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Report on Hamilton, Canada LUG Special Session on SCO v. IBM
Thursday, February 02 2006 @ 11:20 AM EST

Groklaw's John Macdonald attended the Hamilton Linux User Group's special session on the SCO v. IBM litigation last night, which featured Peter Salus, Robert Young and Ren Bucholz as speakers. John was kind enough to send us a report, and the best news is that there will be a video and audio feed eventually. Peter told me a little about the event too. He says about 30% of the audience said they'd heard about the event from Groklaw. John says at least a quarter from where he was sitting, so a number of you went. If anyone has more details, feel free to let us know in your comments.

**********************

Report from Hamilton
~by John Macdonald

The Hamilton Linux User Group tonight had a special session nominally on the SCOG vs. IBM court case but actually covering a wide range of topics sometimes only vaguely related -- but all of the topics would be familiar to any regular reader of Groklaw. The panel featured Peter Salus (Unix and Linux historian), Robert Young (co-founder of Red Hat), and Ren Bucholz (EFF Policy Co-ordinater).

For the first hour, the panelists discussed a variety of issues. Then, after a refreshment break, questions from the audience were accepted and responded to. I'll describe what I recall of various topics, although this will sometimes be joining different portions of the two sessions that touched on the same topic at different times and in different ways.

A timeline of the SCOG vs. the Linux world court cases was handed out before the start, and since everyone present was assumed to be able to read, it was only briefly referred to. Peter summarized the general status, and amongst other things mentioned that some very large software company from the Northwest United States shared a director with an investment company that provided funding to SCOG just before they filed their initial lawsuit. IBM was admired for doing the right thing in fighting the case, rather than doing an easy or inexpensive choice such as settling or buying SCO out. (Of course, fighting is expensive and settling is cheap only for a single case, i.e., as long as no one else says, "Aha, now I'll just sue IBM to get my easy settlement too.")

The discussion quickly moved from the court cases to other topics. There were descriptions of the various sorts of intellectual property legal frameworks that exist, and how they have evolved from benefitting society to instead benefit the creators, often to the detriment of society.

Discussion of the political arena touched on many issues.

One significant event from the recent Canadian national election was highlighted -- in Toronto, Sam Bulte has been the Liberal party member of parliament. She has received large amounts of funding from music/video organizations, and has been working for an extremely pro-industry set of copyright amendments. A fundraising dinner was organized for her near the end of the election campaign by the industry groups. This was blogged extensively, in particular by Michael Geist (http://michaelgeist.ca). What was notable, though, was that the online blogging was picked up by the national media, and was used by citizens at candidates' meetings. When Ms. Bulte lost, the voting was close enough that it is reasonable to think that this copyright issue was enough to cause her defeat. Since that defeat was a portion of the change in government to having a different party in power, the bill she influenced will likely be changed. (It had not been passed before the end of the previous government). A couple of interesting comments about that bill (called bill C60) were made. Peter noted that while the bill seems bad to us, it is actually a much more lenient bill than most other countries have passed. He also said that many of the portions that Ms. Bulte had submitted were modified significantly -- the bill could have been much worse.

Bob pointed out that, while the lobbying power of monied interests may seem insurmountable "votes trump money". He also told of being surprised by the relatively slow progress that the RIAA/MPAA lobby had in affecting U.S. legislature. He referred to this to someone from Intel when a particular piece of legislature was coming up and was told not to worry. If you add up the entire entertainment industry, you get an amount about the same size as Intel which is only one company in the consumer electronics industry. So, when a law would reduce content copying but would reduce the demand for electronics, there are conflicting lobby groups involved. While Junior downloading a movie is bad for the content indistry, it is a reason to buy another computer (or at least another disk drive) and is good for the hardware industry.

Ren warned of the end run that is done to bypass electoral control over IP. Interests get IP embedded into U.N. resolutions that all countries are told is now an international standard and that they must effect the U.N. policy with their own national laws. The EFF is making sure that the consumer point of view gets some attention in these procedures. (The Canadian bill C60 mentioned above is one example of a country moving to cover the requirements of the U.N. committee process.)

One of the audience members was the person responsible for Linux within IBM Canada. He described aspects of the patent portfolio that IBM builds each year, and how it is being opened up for Open Source use.

An audience member suggested that the overreaching forms of IP law can be viewed as an tax or a drain on productivity and wondered how it can be sustained. The example of China was given by the panel to support this thesis. China largely ignores IP issues and it has the fastest growing economy in the world. Other examples listed studies that showed an obvious correlation between significant bureaucracy and poor economic results.

When the organizer was thanking people for various items of publicity, Peter asked how many people in the audience had first heard of the talk through the Groklaw article. In the direction I was looking, about a quarter of the people raised their hands.

The event was very well run. For people who could not attend (whether they were time- or geography-challenged) there is good news. There was both an audio and a video recording made of the event. These will be published in the future.


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