Why the GPL Sinks SCO’s Copyright Infringement Claims, Even if it Owned the Copyrights

Editor’s note: This is a very long, but informative article. It’s worth the read. If you are new to the Free Software community, you need to have some understanding of the license that governs it, or at least one of the main licenses.

I’ve started to wonder if Novell or IBM has explained to SCO’s Chapter 11 Trustee Edward Cahn how the GPL works. It cuts through all the other ways SCO is bound to lose, in my view. Then, I thought: why not just explain it myself? You never know. It might prove useful to put it all in one place. So, here goes, SCO and the GPL.

As you may recall, if you’ve been around since 2003, SCO’s position on the GPL has been that while it may have distributed its code under the GPL, it didn’t mean to do it, that it never knowingly distributed Unix or Unixware code under the GPL. I’d like to briefly explain why that excuse doesn’t matter to either Novell or IBM. IBM of course has always taken the position that it hasn’t infringed any copyrights, no matter who owns them. But let’s take SCO’s words at face value, and pretend that they are true. Then how does the GPL moot their claims?

So you can try to prove me wrong, if you are so inclined, before I begin, I’ll point you to Groklaw’s permanent page on the GPL, where you can find resources to a great deal more information on all versions of the GPL. I’ll be focusing here on GPLv2, the license that Linux code is distributed under.

What SCO Said:

Here’s how then-SCO executive Chris Sontag explained SCO’s position to CNET in June of 2003:

And LinuxTag said in a statement, “Until a few weeks ago, SCO itself distributed the Linux kernel…as a member of the UnitedLinux alliance. Thus, even if SCO owns parts of the Linux kernel, it has made them into Free Software by distributing them under the GPL.”

Not so, counters SCO’s Sontag.

“The GPL requires the intentional act of the legal copyright holder to affirmatively and knowingly donate the source code to the GPL,” Sontag said. “You can’t inadvertently GPL your code.”

Continue reading at Groklaw.

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