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To read comments to this article, go here
SCO is Distributing ELF Under the GPL Still. Yes. Now. Today.
Monday, July 31 2006 @ 03:56 PM EDT

I have some pictures to show you. They should knock your socks off. They should knock SCO's socks off, too, and then they should knock a huge chunk out of SCO's case. I'm quite serious. Here is what three individuals have now written to me, with screenshots to prove what they have found:

SCO is right now itself distributing the ELF headers files it is suing IBM over. They are available to the public with no legal notice, from SCO's FTP site, and furthermore, the license on the files is the GPL.

Let me show you, please.

First, let's review what SCO has claimed. In this document, Exhibit G [PDF], which was attached to a letter from SCO attorney Brent Hatch to IBM attorney Todd Shaughnesy dated 4-19-04, in turn attached to the Declaration of Todd M. Shaughnessy [PDF] in support of IBM's cross motion for partial summary judgment on its claim for declaratory judgment of non-infringement back in the spring of 2004, SCO listed ELF headers files from binutils and it claimed the following:

1. SCO, as the copyright owner of source code and/or documentation upon which the following files and lines of code were copied or derived, has never contributed or authorized these lines of code or the documentation related thereto, for use in Linux as specified under part 0, or any other provision, of the GPL.

2. SCO, as the copyright owner of source code and/or documentation upon which the following files and lines of code were copied or derived, has never granted a license to any party that knowingly authorized use of these files or lines of code outside a UNIX-based distribution.

Never. Never ever, ever? You promise? Or were you crossing your fingers behind your back when you said that?

Then their expert mentioned ELF too. In SCO's Memorandum in Opposition to IBM's Motion to Confine SCO's Claims to, and Strike Allegations in Excess of, The Final Disclosures [PDF], SCO summarized Dr. Thomas Cargill's conclusions:

Dr. Thomas Cargill, a software consultant and former computer science professor and UNIX developer, concludes in his report that Linux 2.4 and 2.6 and LiS Streams (collectively "Linux") are substantially similar to the Unix System V Release 4 operating system ("SVr4"), and therefore, that Linux infringes copyrights of SVr4. (Ex. 3 at 3.) In reaching this conclusion, and by applying the applicable legal test, he further opines that Linux is a substantial copy of UNIX System V Release 4 ("SVr4") because it appropriated the essential structure of UNIX by incorporating (1) many of the "system calls" in SVr4; (2) the SVr4 file system; (3) the ELF format; and (4) the Streams communication module. (Id. at 3-4.)

Methinks he needs to looks at the pictures I'm about to show you, and then it's back to the drawing board for one expert.

If you look on the list of files SCO has in Exhibit G, beginning on page 5, look for files beginning with binutils, and you'll see them there. So SCO is claiming ownership of those files.

Now, if you, SCO and Dr. Cargill will all please step this way, let's see what SCO is offering on ftp://ftp2.sco.com/pub/skunkware/src/misc/binutils-2.8.1.tar.gz. Note it's an FTP site, and so if you don't wish to download a tarball, don't go there, but what you'll find there is all the listed files. Here is a picture of what you see, if like me, you'd prefer that SCO not collect your IP address and so don't wish to visit personally:

There it is, binutils, top of the list. Do you see any legal notice restricting downloads? Me either. When Ariel first sent me that information, I frankly couldn't believe it. But two other folks sent me the same, confirming that indeed binutils are there available on the site and they are listed with the GPL as the license. I asked them to carefully check to be certain that no legal notice was there, and all three say they saw no notice.

I asked Ariel to briefly please explain what binutils is and what is its relationship to the kernel:

binutils is a user-level set of tools used as a backend to compilers. It includes: ar(1), nm(1), objcopy(1), objdump(1), readelf(1) and the GNU linker (ld).

Essentially, SCO is talking about the kernel, but the _same_ ELF header files are needed in binutils because these utilities need to know how to _generate_ the ELF executables which are later executed by the kernel. The header files are inside the tarball 'binutils-2.8.1.tar.gz' which is at the top of the list. This is essentially a _full_ ELF specification and implementation.

Is there a notice of anything? Well, the tarball includes the GNU standard "COPYING" file which includes the full text of:

GNU GENERAL PUBLIC LICENSE
Version 2, June 1991

Also, the file is placed under a directory /pub which is the conventional place for "public" stuff, not protected by any password.

