Who owns Linux? Not SCO

A federal judge issues a ruling that seems to shut down a software company's multibillion-dollar claim to own the open-source operating system.

Published August 13, 2007 3:51PM (EDT)

Late on Friday afternoon Judge Dale Kimball of the U.S. District Court in Utah issued what looks to be a book-closing ruling in the long effort of one company, the SCO Group, to take over the open-source operating system Linux. In 2003, SCO sued IBM for a billion dollars (later raised to $5 billion), claiming that IBM had contributed code from the proprietary Unix operating system to Linux -- which violated SCO's copyrights, SCO said, because in 1995, it had purchased the rights to the Unix code from the software company Novell.

Got that? Doesn't matter either way, because Friday's ruling shuts it down. In SCO v. Novell, a case running alongside SCO's claim against IBM, the judge said that Novell never transferred Unix ownership over to SCO: "Novell is the owner of the UNIX and UnixWare Copyrights," the ruling states.

What does this mean for SCO's claim to own Linux? The judge called a hearing for Aug. 31 to sort out what might happen to the IBM suit, but observers see the writing on the wall.

Since SCO's claims to Linux rest on its claim to own Unix, a ruling that Novell -- and not SCO -- actually owns Unix is like a drive crash on SCO's legal aims: Perhaps the company can try to restart the effort, but it would take a miracle to actually prevail.

SCO, though, has little other choice than to keep going; the company, now, is basically an intellectual-property hoarding firm, a company that exists solely to extract from others a legal bounty on allegations of copyright violation.

This is its business, and naturally, the company says it will continue: "Although the district judge ruled in Novell's favor on important issues, the case has not yet been fully vetted by the legal system and we will continue to explore our options with respect to how we move forward from here."

Good luck with that, SCO.

See the court's ruling here (PDF); for more commentary on the case, check out the indispensable Groklaw.

-- Farhad Manjoo

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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Copyright Intellectual Property Linux