[linux-elitists] SCO: worst case analysis?

Martin Pool mbp@samba.org
Mon Jul 21 23:01:59 PDT 2003

On 30 Jun 2003, "Justin F. Knotzke" <shampoo@cam.org> wrote:

>     I think maybe those who ask this question may be wondering if the OSS
> community has a "Plan B". It's fine to be confident but one must not
> be arrogant. Its usually at that point where one gets bit in the soft
> fleshy parts.

I have been wondering about the worst possible case.  I think most of
these scenarios are very unlikely, but perhaps considering them will
sooth people worried that the community is being over-optimistic.  (I
think Con Z's analysis while good is a bit optimistic.)

Perhaps SCO will shake some licence payments out of end users who are
easily scared.  They might use both the money and the credibility from
this to increase pressure on other users.  At some point, however,
somebody will presumably stand up to them.

The most likely bad outcome, I think, is that SCO just drag out a
court case with IBM for the 2-5 years some lawyers have predicted,
making misleading and melodramatic claims the whole time, and propped
up by the Microsoft payment.  Some number of potential Linux users
will jump at shadows and hold off on adopting Linux.  Over time I
think media interest in repeated outlandish claims will decay, and
users will realize that there is in fact no problem.

Perhaps it will turn out that IBM's contract really did give SCO
proprietary rights over IBM's own inventions, such as RCU and JFS.
Could IBM's fabled lawyers have been so dumb?  It seems incredibly
unlikely, though not quite impossible.  IBM might then need to settle
with SCO, possibly paying them some money.  Depending on the
settlement that code might or might not need to be removed from Linux.
None of the technologies named are really fundamental.  Everyone else
recieved the code in good faith and at most it seems they need to
migrate away from those technologies.

Possibly the worst outcome is that the Linux kernel is irreparably
tainted by having once had SCO code in it, and no number of code
excisions could fix it.  I don't know of any legal mechanism that
could cause that, despite SCO's claims: copyright doesn't work that
way AFAIK, nor trade secrets or patents.  But at worst, migrating to a
BSD or even some new kernel would be pretty disruptive but not
impossible.  Hardware support would probably be worst off, but
userspace should be largely untouched.  Perhaps it would finally be
the Hurd's day in the sun!

McBride has claimed that every present-day operating system depends on
SCO's rights.  I'm finding it hard to believe a court would say *every
computer user* needed to pay rights to SCO.  But if they did, then so
be it; Linux is no worse off than other systems.


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