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To read comments to this article, go here
Who's the Pirate in This Picture?
Thursday, June 12 2003 @ 10:40 PM EDT

So, in today's episode, we find out what *really* happened.

Now this is worth reading if you wish to find the answer to the question we have all been asking, namely why is SCO doing this?

InformationWeek has the story, "Is SCO Bluffing?" The reporter evidently interviewed Darl McBride at some length, and it is fascinating, in the same way that watching true crime TV shows can be fascinating at 3 in the morning. McBride explains exactly what led up to the lawsuit.

It began in December, he says, when SCO noticed that some of its DLLs were being copied into Linux. So, they notified the proper people and asked that the code be removed...no wait, they didn't do that. Instead they thought up a license sche^H^H^H^H^H^ program, I should say. The license would allow people to continue to use their code, all versions through System V. They sent around a proposal to everyone they thought might pay for such a license, but IBM not only wouldn't pay, it said it would stop doing business with them, and it did, according to our narrator.

They actually thought they could transform how Linux does business and make it be proprietary software instead, not that that company hasn't had that idea since they began: "The Linux business model was bound to change, and some people are having a hard time accepting this," he says. "The whole concept of getting something for nothing just doesn't hold up," he says. "The notion that you're going to run a Fortune 1000 company on something that in the end could be more like Napster than an enterprise software system, it's a big question mark."

My understanding of this is really simple: SCO thought they had a brainstorm. They'd tell IBM to give them some money. When they didn't get it, they went on the attack.

So... what is it pirates do again, exactly? They stop you as you are walking along, minding your own business and tell you to give them money and if you won't pay, then they hurt you.

As to his comparison with Napster, that just shows he doesn't understand the GPL at all. No one, as Richard Stallman has written, is forced to use the GPL, but if you do, you are to do so on its terms. And it isn't free necessarily, as in free of money changing hands. I have bought GNU/Linux products on several occasions, and I have always paid, because I want the convenience and at first I wanted support services. No one is stealing anything, though, even if they download over the Internet, if they don't mind the inconvenience and the lack of help. They are sharing only what is theirs to share.

Here is what Stallman wrote in an article entitled The GNU GPL and the American Way:

The Free Software Movement was founded in 1984, but its inspiration comes from the ideals of 1776: freedom, community, and voluntary cooperation. This is what leads to free enterprise, to free speech, and to free software.

As in "free enterprise" and "free speech", the "free" in "free software" refers to freedom, not price; specifically, it means that you have the freedom to study, change, and redistribute the software you use. These freedoms permit citizens to help themselves and help each other, and thus participate in a community. This contrasts with the more common proprietary software, which keeps users helpless and divided: the inner workings are secret, and you are prohibited from sharing the program with your neighbor. Powerful, reliable software and improved technology are useful byproducts of freedom, but the freedom to have a community is important in its own right.

We could not establish a community of freedom in the land of proprietary software where each program had its lord. We had to build a new land in cyberspace--the free software GNU operating system, which we started writing in 1984. In 1991, when GNU was almost finished, the kernel Linux written by Linus Torvalds filled the last gap; soon the free GNU/Linux system was available. Today millions of users use GNU/Linux and enjoy the benefits of freedom and community.

I designed the GNU GPL to uphold and defend the freedoms that define free software--to use the words of 1776, it establishes them as inalienable rights for programs released under the GPL. It ensures that you have the freedom to study, change, and redistribute the program, by saying that nobody is authorized to take these freedoms away from you by redistributing the program under a restrictive license.

For the sake of cooperation, we encourage others to modify and extend the programs that we publish. For the sake of freedom, we set the condition that these modified versions of our programs must respect your freedom just like the original version. We encourage two-way cooperation by rejecting parasites: whoever wishes to copy parts of our software into his program must let us use parts of that program in our programs. Nobody is forced to join our club, but those who wish to participate must offer us the same cooperation they receive from us. That makes the system fair.

Millions of users, tens of thousands of developers, and companies as large as IBM, Intel, and Sun, have chosen to participate on this basis. But some companies want the advantages without the responsibilities.

Does that sound like a bunch of unprincipled pirates to you? They are sharing what they themselves created. That is still legal in the US, the last time I checked.

Speaking of legal, what happens at midnight tomorrow isn't going to be off-with-their-heads exactly. No one will be crashing down the door to see if you are using AIX. The law in the US isn't by royal fiat. SCO has made a claim, but until it proves something, no one is going to do anything for them, not the law, not a judge, not the IP "police". Nothing should happen until SCO goes to court to make it happen, and they can't make it happen without putting their position on the table much more clearly than they have in the court of public opinion and proving their claims, at least enough to convince a judge to do something for them.

I obviously have no opinion on their contract claims, because I haven't seen the contract. But I still laughed when I read this modern-day version of "Pirates of Penzance," which happily SCO doesn't own the copyright to but which the authors call Parody: Modern SCO Executive. I guess they hope that if they label it P A R O D Y in big letters, if there is anyone out there too clueless to get on the Cluetrain, they'll still realize it'd be a waste of time and money to file a lawsuit. usually falls under the the "fair use" umbrella.


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