December 5, 2003 8:42 AM PST

SCO's McBride sounds off in Linux legal battle

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SCO Group Chief Executive Darl McBride is invoking the Founding Fathers in his company's battle over Unix intellectual property rights.

In an open letter posted on the SCO Web site Thursday, McBride argues that the General Public License (GPL) that underlies distribution of Linux, a Unix-derived operating system, is unconstitutional because it violates copyright and patent laws established by Congress. He also sharply criticizes two of SCO's most aggressive adversaries who, he says, do not believe in federally mandated copyright protection.

"In the past 20 years, the Free Software Foundation and others in the open source software movement have set out to actively and intentionally undermine the U.S. and European systems of copyrights and patents," McBride wrote. "Red Hat's position is that current U.S. intellectual property law 'impedes innovation in software development' and that 'software patents are inconsistent with open source/free software."


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The Free Software Foundation is an open-source industry group, and Red Hat is one of the primary distributors of Linux.

Separately on Friday, SCO said it had postponed its quarterly earnings report but would stand by its earlier revenue forecast.

The Lindon, Utah-based company attributed the delay to the need for more time to account for a $50 million investment. SCO had planned to report results for its fiscal fourth quarter, ended Oct. 31, on Friday, which already was a slip from an earlier schedule. SCO has now moved the earnings release to Dec. 22, but said the transaction would not affect its revenue or cash holdings.

The company reiterated its previously stated fourth-quarter sales projections of $22 million to $25 million.

SCO owns several key copyrights related to the Unix operating system and has been aggressively defending its intellectual property holdings connected to the software, including filing a $3 billion lawsuit against IBM earlier this year. IBM later responded with a related countersuit against SCO.

In the letter, McBride said that the ongoing controversies related to its claims regarding Linux "will rage for at least another 18 months, until our original case (against IBM) comes to trial."

The GPL, which serves as the legal foundation for Linux, was created in the 1980s by Richard Stallman to govern the Gnu's Not Unix (GNU) software project to clone Unix. The license permits anyone to see, modify and distribute a program's underlying source code, as long as the author of the modifications publishes them when distributing the modified version.

McBride contended in the letter that copyright and patent laws adopted by the U.S. Congress and the European Union are critical to the "further growth and development of the $186 billion global software industry, and to the technology business in general." He also said that the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which is aimed at protecting intellectual property rights, helps validate SCO's Linux claims.

"It is paramount that the DMCA be given full force and effect, as envisioned by Congress," McBride wrote. "However, there is a group of software developers in the United States, and other parts of the world, that do not believe in the approach to copyright protection mandated by Congress."

SCO recently vowed to widen its legal battle against the open-source community, saying it intends to sue large-scale Linux users for copyright infringement. The company signed an agreement with the law firm of David Boies, who is already handling its case against IBM, to include other Linux-related copyright cases. SCO plans to begin filing suits within the next few months, targeting large companies that have significant Linux installations.

Lawsuits targeting Linux users are expected to be filed within roughly the next 90 days, with initial suits targeting 1,500 companies that have significant Linux systems.

CNET News.com's David Becker and Mike Ricciuti contributed to this report.

 

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