June 3, 2003 9:25 PM PDT

Legal action hits SCO Web site

SCO Group, the company that has warned major companies that using Linux could get them in legal trouble, has shut down its German Web site after a Linux advocacy group in the country obtained a restraining order.

Lawyers representing LinuxTag, the German Linux group, told SCO on May 23 that the Lindon, Utah-based company was engaging in unfair competitive practices when it sent to 1,500 large companies letters that said using Linux could pose legal problems because SCO proprietary Unix source code had been copied into Linux, according to a statement from the group.

"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," LinuxTag's Michael Kleinhenz said in the statement. LinuxTag demanded SCO make its evidence public by May 30, or retract its claims.

SCO removed copies of that letter from its Web sites as a result, but later, LinuxTag succeeded in obtaining a temporary restraining order against SCO, said Ryan Tibbitts, SCO's newly appointed chief legal counsel. Because SCO hasn't been able to see the actual contents of the order, the company shut down the entire site to be on the safe side, he said.

"We didn't want to run afoul of the court," Tibbitts said. "I haven't seen the length and breadth of the temporary restraining order to see what it is we're precluded from doing. In an abundance of caution we just took down the whole German Web site."

The move was a victory, albeit minor, in Linux fans' efforts to counter the SCO actions, which attack the legal and philosophical underpinnings of the fiercely independent open-source movement. SCO's actions stemmed from investigations of the Linux source code undertaken for its $1 billion lawsuit against IBM, alleging that Big Blue allegedly broke its contract with SCO by misappropriating trade secrets when moving technology from Unix into Linux.

A more significant setback for SCO took place earlier last week, when Novell, which owned Unix rights before selling some to SCO's predecessor, said it never sold SCO the Unix copyrights and patents.

SCO says it plans this plans to show the source code it says was copied from Unix into Linux, sometimes obfuscated to disguise its origin. However, it has said it will show the code to some, such as industry analysts who sign nondisclosure agreements, but not to the public. It also has said it could reveal the code as part of its case against IBM.

SCO previously hired outside attorneys to serve as its chief legal counsel, but about 10 days ago hired Tibbitts, who has experience in litigation. Previously he worked at Center 7, a management software company that like SCO includes the Canopy Group as a major financial backer.

"The Canopy Group said SCO has got to hire somebody in-house to manage the IBM litigation," Tibbitts said. "My background is litigation. With the firestorm that has started, they need someone who can manage and oversee the litigation."

High-profile attorney David Boies and his firm still are handling SCO's Unix legal action, SCO said. SCO is paying Boeis' firm with a contingency agreement, under which lawyers are typically paid not by the hour, but with a percentage of their client's case winnings.

 

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