Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Automic Blog, Jason Bloomberg, Elizabeth White, Yeshim Deniz, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: Linux Containers

Linux Containers: Article

Who Owns Unix?

Who Owns Unix?

In response to the SCO lawsuit, Eric (with consultant Rob Landley) wrote the "OSI Position Paper on the SCO-vs.-IBM Complaint." This position paper addresses in detail SCO's claims of intellectual property ownership over Linux. The paper has been widely read and is considered by many to be the best analysis of the topic available. In short, the paper addresses the question, "Who owns Unix?".

LWM was able to catch up with Eric on the day of the Novell announcement that SCO did not own the patents or copyrights to Unix.

LWM: In a nutshell, what exactly is SCO trying to do?
esr: What they were trying to do, I think, was shake IBM down for a payoff or a buyout offer. That has blown up in their face, especially now that Novell has made a public statement that all but accuses SCO of lying about the disposition of the IP. But now they have to play this losing hand out to the end - because admitting that they knew they didn't have a real case to begin with might land their management in jail for fraud and harassment.

LWM: So tell me about the position paper you developed. Why did you and Rob Landley write it?
esr: I was trying to do two things really. One, I was trying to give IBM ammunition. Two, I knew the open source community would have to respond to SCO's attack sooner or later, and that it would be better if it was sooner - before SCO's propaganda (if any) had time to take hold.

But part of why I was upset didn't have anything to do with Linux. I'm actually an old Unix developer - back to 1982. I wasn't one of the original developers of Unix (though I've contributed code to Linux and the BSD Unixes), but I know those guys and they know me. The SCO complaint was insulting. It was SCO claiming that they owned all the code that we wrote - and then using that claim to harm Linux.

LWM: What's happening with your "No Secrets" effort?
esr: I'm trying to prove that the proprietary Unix vendors don't have any trade secrets. Right now I have enough people willing to sign affidavits about having uncontrolled read access to Unix source code that I can show there's been a pervasive failure to enforce even the minimum level of nondisclosure required to maintain trade secrecy. Thousands of people who have seen the Unix source code were never under nondisclosure. This is the kind of evidence that destroys trade-secrecy status.

If SCO continues, I'll get enough signed affidavits to prove that they have no trade secrets.

This is also an attempt to send a powerful message to potential future litigants: it's not safe to mess with the open source community because we can bite back.

LWM: And what is IBM's position on all this?
esr: You'll have to ask IBM that. I'm their ally in this, not their spokesperson.

LWM: For readers who may be unfamiliar with your work in this area, can you share some of your background with open source and Linux?
esr: I wrote the foundational paper on open source development, ran the meeting where the term "open source" was invented, and have been one of the community's principal ambassadors to the rest of the world for the last five years. I am the president of the Open Source Initiative, one of the community's two leading advocacy organizations.

LWM: What is the position of the Open Source Initiative on this issue?
esr: We believe SCO's claims are utterly without merit. In much of their complaint they seem to be, plainly and simply, lying through their teeth. We have published a detailed rebuttal at www.opensource.org/sco-vs-ibm.html. It looks even stronger than it did in light of Novell publicly announcing that they, not SCO, own the Unix patents.

LWM: So, who owns Unix?
esr: Legally, it's very unclear. Novell holds the patents. The OpenGroup owns the trademark. The copyrights are in some weird limbo - first Novell came out and said they owned them, but SCO now claims to own them under the terms of Caldera's deal with Novell and Novell is keeping mum. The one thing we do know is that the transfer of the copyrights (if any) was never recorded with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. That has interesting legal implications, and may be the reason SCO hasn't come out and made an explicit copyright-infringement claim in the lawsuit.

Ethically, OSI's position is that Unix belongs to the distributed development community that wrote it. SCO's threats broke the tacit understanding that kept us from asserting this for 30 years. It used to be that we agreed not to fuss over the fact that AT&T or Unix Systems Labs or Novell or SCO were claiming to own the code as long as they agreed not to fuss over the fact that every senior Unix developer had a technically illicit copy of the source code in his hip pocket.

Everybody took code from everybody. AT&T used Berkeley and Xenix code and got called on it during a 1993 lawsuit. Truth is, the rights picture is so tangled that nobody's theory of ownership would stand close scrutiny of the source code's history. The law of intellectual property doesn't handle this kind of situation well. The equitable thing to do would be to just give up, throw it open, and admit it belongs to the hackers.

LWM: What do you see as the potential downside risk for companies using Linux? Will SCO try to sue everybody?
esr: The risk dropped to zero last May 28 with Novell's announcements. SCO's response (http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/030528/law059_1.html) basically admitted they've got no grounds to sue anybody but IBM.

