, responded to SCO's claims by asserting that when Novell sold Unix System V to SCO in 1995, the asset purchase agreement did not transfer the copyrights and patents.

"Importantly, and contrary to SCO's assertions, SCO is not the owner of the Unix copyrights. Not only would a quick check of U.S. Copyright Office records reveal this fact, but a review of the asset transfer agreement between Novell and SCO confirms it. To Novell's knowledge, the 1995 agreement governing SCO's purchase of Unix from Novell does not convey to SCO the associated copyrights," Messman said in an open letter to SCO CEO and President Darl McBride. "We believe it unlikely that SCO can demonstrate that it has any ownership interest whatsoever in those copyrights. Apparently, you share this view, since over the last few months you have repeatedly asked Novell to transfer the copyrights to SCO, requests that Novell has rejected. Finally, we find it telling that SCO failed to assert a claim for copyright or patent infringement against IBM."

But McBride fired back two days later, calling Messman's claims a "desperate measure to curry favor with the Linux community," adding that he is confident that SCO does in fact own the copyright per the transfer agreement between SCO and Novell.

"We will be settling those issues in court," McBride said.

Legal experts have also suggested that if SCO does in fact hold the copyrights for Unix, it could well have difficulty bringing claims home if it decides to press the issue, especially since SCO itself was a distributor of Linux until last month, when it decided to suspend sales of its Linux. At the time, the company said the suspension would be temporary, until "the attendant risks with Linux are better understood and properly resolved."

When he challenged Novell's claims last week, McBride acknowledged that subsequent events make SCO's return to selling Linux a diminishing possibility.

Unix Background
Unix was developed at AT&T's Bell Labs in 1969, but its history since then has been convoluted at best, leading experts like Open Source Initiative President Eric Raymond to delineate definitions for various operating systems that fall into the Unix family. Raymond uses "genetic Unix" to describe those operating systems which are derivative works of the original Bell Labs Unix.

Outside contributors, especially academics working from UC Berkeley and other institutions, supplied much of Unix's development after 1975, according to Raymond. Around 1980, Berkeley Unix hackers added Internet capability to the code base. By 1990, the relationship between AT&T's Unix Systems Laboratories (USL) and Berkeley had soured, leading to a three year lawsuit with a settlement that severed Berkeley's version of the Unix source, BSD, from AT&T. In 1992, the Unix trademark passed to the Open Group, a technical standards consortium which now maintains the Unix standard. Unices which adhere to and verify conformance with the standard are "trademark Unix" operating systems.

The Bell Labs code passed from AT&T to USL when AT&T spun it off in 1992 in a joint venture with Novell (the Unix trademark went to Open Group -- then known as X/Open -- as part of the deal). Novell bought AT&T's stake in USL in 1993. The property then passed from Novell to SCO in 1995. Meanwhile, the Unix universe had seen a birth of a number of other Unices, including:

  • AIX, IBM's Unix, a proprietary genetic and trademark Unix developed between 1987 and 1990
  • Solaris, the proprietary genetic and trademark Unix used by Sun Microsystems
  • SCO Open Server, SCO's version of Unix, a proprietary genetic and trademark Unix dating back to the early 1980s
  • BSD, an open source genetic Unix, but not a trademark Unix, which now has three variants of its own
  • Linux, an open source variant developed in Finland in 1991 which Raymond said is neither a genetic Unix nor a trademark Unix.

SCO added UnixWare, the brand name carried by later versions of Bell Labs' Unix, after it acquired it in 1995. In the meantime, to further muddy the picture, System V, the Unix that later evolved into UnixWare, borrowed from 4.4BSD, leading Berkeley to sue.

"It seems that from as far back as before 1985, the historical Bell Labs code base has been incorporating large amounts of software from the BSD sources," Raymond said in OSI's position paper on the SCO-vs.-IBM complaint. "The University's cause of action lay in the fact that AT&T, USL and Novell had routinely violated the terms of the BSD license by removing license attributions and copyrights."

The lawsuit was settled and the record sealed.