It all started in 2003 when SCO sued IBM for violating trade agreements, then later copyright violation.
It set up a licensing arm called SCOsource which basically hassled Linux users for a licence fee. The license gave end users the right to use SCO intellectual property contained in Linux.
While others mocked, the SCOsource team sued some big names such as AutoZone and DaimlerChrysler. It looked like it was going to be a huge mess with lots of court cases.
Although at the time, the IT press dubbed SCO an upstart, there was a chance it might have succeeded.
What it needed to do was convince the world+dog that Linux contained Unix code. This it managed to do. Some fairly big names such as Daniel Lyons, before he became famous for pretending to be Steve Jobs waded in on SCO’s behalf.
Linux, at that point of its history, was considered fairly esoteric. Unix was still king and Linux was the tool of weirdie beardie types, but was just starting to get wider adoption.
What SCO probably thought was that if it launched a few law suits the Linux community would just pay money to have it go away. Linux would die and people would return to Unix.
Novell pulled away the corner stone of SCO’s attack by quietly mentioning that SCO had not ever bought any Unix copyrights from it.
To have Novell backing Linux was a little surprising. It had not even bought SUSE yet and was just stretching toward Linux. It did need a direction after losing its networking crown to Microsoft and it was far sighted enough to see its future was with Linux.
While the media had some interest in the case, this was mostly restricted to the tech press. For SCO to succeed it had to keep most of its antics quiet or at least in a couple of court rooms. The US legal system along with the esoteric nature of the case would have kept it all safely under wraps. Unfortunately SCO had not accounted for the power of the online blog Groklaw.
A woman called Pamela Jones built a community based around her Groklaw site. Starting as a lone voice she quickly gained followers effectively organising the information in a way that it could be understood.
SCO saw the threat and tried to use its tame US press to bury her. Jones was accused of being an IBM employee who was secretly using her site to help Big Blue see off SCO.
Her house was door stepped by the nationals who wanted to find out “who she was”.
One of the side stories of the SCO trial was how much in the pockets of IT companies some US hacks are. It is usually the US reporters who like to lecture European writers on things like ethics while talking about their degrees in journalism. The SCO case showed them to be hypocritical lazy bastards who give the industry a bad name.
Even when one celebrated hack threatened to expose her telephone account for all the world to see, Jones didn’t give up and after a while it was the main stream press who started to see her point.
It was when the case started going through the long legal process that SCO’s case was paper thin.
Crucially on August 10 2007, Judge Dale Kimball ruled that Novell is the owner of the UNIX and UnixWare Copyrights. Novell was awarded summary judgments on a number of claims, and a number of SCO claims were denied.
SCO was told that if it had been charging for licences it would have to give the cash to Novell. Even Lyons admitted that he had been taken in by SCO and the entire stack of cards collapsed.
SCO lost a lot of money and went into Chapter 11. Many believed that the court cases would finish it off, but somehow money was found from mysterious backers.
Some believed that these backers were all part of an anti-Linux, anti-open sauce plot. Fingers were mostly pointed at Microsoft. Certainly the hand of Vole was seen in the early days of the SCO saga. But Volish involvement, if it ever existed, would have ended two years ago when it was unlikely that SCO was going to win.
However on August 24, 2009, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals issued its findings on SCO’s appeal of the 2007 summary judgement and it was game on again. It reversed Judge Kimball’s summary judgement rulings on ownership of UNIX and UnixWare copyrights. The feeling of the Appeals court was that it was really up to a jury to decide these and the trail took place.
For a few weeks we heard all the usual stuff which has been rehearsed over the last seven years. Novel had three witnesses, two of them lawyers who testified they intended for Novell to retain the copyrights to the Unix system in a 1995 agreement that transferred Unix to the Santa Cruz Operations which effectively became SCO.
SCO attorney Stuart Singer showed a memo that Bradford had sent to the board, informing it about the deal. The “term sheet” that described major parts of the sales agreement did not say that copyrights were being retained.
SCO also recalled witness Robert Frankenberg, the former Novell CEO and board chairman who was in charge of the company when the deal was made. Frankenberg was not involved in the negotiations but said it was his intention to sell the entire Unix business, including the copyrights.
The jury decided for Novell.
One thing that the Linux community might want to ponder though is that throughout all this it has been Novell which has been fighting their corner.
Novell has been persona non grata with the Linux community since it did a deal with Microsoft. Now it seems that the community owes them a lot.
As for SCO we doubt it will disappear anytime soon. It claims it has other legal avenues to follow but without the patents it has nothing that is Linux threatening.
So it looks like Linux won, but the bigger winners were lawyers as it looks like they will be the only ones to ever get a penny out of it all.