SCO have since changed their minds, but I think this is just bluster. Furthermore, the various lawyers I've talked with agree that it's just bluster. When you think you have a strong case in court, you don't fight it in the media. SCO would scare me worse of they weren't huffing and puffing.

LWM: If you were a manager in a company considering using Linux for a first project, would this lawsuit impact your decision to give Linux a try?
esr: Not at all. Ignoring the occasional FUD storm is part of the job.

LWM: In your book The Cathedral and the Bazaar you describe the Linux development process as being like a bazaar, where all kinds of people with all kinds of interests are developing different pieces. Is Linux development still that way? How has it changed?
esr: If it has changed, it has changed by becoming more conscious and better organized. I played a part in that by giving people language with which to reflect on what they're doing.

LWM: What do you think will happen with this suit? Any idea how long it might be before it becomes clear what's going to happen?
esr: They can't win, not in front of a judge with any brain cells operating - and the word on His Honor Dale Kimball is that he's a sharp guy. Timeframe? Who knows. These things can drag on for years.

LWM: How can the Linux community ensure that Linux stays free of IP claims in the future? Can there be a process instituted that ensures this doesn't happen again?
esr: See my "No Secrets" page for an example of what network activism can do (www.catb.org/~esr). I've collected nearly 100 responses, with at least 40 people willing to sign affidavits. I think we can prove that there are no trade secrets in Linux. I think we can use the same methods to turn up prior art in patents cases.

LWM: Switching gears a bit, in the IBM -v- SCO analysis on the OSI Web site (www.opensource.org/sco-vs-ibm.html), you referred to a "seismic shift" occuring right now in the software industry. Can you explain what you meant?
esr: I already have. Readers should go to www.opensource.org/sco-vs-ibm.html#seismic for the story.

LWM: Will all applications eventually be open sourced? Which kinds might not?
esr: I don't think it will be all - there are economic circumstances in which closed source makes sense, though they're not common. I think "most" is a fairly safe bet, though. I've discussed this at length in my paper "The Magic Cauldron."

LWM: What will the software industry look like in five years?
esr: A lot like the legal profession does now, I think. Independent software firms will be like law firms, partnership organizations of professionals. Other programmers will work in-house at corporations the way that corporate lawyers do now. Programmers in general will be operating from a common open source base; secrecy will be a feature mainly of legacy software.

Regarding outsourcing and offshore development - one thing you can't outsource is getting inside a customer's mind. You can't move face-to-face, person-to-person communications and design offshore. You can outsource cookie-cutter code, but I predict a lot of companies are going to discover they're paying for large portions of code that don't match their requirements.

One of the things we know is that the most effective ways of writing software involve a series of interactions - a succession of prototypes - using continuous feedback. You can't do that if your customer's in Teaneck, New Jersey, and your developers are in Bangalore.

About Eric S. Raymond
Eric S. Raymond is an observer-participant anthropologist in the Internet hacker culture. His research has helped explain the decentralized open source model of software development that has proven so effective in the evolution of the Internet. His own software projects include one of the Internet's most widely used e-mail transport programs.

More Stories By Kevin Bedell

Kevin Bedell, one of the founding editors of Linux.SYS-CON.com, writes and speaks frequently on Linux and open source. He is the director of consulting and training for Black Duck Software.

Comments (3) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
Tim Gwyther 02/26/04 10:13:15 AM EST

So who really owns Unix?

Chuck Talk 09/29/03 08:32:30 PM EDT

Unix is a trademark of the Open group, and is a set of specifications which SCO holds nothing on. Who owns UNIX? Not SCO.

Autosea 09/27/03 09:20:39 AM EDT

Unix belongs to everyone who has made contributions to it.

