Companies outside the US that use Linux now face the threat of legal action from the SCO Group, following the announcement on Wednesday that SCO's licences are available worldwide.
SCO's Linux licensing programme has proved controversial in the US since launching last year, after the company claimed Linux extensively infringed its Unix System V intellectual property. SCO, in its previous incarnation as Caldera Systems, had acquired the rights to Unix when it bought the operating-systems division from the original Santa Cruz-based SCO. Caldera Systems renamed itself SCO after the takeover, while the remains of the original SCO became Tarantella.
Many open-source and free-software advocates have contested SCO’s claims, while the company has pressed ahead with threats of legal action against American companies that use Linux. Several Linux vendors have offered their customers indemnity against legal action from SCO.
Nevertheless, SCO describes its Intellectual Property Licence for Linux as a run-time licence that "permits the use of SCO’s intellectual property, in binary form only, as contained in Linux distributions". By purchasing a SCO IP licence, SCO says, companies "avoid infringement of SCO's intellectual property and copyrights as… is currently found in Linux".
Announcing availability of the licences worldwide, Chris Sontag, senior vice president and general manager of SCOsource, which is the intellectual property licensing arm of SCO, conceded that the offer is a double-edged sword.
Companies outside the US that use Linux could already buy a licence from SCOsource under the existing licence programme running within the US. But the explicit offer of licences worldwide brings with it the implicit threat of legal action for those who do not comply.
The first lawsuits are now only weeks away, according to Sontag. "I would expect within the next few weeks we will have a number of Linux end users who we will have identified and taken legal action [against]," Sontag told ZDNet UK. "We will probably see that ramping up over time."
Sontag said the lawsuits would be brought in various locations around the world. "We are going to start vigorously enforcing IP rights." Sontag said there is a possibility that the first tranche of lawsuits could include UK companies, but it was likely to focus on companies maintaining large Linux deployments with whom SCOsource has already had "unsuccessful" discussions. These are likely to be high-profile companies, according to sources.