Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, ManageEngine IT Matters, Liz McMillan, Greg Schulz

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 19th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Digital Transformation, Microservices 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 business opportuni...
IoT is rapidly changing the way enterprises are using data to improve business decision-making. In order to derive business value, organizations must unlock insights from the data gathered and then act on these. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Eric Hoffman, Vice President at EastBanc Technologies, and Peter Shashkin, Head of Development Department at EastBanc Technologies, discussed how one organization leveraged IoT, cloud technology and data analysis to improve customer experiences and effi...
The Internet of Things will challenge the status quo of how IT and development organizations operate. Or will it? Certainly the fog layer of IoT requires special insights about data ontology, security and transactional integrity. But the developmental challenges are the same: People, Process and Platform. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Craig Sproule, CEO of Metavine, demonstrated how to move beyond today's coding paradigm and shared the must-have mindsets for removing complexity from the develo...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MangoApps will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MangoApps provides modern company intranets and team collaboration software, allowing workers to stay connected and productive from anywhere in the world and from any device.
The IETF draft standard for M2M certificates is a security solution specifically designed for the demanding needs of IoT/M2M applications. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Brian Romansky, VP of Strategic Technology at TrustPoint Innovation, explained how M2M certificates can efficiently enable confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity on highly constrained devices.
“delaPlex Software provides software outsourcing services. We have a hybrid model where we have onshore developers and project managers that we can place anywhere in the U.S. or in Europe,” explained Manish Sachdeva, CEO at delaPlex Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
The IoT is changing the way enterprises conduct business. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Eric Hoffman, Vice President at EastBanc Technologies, discussed how businesses can gain an edge over competitors by empowering consumers to take control through IoT. He cited examples such as a Washington, D.C.-based sports club that leveraged IoT and the cloud to develop a comprehensive booking system. He also highlighted how IoT can revitalize and restore outdated business models, making them profitable ...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with the 19th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world and ThingsExpo Silicon Valley Call for Papers is now open.
We all know the latest numbers: Gartner, Inc. forecasts that 6.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2016, up 30 percent from last year, and will reach 20.8 billion by 2020. We're rapidly approaching a data production of 40 zettabytes a day – more than we can every physically store, and exabytes and yottabytes are just around the corner. For many that’s a good sign, as data has been proven to equal money – IF it’s ingested, integrated, and analyzed fast enough. Without real-ti...
SYS-CON Events announced today that 910Telecom will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Housed in the classic Denver Gas & Electric Building, 910 15th St., 910Telecom is a carrier-neutral telecom hotel located in the heart of Denver. Adjacent to CenturyLink, AT&T, and Denver Main, 910Telecom offers connectivity to all major carriers, Internet service providers, Internet backbones and ...
Big Data, cloud, analytics, contextual information, wearable tech, sensors, mobility, and WebRTC: together, these advances have created a perfect storm of technologies that are disrupting and transforming classic communications models and ecosystems. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Erik Perotti, Senior Manager of New Ventures on Plantronics’ Innovation team, provided an overview of this technological shift, including associated business and consumer communications impacts, and opportunities it ...
You think you know what’s in your data. But do you? Most organizations are now aware of the business intelligence represented by their data. Data science stands to take this to a level you never thought of – literally. The techniques of data science, when used with the capabilities of Big Data technologies, can make connections you had not yet imagined, helping you discover new insights and ask new questions of your data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sarbjit Sarkaria, data science team lead ...
WebRTC is bringing significant change to the communications landscape that will bridge the worlds of web and telephony, making the Internet the new standard for communications. Cloud9 took the road less traveled and used WebRTC to create a downloadable enterprise-grade communications platform that is changing the communication dynamic in the financial sector. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Leo Papadopoulos, CTO of Cloud9, discussed the importance of WebRTC and how it enables companies to focus...
ReadyTalk has expanded the capabilities of the FoxDen collaboration platform announced late last year to include FoxDen Connect, an in-room video collaboration experience that launches with a single touch. With FoxDen Connect, users can now not only engage in HD video conferencing between iOS and Android mobile devices or Chrome browsers, but also set up in-person meeting rooms for video interactions. A host’s mobile device automatically recognizes the presence of a meeting room via beacon tech...
Manufacturers are embracing the Industrial Internet the same way consumers are leveraging Fitbits – to improve overall health and wellness. Both can provide consistent measurement, visibility, and suggest performance improvements customized to help reach goals. Fitbit users can view real-time data and make adjustments to increase their activity. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mark Bernardo Professional Services Leader, Americas, at GE Digital, discussed how leveraging the Industrial Internet a...
On Dice.com, the number of job postings asking for skill in Amazon Web Services increased 76 percent between June 2015 and June 2016. Salesforce.com saw its own skill mentions increase 37 percent, while DevOps and Cloud rose 35 percent and 28 percent, respectively. Even as they expand their presence in the cloud, companies are also looking for tech professionals who can manage projects, crunch data, and figure out how to make systems run more autonomously. Mentions of ‘data science’ as a skill ...
IoT generates lots of temporal data. But how do you unlock its value? You need to discover patterns that are repeatable in vast quantities of data, understand their meaning, and implement scalable monitoring across multiple data streams in order to monetize the discoveries and insights. Motif discovery and deep learning platforms are emerging to visualize sensor data, to search for patterns and to build application that can monitor real time streams efficiently. In his session at @ThingsExpo, ...
"delaPlex is a software development company. We do team-based outsourcing development," explained Mark Rivers, COO and Co-founder of delaPlex Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
Amazon has gradually rolled out parts of its IoT offerings in the last year, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to optimizing their back-end AWS offerings, Amazon is laying the ground work to be a major force in IoT – especially in the connected home and office. Amazon is extending its reach by building on its dominant Cloud IoT platform, its Dash Button strategy, recently announced Replenishment Services, the Echo/Alexa voice recognition control platform, the 6-7 strategic...
SYS-CON Events announced today that LeaseWeb USA, a cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. LeaseWeb is one of the world's largest hosting brands. The company helps customers define, develop and deploy IT infrastructure tailored to their exact business needs, by combining various kinds cloud solutions.