January 19, 2004 11:50 PM PST

Red Hat offers software warranty

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In response to SCO Group's legal action against Linux, Red Hat is offering new legal protection that guarantees the company will replace any code found to infringe copyrights.

The warranty, part of a new project called the Open Source Assurance Program, is for all existing and future customers of the Raleigh, N.C.-based company's Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating system products, the company said in an announcement Monday night, shortly before the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo that begins Wednesday in New York.

SCO alleges that IBM improperly moved Unix intellectual property into Linux and, independently, that Linux infringes on the company's Unix copyrights. But offers of legal defense are sprouting all over the Linux landscape as advocates try to defuse threats from SCO, which has sued IBM for breach of contract and has promised to sue a Linux user for copyright infringement.


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Novell, the No. 2 Linux seller after Red Hat by virtue of its acquisition of SuSE Linux, began indemnifying its Linux customers last week, following in the footsteps of Hewlett-Packard.

The Open Source Development Labs, a multi-company Linux consortium, began a a $10 million legal defense fund last week. And Montavista Software, which sells Linux for "embedded" computing devices such as consumer electronics or telecommunications gear, like Red Hat has a warrantee program.

And at the last LinuxWorld show, in August, Red Hat began a legal defense fund to protect open-source programmers.

"It seems to me, particularly with the indemnity funds, it's less and less of an issue every day," said C.E. Unterberg Towbin securities analyst Katherine Egbert of the SCO attack.

Open-source software such as Linux is developed by a multitude of programmers, many not working for the company selling a product such as a version of Linux or a server that includes the operating system. That collaborative programming method, while leading programmers from competing companies to cooperate, makes it harder for a single company to control what's in a specific software package.

Open-source software can result in complicated copyright issues. In some cases, such as MySQL's database, the company owns all the copyrights to the software. In the Linux kernel at the heart of the operating system, however, each programmer owns the copyright for whatever patch of code he or she wrote unless the copyright was assigned to another person or entity.

 

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