Now, ELF hasn't changed, I'm told, for a long time, so these older files, which appear to have been there since 2001, if you notice the date, are likely the same as any newer files. But for sure the methods and concepts are out there, and they have been demonstrably at least since 2001, and the files on this FTP site are clearly available to be used in Linux, because anything that is GPL'd can be used in any GNU/Linux distribution.

Two years ago this very month, Groklaw debunked SCO's ELF claims on other equally devastating to SCO grounds, as well as separately debunking their ABI claims. If you read the ELF story, you will learn that ELF was put in the public domain. It's a standard. And of course there is a major question mark over SCO's claim that it even has any copyrights to sue with. But this last -- that SCO is still distributing ELF and under the GPL -- is truly the cherry on top.

Actually, not only is there no notice not to download, they actually offer and encourage you to get from them a CD with binutils and all the ELF header files on it:

Someone may say that SCO didn't know any better, that the current management has no clue that binutils-2.8.1 includes a full implementation of reading, generating, and manipulating ELF files. In fact, that was SCO's original alibi, back in Exhibit G:

3. All of the following files or lines of code, or files and lines similar thereto, have appeared in major releases of Linux, and have also appeared in SCO's redistributions of Linux. At the time it redistributed Linux, SCO was not aware that its intellectual property had been copied or misappropriated and placed into Linux without SCO's authorization or consent.

Then SCO listed the binutils files, one by one, binutils-2.14/bfd/elf-bfd.h onward. So at least by the time they made up the list, they knew.

Now, it being 2006, there's no mistake here. They are not distributing without realizing what they are releasing is under the GPL. They say so. The GPL is right there in the binutils package in the copying file. I think it speaks to the truthfulness of Exhibit G's claim that SCO never knowingly distributed ELF under the GPL, but even if they were all clueless as a brick, they certainly knew by the time they made up the list. So they can't now say they *still* don't realize they are releasing these files under the GPL. It's not 2004 any more. It's 2006.

Others have now confirmed for me that the binutils download has a GPL COPYING notice and no special notice from SCO (or anyone else) restricting anything and say that it contains (inter alia) header files with all the ELF magic numbers and structures. That means, to me, that SCO can't sue anybody over ELF from this day forward. Period. Game over. We'll see if they agree.

Interestingly if you check the copyrights in the files currently downloadable, you will find those BFD files are not copyrighted to SCO, even if they were not GPL'd. They are copyrighted by the Free Software Foundation. Here's the notice:

/* ELF support for BFD.
Copyright (C) 1991, 92, 93, 95, 1997 Free Software Foundation, Inc.

Written by Fred Fish @ Cygnus Support, from information published
in "UNIX System V Release 4, Programmers Guide: ANSI C and
Programming Support Tools".

But they had no right, SCO may exclaim. Too late. If ever they had a complaint, it should have been in 1991, and in any case, having released the files since 2001 -- WITH THAT VERY COPYRIGHT NOTICE -- it's obvious that SCO at the time and all these years since had absolutely no objection. Besides that, the article we did on ELF two years ago told them specifically that binutils included ELF and that it was available from SCO's website back then in 2004, a year after they'd filed their lawsuit. And here it is again, two years later. Can they plead ignorance? I don't think so. Incompetence maybe. Sloth. But how can they claim ignorance?

Is it the end of the ELF claims? It should be, I would think. If it isn't, and SCO doesn't drop this claim, frankly I think the word frivolous is going to be entering the discussion in a courtroom in Utah, as I think it should. If AutoZone ever rises from the dead, it is pertinent there as well.

And what, pray tell, might the moral of this story be? To me, it's that once again the GPL has proven itself to be the MVP of the SCO wars. I hope none of you ever forgets that someone had the foresight many years ago to plan for the SCO's of this world. Richard Stallman was villified, sneered at, mocked and attacked for designing the GPL back then. But look at it now. Look quite seriously at what GPLv2 has accomplished. And when you do, please think about that legal foresight he demonstrated and then extrapolate. Are you quite sure GPLv3 isn't also legal foresight? In any case, while you are all free to reach your own conclusions, there is one unchangeable, undeniable fact. There is some water under the legal bridge now, and it wasn't superior technology that saved Linux from SCO. It was the GPL that played a major role in keeping this GNU/Linux boat afloat in the face of SCO's attack.


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