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Battle Between UNIX and Linux Heating Up

With the holidays rushing toward us, the tech industry should be experiencing a quiet time, but a slew of recent developments in the battle over UNIX and Linux ensures that anyone with a stake in this conflict will have some unsettling news to mull over. This week, computing giant Novell revealed that it has spent the past few months quietly registering for the UNIX copyrights the SCO Group claims to own--copyrights SCO has used as a basis for its attack on Linux, a UNIX clone. SCO, meanwhile, has sent a second threatening letter to Linux and IBM AIX customers, warning them that they face lawsuits if they continue to use the OSs SCO says are based, in part, on UNIX code that SCO owns. For struggling SCO, expediency is key: The company posted a fourth-quarter loss of $1.4 million, which included a $9 million charge related to its ongoing legal fees. Finally, Linux creator Linus Torvalds has taken a look at 65 software files that SCO claims prove parts of Linux were stolen from UNIX. Torvalds, predictably, is unimpressed and claims that he personally wrote many of these files. Let's take a closer look at each of these developments.

Novell Registers UNIX Trademarks
   In a move that will further confuse an already confusing legal mess, Novell revealed that it has registered for 11 UNIX copyrights that SCO claims it owns. SCO says it owns the UNIX copyright because of Novell's 1995 sale of the technology, and the company reacted angrily to Novell's registration moves. "We see this as a fraudulent attempt by Novell to get something they don't have," says SCO President and CEO Darl McBride. "It's fraudulent to now go and say they have these \[copyrights\]."
   Novell says the registrations are legal and that it didn't transfer the UNIX copyrights when it sold its other UNIX assets. "Novell believes it owns the copyrights in UNIX, and has applied for and received copyright registrations pertaining to UNIX consistent with that position," a Novell statement reads. "SCO has been well aware that Novell continues to assert ownership of the UNIX copyrights."
   If Novell--which recently entered the Linux market--is found to own UNIX copyrights, the decision could spell the end of SCO's messy $1 billion lawsuit against IBM, another Linux backer (and investor in Novell), preventing SCO from pursuing other Linux companies. But that process could take years, after a potentially lengthy copyright ownership court case winds down. Maybe that's Novell's intention: SCO's ongoing legal battles are a huge expense for a company with little financial upside.

SCO Threatens Linux, AIX Users
   In related news, SCO sent a second threatening letter to "select Fortune 1000 companies" that use Linux, demanding that they certify in writing that they're complying with SCO's UNIX licenses. Companies that don't respond within 30 days face legal action, SCO says. SCO hasn't revealed the companies to which it sent the letters, and so far, no companies have admitted to receiving the letters. But the letter is interesting for several reasons, not the least of which is its inclusion of 71 files from the Linux 2.4.21 kernel, which SCO says prove Linux includes code stolen from UNIX. But Bruce Perens, the founder of the Open Source Initiative, says these files prove exactly the opposite of what SCO says they do. "This issue has actually been resolved in court quite a long time ago in that \[the UNIX\] APIs \[in question\] are not copyrightable," Perens says.

Use the Source, Linus
   Meanwhile, Torvalds, who created the original Linux version and still shepherds the open-source project, has looked at the Linux files SCO uses as proof. His reaction to them is even more comical than Perens' reaction. "Some of these files were written by me directly," Torvalds said. "In short, for the files where I personally checked the history, I can definitely say that those files were trivially written by me personally, with no copying from any UNIX code, ever. I can show, and SCO should have been able to see, that the list they show clearly shows original work, not copied ... it boils down to the fact that SCO is claiming copyright on something that they did not write, and that I can prove that they did not write."
   These matters will take some time to work out, and despite some interesting problems, SCO says it stands behind its claims--both to the UNIX copyrights and to the intellectual property violations of which it accuses Linux. Happy Holidays, indeed.

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