Q

Could IP battles spell doom for open source software?

It seems to me that SCO isn't just after companies that used some of its code in Linux. Since SCO is saying things like the open source community is out to destroy IT commerce and open source software is a threat to national security and national financial health, it seems to me that SCO wants to undermine and even make illegal open source software. Is it possible that SCO and its backers could get open source software -- including its licensing options -- banned? Is banning open source the only way to protect intellectual property?
Because the truth underlying SCO's infringement claims will take a while and will be difficult to uncover, the result of SCO's efforts is likewise difficult to predict. Having said this, it is not clear that SCO actually wants to ban open source technology; it simply wants to profit from the use of source code that it believes it has the exclusive right to sell.

If you read the complaints and other pleadings that SCO has filed in court, you get the clear sense that, for SCO, this is about money and not about whether proprietary or open source technology should control the world. Such a contest, if that's what it is, is of much greater concern to Microsoft, which has openly announced its support of SCO and its antipathy toward Linux and open source.

As an aside, it is worth noting that Linux has openly invited SCO to identify each line of the kernel that infringes on SCO's proprietary code so that Linux can re-write the affected sections to eliminate the infringement (and the claims that flow from it). Presumably such cures can and will be implemented by the open source community if and when SCO succeeds in proving to a court that its protected technology has been infringed by either Linux or other open source providers.

So, to now answer your question directly, it is at best unlikely that generic open source software will be eliminated as a computing choice; it could simply become more expensive to use. It is also unlikely that the concept of the General Public License will disappear, although it could be affected by some of the issues that SCO is raising.

This was first published in March 2004

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