Thursday, August 14, 2003 - Linux Lawsuit Could Undercut Other 'Freeware' Programs - Linux Lawsuit Could Undercut Other 'Freeware' Programs "To many observers, tiny SCO Group Inc.'s $3 billion copyright-infringement lawsuit against International Business Machines Corp., and SCO's related demands for stiff license fees from hundreds of users of the free Linux software, seem like little more than a financial shakedown.
But the early legal maneuverings in the suit suggest the impact could be far broader. For the first time, the suit promises to test the legal underpinnings that have allowed free software such as Linux to become a potent challenge to programs made by Microsoft Corp. and others. Depending on the outcome, the suit could strengthen or drastically weaken the free-software juggernaut.
The reason: In filing its legal response to the suit last week, IBM relied on an obscure software license that undergirds most of the free-software industry. Called the General Public License, or GPL, it requires that the software it covers, and derivative works as well, may be copied by anyone, free of charge. IBM's argument is that SCO, in effect, "signed" this license by distributing Linux for years, and therefore can't now turn around and demand fees. It's somewhat like Coca-Cola Co. selling its secret recipe on the Internet, then suing people who brewed their own cola based on it.
Now, SCO is preparing to wheel out the software-industry equivalent of a nuclear bomb: It will argue that the GPL itself is invalid, says SCO's lead attorney, Mark Heise of Boies Schiller & Flexner LLP. Mr. Heise says the GPL, by allowing unlimited copying and modification, conflicts with federal copyright law, which allows software buyers to make only a single backup copy. The GPL "is pre-empted by copyright law," he says."

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