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"GrokLaw: MVP of the SCO Wars" - Clay Shirky
Wednesday, December 17 2003 @ 05:08 PM EST

NEC, Clay Shirky's distribution list on Networks, Economics & Culture, this month wrote about Groklaw. He listed it in his Worth Reading Section, and he calls Groklaw "the MVP of the SCO Wars".

He releases this newsletter under the Creative Commons License, so I am happy to be able to share the whole section with you. You might also like to know about his weblog Corante, which reports tech news. Mr. Shirky's bio tells us this:

"Mr. Shirky divides his time between consulting, teaching, and writing on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies. His consulting practice is focused on the rise of decentralized technologies such as peer-to-peer, web services, and wireless networks that provide alternatives to the wired client/server infrastructure that characterizes the Web. Current clients include Nokia, GBN, the Library of Congress, the Highlands Forum, the Markle Foundation, and the BBC.

"In addition to his consulting work, Mr. Shirky is an adjunct professor in NYU's graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), where he teaches courses on the interrelated effects of social and technological network topology -- how our networks shape culture and vice-versa. His current course, Social Weather, examines the cues we use to understand group dynamics in online spaces and the possible ways of improving user interaction by redesigning our social software to better reflect the emergent properties of groups.

"Mr. Shirky has written extensively about the internet since 1996. Over the years, he has had regular columns in Business 2.0, FEED, and ACM Net_Worker, and his writings have appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Harvard Business Review, Wired, Release 1.0, Computerworld, and IEEE Computer. He has been interviewed by Slashdot, Red Herring, Media Life, and the Economist's Ebusiness Forum. He has written about biotechnology in his "After Darwin" column in FEED magazine, and serves as a technical reviewer for O'Reilly's bioinformatics series. He helps program the "Biological Models of Computation" track for O'Reilly's Emerging Technology conferences."

Actually, there is quite a bit more, this being only the first three paragraphs. Here is what he had to say in the December 17th edition of NEC about what Groklaw has accomplished:


Worth Reading . . . .

GrokLaw: MVP of the SCO Wars

My colleague Elizabeth Lawley of RIT has convinced me that one of the most profound effects of weblogs is the communal workings of those who publish them, and that they contribute significant new value to collaboration across disciplines and boundaries.

And now that she's convinced me, I see the pattern everywhere. The Dean campaign piece I posted earlier today exhibits much of that pattern, and so does today's Groklaw piece on SCO. By way of background, SCO, once a technology company, has become a company devoted to a single legal strategy:

1. Assert rights to the Unix operating system
2. Assert infringing contributions of Unix source code to Linux
3. Sue firms that sell or use Linux, especially deep-pocketed IBM
4. Profit!!!1! (or at least buyout by IBM, to save them the expense of the suit.)

Much of the matter is in dispute, and IANAL, but what is clear is this: a) many SCO employees contributed to the Linux kernel, back when SCO was a tech company ("oldSCO"), with the approval of their bosses, and b) the Groklaw is doing an astonishing, world-changing job of finding, documenting and publicizing these occurrences (alongside much other work on the case.)

A recent GrokLaw entry reads:

Groklaw has reported before on contributions made to the Linux kernel by Christoph Hellwig while he was a Caldera employee. We have also offered some evidence of contributions by oldSCO employees as well. Alex Rosten decided to do some more digging about the contributions of one kernel coder, Tigran Aivazian.

[...] This paper is a group effort. Alex's research was shared with others in the Groklaw community, who honed, edited, and added further research. Then the final draft was sent to Tigran himself, so he could correct and/or amplify, which he has done.

Look at that second graf: "This paper is a group effort." Everyone always says that about complex work, but this is different. This is the end of two-party law, where plaintiff and defendant duke it out in an arms race of $350/hr laywers and "Take that" counter-motions.

Instead, we have a third party, Groklaw, acting as a proxy for millions of Linux users, affecting the public perception of the case (and the outcome SCO wants has to do with its stock price, not redress in the courts.) Groklaw may also be affecting the case in the courts, by helping IBM with a distributed discovery effort that they, IBM, could never accomplish on their own, no matter how may lawyers they throw at it.

There are two ways to change the amount of leverage you have. The obvious one is to put more force on the lever, and this is what SCO thought they were doing -- engaging IBM in a teeter-totter battle that would make it cheaper for IBM to simply buy SCO than to fight it out in the courts.

The other way to get more leverage is to move the fulcrum. Groklaw has moved the fulcrum of this battle considerably closer to SCO, making it easier for IBM to exert leverage, and harder for SCO to. I can't predict how the current conflict will end, but the pattern Groklaw has established, of acting on behalf of the people who will be adversely affected by a two-party legal battle, has already been vindicated, even if SCO avoids bankruptcy.


This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License. The licensor permits others to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work. In return, licensees must give the original author credit.

To view a copy of this license, visit

or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA.

2003, Clay Shirky

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