The "special rights" he's referring to come into play because a) a single commercial entity, in this case Sun, holds the copyright, and b) the license used, in this case GPL, does not give other users and developers the same rights as the copyright holder. The owner can use, or allow others to use, the code in ways the GPL prohibits. This gives the owner a competitive advantage and a source of revenue that nobody else can enjoy.
Fellow ZDNet blogger Dana Blankenhorn refers to this situation as "proprietary open source".
"That's not how you build a community," says Linus, who uses a different model for the Linux kernel. "One of the things I did with Linux from very early on was when somebody sends me changes, they retain all copyright in those changes. I don’t have any more rights than anybody else," he says. "Your rights when it comes to Linux are directly what you put into it."
This does make some things harder, such as making changes to the license, he admitted. "There are rationalizations for why you have to assign copyrights to some and they may even be valid," he says, "but it does undermine the community because it means that there is a first among equals."
In related news, so far both Linus and the Free Software Foundation have declined to respond to "An Open Letter to Linus Torvalds". Released on Martin Luther King's birthday, one of the things the letter proposed was to change GPL to allow GPL and non-GPL code to be intermixed more freely. This would help level the playing field between code owners and everybody else.