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Intel Chips in For Linux Defense

Intel is among the companies bankrolling a new fund to defend open source users from potential intellectual property lawsuits brought by SCO Group .

The Santa Clara, Calif., chipmaker, IBM and others have given a total of $3 million to start the account, which will be overseen by the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL), a Beaverton, Ore., consortium promoting the growth of open source software.

Nelson Pratt, OSDL marketing director, told internetnews.com the organization is still working out the specific protocols for companies requesting funds in the event of a SCO lawsuit. What OSDL wants to avoid, he said, is for the fund to become a clearinghouse for contract disputes and license fees.

"We're not intending to make the threshold (for defense funds) high at all, we're just intending to make sure the issues emanating from SCO are contested in a court of law and -- once settled -- will have an impact across the entire industry," he said.

When the SCO Group litigation is finally resolved, Pratt said, the defense fund will be used to defray the court costs incurred against Linus Torvalds, Linux kernel creator and OSDL Fellow, and other OSDL employees who were subpoenaed by the SCO Group last year. If monies remain, the rest will go into the organization's general fund.

SCO officials say they are not impressed with the creation of the legal fund and vow to press forward with lawsuits next month. Blake Stowell, SCO Group spokesperson, said the creation of a legal defense fund from multiple companies doesn't change its plans any, and doesn't absolve the end user from taking responsibility for copyright violations.

The Lindon, Utah, company, he told internetnews.com, still plans to move forward with legal action against companies they feel have violated SCO's copyrighted material, and will name the first batch by Feb. 17. The company has yet to file suit against a single end user but did send 1,500 letters demanding companies pay a $700-per-server licensing fee or risk litigation.

"Our company is still very much intent on bringing these end user lawsuits to bear," he said.

While Intel is a founding member of the OSDL, and a regular contributor to the open source movement, the company has been quiet about the controversy until now. But many of Intel's customers, as well as Intel itself, have received the SCO lawsuit letters and officials at the chip manufacturer decided it was time to pitch in for a legal defense fund.

Chuck Mulloy, an Intel spokesperson, said officials at his company have become increasingly concerned with SCO's decision to threaten lawsuit, and then failing to show what Linux code is infringing.

"By refusing to disclose the basis for the claims, SCO Group is preventing those individuals working on Linux from remedy," he told internetnews.com. "It's a sense of fairness that concerns us; we thought the appropriate thing to do was our fair share."

Mulloy said Intel, as a major member of the OSDL, felt it was better to provide funds through an OSDL-led initiative, rather than taking the tack of fellow OSDL board member HP. The Palo Alto, Calif., tech company announced in September, 2003, its own indemnificat ion policy when companies like IBM were reluctant to provide some legal sanctuary to its customers.

"We're a member of OSDL; from our perspective we felt this was the right approach," Mulloy said.

OSDL's goal is to boost the fund to $10 million through contributions from individuals, companies and organizations.

"This fund sends a clear message that OSDL, in cooperation with others throughout the Linux industry, will stand firm against legal threats levied by The SCO Group," Stuart Cohen, CEO of OSDL said in a statement.

SCO has created a whirlwind of controversy by claiming the open source Linux operating system is an unauthorized derivative of its UNIX System V OS.

SCO is embroiled in a contract dispute with IBM, which has extended to the entire Linux open source community. SCO claims Big Blue breached a contract with the company by contributing unauthorized portions of its UNIX-based AIX OS code to the open source movement.

IBM denied the claims and countersued. A federal judge recently ruled that SCO Group has 30 days to forward detailed information about its claims, a key ruling expected to help advance the discovery in the case, which is expected to go to trial in April of 2005. The deadline to backup its claims is today.

The legal battle has inflamed many in the open source community, and the attacks have only made matters worse. Darl McBride, SCO CEO, chastised open source leaders for not policing their own after an August "Denial of Service" attack brought his site down.

Despite legal maneuvers, SCO's claims have not slowed deployments of the open source OS, a study being released this month has found.

Evan Bauer, a principal research fellow with Robert Frances Group, said a just-completed survey the IT consulting firm conducted with 15 companies about Linux deployments suggests that cost-savings and the General Public License, or GPL , are trumping concerns about SCO Group's claim of copyright infringement within parts of Linux.

"None [of the companies surveyed] have concluded they're liable in any way," he said in a recent interview with internetnews.com. The survey asked companies whether the SCO lawsuit was impacting their deployment plans.

About half of the companies in the survey, checked with their legal departments about any potential exposure to the issue. For example, if a court ruled in favor of SCO in finding that some parts of the Linux kernel were copyrighted, would companies running Linux have to pay SCO license fees?

"Many feel they are absolutely protected by the GPL [General Public License]," Bauer said, referring to the open source software license (also called GNU GPL) that details how the open source OS software and its source code can be freely copied, distributed and modified.

The companies in the survey represented a cross-section of sectors such as manufacturing, retail, financial services, and universities.