SCO, Novell: 2004's Calling, They Want Their Legal Drama Back

It's the Lawsuit That Would Not Die, and maybe we needn't care.

This Monday, the trial between SCO and Novell officially starts.

I know, right? I mean, c'mon, admit it... you thought this one was over, didn't you? But no, the legal battle royale between SCO, Novell, and IBM finally gets off the ground with a real jury trial on Monday in US District Court in Utah.

It's easy for a layman like me to think this one was all over but the crying, but no--even though SCO went into bankruptcy in 2007 thanks to an initial summary judgment in the preliminary hearings--the company is still fighting for its claim to the UNIX copyrights.

To sum up, in case you've been off the grid for the last seven years: first, you are reading a blog, on what you might know as the World Wide Web. It's kind of like Gopher, though with more pictures.

Whoops, too far back. Though it seems like just barely...

In March 2003, SCO sues IBM for giving up trade secrets. IBM sues back, on the basis they believe SCO is falsely accusing them. Later that year, Red Hat sues SCO to get them to clam up.

In 2004, SCO amends its IBM suit to include copyright infringement, and proceeds to start their new business of Suing Everybody, beginning with AutoZone and DaimerChrysler. Meanwhile, after Novell starts noising around that they own the UNIX copyrights, not SCO, SCO sues Novell for slander of title.

At this point, all the other cases, including SCO v. IBM, get put on hold until the issue of who owns UNIX can get resolved. After three years of legal positioning, Judge David Kimball rules that SCO didn't own the rights to UNIX. The next year, an appeals court ruling reverses part of that decision, and sends the SCO v. Novell case back to trial.

Which, after a long set of positioning maneuvers, brings us here: seven years to the month that SCO started this off with their claims against IBM. For more details, see Groklaw. All of it.

This has gone from a source of blinding-hot rage for the Linux community, which essentially found itself accused of stealing intellectual property in 2003, to a major annoyance, to a minor one, to the state of mild curiosity we find ourselves in today.

In truth, the trial, which is expected to last three weeks or so, holds only marginal interest for me. Here's why.

Say SCO wins this one in front of a jury of its peers. That means, basically, they own the rights to UNIX, and therefore they can proceed to sue anyone they think may be infringing on those rights. All the SCO v. everyone cases get re-started, and now they have to prove that all of these defendants have crossed the legal line.

That's a big, big hurdle, because essentially SCO is going to have to prove (finally) that IBM essentially lifted code from UNIX and put it in Linux. And, that, friends, is really the issue the Linux community would like resolved, once and for all, out in the open.

Unfortunately, I suspect this open resolution will not happen. SCO's claims about UNIX are ambiguous at best, and if they lose this case, then all the others will fall like houses of cards. Then there will be no proof of what the Linux community has known for quite some time: there is no UNIX code in Linux.

It won't be the end of the world, granted. Seeing SCO actually fade into the sunset will be a great source of (very delayed) satisfaction for Linux fans, since now we'll only have to contend with vague, unsubstantiated infringement innuendo from Microsoft.

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