@ThingsExpo Stories
The 22nd International Cloud Expo | 1st DXWorld Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo, to be held June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York, NY, brings together Cloud Computing, Digital Transformation, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Machine Learning and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding busin...
Smart cities have the potential to change our lives at so many levels for citizens: less pollution, reduced parking obstacles, better health, education and more energy savings. Real-time data streaming and the Internet of Things (IoT) possess the power to turn this vision into a reality. However, most organizations today are building their data infrastructure to focus solely on addressing immediate business needs vs. a platform capable of quickly adapting emerging technologies to address future ...
Nordstrom is transforming the way that they do business and the cloud is the key to enabling speed and hyper personalized customer experiences. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ken Schow, VP of Engineering at Nordstrom, discussed some of the key learnings and common pitfalls of large enterprises moving to the cloud. This includes strategies around choosing a cloud provider(s), architecture, and lessons learned. In addition, he covered some of the best practices for structured team migration an...
No hype cycles or predictions of a gazillion things here. IoT is here. You get it. You know your business and have great ideas for a business transformation strategy. What comes next? Time to make it happen. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jay Mason, an Associate Partner of Analytics, IoT & Cybersecurity at M&S Consulting, presented a step-by-step plan to develop your technology implementation strategy. He also discussed the evaluation of communication standards and IoT messaging protocols, data...
With tough new regulations coming to Europe on data privacy in May 2018, Calligo will explain why in reality the effect is global and transforms how you consider critical data. EU GDPR fundamentally rewrites the rules for cloud, Big Data and IoT. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Adam Ryan, Vice President and General Manager EMEA at Calligo, examined the regulations and provided insight on how it affects technology, challenges the established rules and will usher in new levels of diligence arou...
In his Opening Keynote at 21st Cloud Expo, John Considine, General Manager of IBM Cloud Infrastructure, led attendees through the exciting evolution of the cloud. He looked at this major disruption from the perspective of technology, business models, and what this means for enterprises of all sizes. John Considine is General Manager of Cloud Infrastructure Services at IBM. In that role he is responsible for leading IBM’s public cloud infrastructure including strategy, development, and offering m...
In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Raju Shreewastava, founder of Big Data Trunk, provided a fun and simple way to introduce Machine Leaning to anyone and everyone. He solved a machine learning problem and demonstrated an easy way to be able to do machine learning without even coding. Raju Shreewastava is the founder of Big Data Trunk (www.BigDataTrunk.com), a Big Data Training and consulting firm with offices in the United States. He previously led the data warehouse/business intelligence and B...
Recently, REAN Cloud built a digital concierge for a North Carolina hospital that had observed that most patient call button questions were repetitive. In addition, the paper-based process used to measure patient health metrics was laborious, not in real-time and sometimes error-prone. In their session at 21st Cloud Expo, Sean Finnerty, Executive Director, Practice Lead, Health Care & Life Science at REAN Cloud, and Dr. S.P.T. Krishnan, Principal Architect at REAN Cloud, discussed how they built...
22nd International Cloud Expo, taking place June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and co-located with the 1st DXWorld Expo will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud ...
22nd International Cloud Expo, taking place June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and co-located with the 1st DXWorld Expo will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud ...
DevOps at Cloud Expo – being held June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York, NY – announces that its Call for Papers is open. Born out of proven success in agile development, cloud computing, and process automation, DevOps is a macro trend you cannot afford to miss. From showcase success stories from early adopters and web-scale businesses, DevOps is expanding to organizations of all sizes, including the world's largest enterprises – and delivering real results. Among the proven benefits,...
@DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo, taking place June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, is co-located with 22nd Cloud Expo | 1st DXWorld Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait...
Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo have announced the conference tracks for Cloud Expo 2018. Cloud Expo will be held June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, and November 6-8, 2018, at the Santa Clara Convention Center, Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation (DX) is a major focus with the introduction of DX Expo within the program. Successful transformation requires a laser focus on being data-driven and on using all the tools available that enable transformation if they plan to survive ov...
SYS-CON Events announced today that T-Mobile exhibited at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. As America's Un-carrier, T-Mobile US, Inc., is redefining the way consumers and businesses buy wireless services through leading product and service innovation. The Company's advanced nationwide 4G LTE network delivers outstanding wireless experiences to 67.4 million customers who are unwilling to compromise on qua...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cedexis will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Cedexis is the leader in data-driven enterprise global traffic management. Whether optimizing traffic through datacenters, clouds, CDNs, or any combination, Cedexis solutions drive quality and cost-effectiveness. For more information, please visit https://www.cedexis.com.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Google Cloud has been named “Keynote Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Companies come to Google Cloud to transform their businesses. Google Cloud’s comprehensive portfolio – from infrastructure to apps to devices – helps enterprises innovate faster, scale smarter, stay secure, and do more with data than ever before.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Vivint to exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st Cloud Expo, which will take place on October 31 through November 2nd 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, California. As a leading smart home technology provider, Vivint offers home security, energy management, home automation, local cloud storage, and high-speed Internet solutions to more than one million customers throughout the United States and Canada. The end result is a smart home solution that sav...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Opsani will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Opsani is the leading provider of deployment automation systems for running and scaling traditional enterprise applications on container infrastructure.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Nirmata will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Nirmata provides a comprehensive platform, for deploying, operating, and optimizing containerized applications across clouds, powered by Kubernetes. Nirmata empowers enterprise DevOps teams by fully automating the complex operations and management of application containers and its underlying ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Opsani to exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st Cloud Expo, which will take place on October 31 through November 2nd 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, California. Opsani is creating the next generation of automated continuous deployment tools designed specifically for containers. How is continuous deployment different from continuous integration and continuous delivery? CI/CD tools provide build and test. Continuous Deployment is the means by which...