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Is free software "a threat to our capitalist system ... and national security"?

So writes the CEO of SCO Computing, Darl McBride, in a letter to the US Congress. He bases his case on the strength of recent legislation such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and court rulings by the current ultraright US Supreme Court that have been almost universally reviled among the ranks of online civil libertarians.
Linux Penguin logo
Linux Penguin logo

In a truly over-the-top letter, Darl McBride, the CEO of SCO Computing, which holds an ancient copyright on the "Unix" brand name bought from ATT, where this computer operating system was first developed in the 1970s and early 80s, has declared all-out war on free software, declaring the Linux operating system "a threat to our nation's capitalist system...and national security." McBride objects to what he claims is the inclusion of "proprietary code" for this original operating system in the current Linux system.

His outrageous claims have been vigorously disputed by the free and open source software communities. But the conflict brings into sharp focus the increasing audacity of the US political ultraright, and its attempts to expand its political, economic, and ideological power over broader and broader swathes of public discourse nationally and internationally. In the Supreme Court case, Eldred vs. Ashcroft, cited by McBride in his letter to Congress, the Court rejected claims by plaintiffs that the plain wording of the Constitution's grant to Congress, in Article I, Section 8, required the Court's consideration of the public interest served by patents and copyrights. The Constitution states there that Congress shall have the power to "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." The Court ruled that no independent consideration of this public purpose need be given by the Court, and that it suffices to interpret any act of Congress that enriches copyright holders to suffice in fulfilliing this public purpose. The Court's majority went further still, sanctifying private profit as being equivalent to the public interest. Compare and contrast the dissenting opinion (by Justices Stevens and Breyer), to the majority opinion:

The clause does not exist "to provide a special private benefit,"... but to "stimulate artistic creativity for the general public good.... The "reward" is a means, not an end.

Whereas the majority rebutted the dissenters thus:

Justice Stevens' characterization of reward to the author as "a secondary consideration" of copyright law... understates the relationship between such rerwards and the "Progress of Science." As we have explained, "[t]he economic philosophy behind the [Copyright [C]lause ...is the conviction that encouragement of individual effort by personal gain is the best way to advance public welfare through the talents of authors and inventors."...Accordingly, "copyright law celebrates (emphasis in original) the profit motive, recognizing that the incentive to profit from the exploitation of copyrights will redound to the public benefit by resulting in the proliferation of knowledge.... The profit motive is the engine that ensures the progress of science."

All this from one clause, which never even mentions private profits at all, but only the serving of a public purpose, "the advancement of the useful arts and sciences"! One is tempted to remind the Court majority of another famous dissent made by Justice Holmes to one of the more outrageous 19th century Gilded Age rulings of the Court, when it struck down state laws on hours and working conditions as unconstitutional violations of "freedom of contract": "[The Constitution] does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer's Social Statics" (Spencer was an ultraliberal--what we would now call a "neoliberal"--19th century proponent of unrestricted laissez faire capitalism and Social Darwinism.)

Of course, it is hardly necessary to remind readers here that this is the same Court majority (plus 2) that issued the infamous ruling of December 12, 2000, effectively appointing an unelected minority candidate President of the United States.

The SCO chairman's letter comes on the heels of an ongoing lawsuit seeking to force IBM (and, by extension, all other Linux users) to pay SCO royalties for supposed SCO-propietary source code contained in Linux (they are only asking for the modest sum of $800(!) dollars per user license.) Few observers give SCO good odds of prevailing in their ambitious aims. However, it is clear they have their fingers to the political winds, and are aiming to capitalize for all its worth on the current repressive, ultra-rightwing miasma wafting over the US political economy. Activists have called for a boycott against them, in addition to other creative actions. Whatever the outcome of this battle, it bears close watching, as it will undoubtedly be a bellwether of further struggles to come at the nexus of civil liberties, information technology, corporate dominance, and rightwing ideological warfare.


The end of Capitalism? 23.Jan.2004 20:35

Tom

Can someone more computer literate than I please explain just what proprietary code is present in current Linux distributions? I have tried for years to make Linux work for me-- and it does, to a limited degree-- but it is very difficult. I find myself returning to Windows every time when I want to get any real work done.

Now I know that with incredible energy inputs I could probably get Linux to do what I need-- but for $100 I can get an operating system that works well, is easy to use and is portable. I think Microsoft has won except in the niche application or where specific purposes applications are tuned to run really fast under some other operating system.

But the main question is, what is the SCO claim? What is supposed to be in Linux that I am supposed to pay for? And why on earth would I pay them $800 when I only have to pay the real elephant in the living room $100?

not sure what your comment has to do with article 23.Jan.2004 20:52

Antonin Dvorak

Tom:
I don't know what you're looking to get here. Tech support? There are better places for that. Try, for starters, a google search with keywords related to the problems you are having:  http://www.google.com
As far as the general utility of Linux vs. Windows, this depends on your application. If you are trying to do, say, multimedia with Windows proprietary codecs, yes, you may have a bitch of a time. Linux is not the best tool for this. But if you are, for instance, trying to run a webserver, a mail server, or any other multi-user, multi-tasking application, you will find Linux very well suited to your purposes, and at an infinitesimal fraction of the cost of Windows.

In any case, I'd rather talk more about the threat posed by the current rightwing assault on civil liberties here, and how it unites both powerful government and private interests, with copyright law one important manifestation of this. Please let's respect the original thrust of this article and not veer wildly off-topic.

to tom 23.Jan.2004 23:56

Jeff

so tom,
your question is totally valid.

What proprietary code is in linux?

The thing is SCO has been attempting to make the case that the linux kernel contains some system V (traditional Unix) derived code.

Very small snippets have been stumbled upon and fixed promptly from time to time. But the strange is the claim SCO is making and the examples they have provided hold no water. Most of the code snippets have been in bact from the Berkeley version of unix which has been cleared from any IP (intelectual Property) issues relating to AT&T Unix and hence SCO.

i will not address the rest of you comment now except to say:
Use tools that work, but be aware of the security and privacy implications of using software with back doors and restrictive licences.

I also encourage folks to read the fine print to the licence that comes with Win XP SP1. basically you give Microsoft equal rights to all of the files stored on your computer.

SCO Still Has An Office in Santa Cruz 24.Jan.2004 02:20

~Bradley

SCO Corporate Contact Information
 http://www.caldera.com/worldwide/us.html

Would it help to generate some phone calls (or perhaps visits) to the Santa Cruz Branch? Or any branch for that matter? Can someone suggest some key talking points?

The SCO Group Corporate Headquarters
355 South 520 West
Suite 100
Lindon, UT 84042-1911
Phone: (801) 765-4999
Fax: (801) 852-9088

Media Relations Contact
Blake Stowell
Director, Corporate Communications
 bstowell@sco.com
(801) 932-5703

Santa Cruz Office
400 Encinal Street
Santa Cruz, CA
95061-1880
Voice: (831) 427-7000
Fax General: (831) 427-7001

Corporate Agency
Avi Dines
Schwartz Communications
 sco@schwartz-pr.com
Voice: (781) 684-0770

Murray Hill Office
430 Mountain Ave., Third Floor
Murray Hill, NJ 07974-0004
Voice: (908) 790-2200
Fax: (908) 790-2426

SCO Intellectual Property License for Linux (From the SCO website.......)
 http://www.sco.com/scosource/linuxlicense.html

Linux to surpass Unix 'within five years' - Caldera
 http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/4/21187.html

It appears that SCO had a tradtion of holding their annual forum at UC Santa Cruz, but in 2003 they had it in Las Vegas...

SCO 2003 Forum:
 http://www.sco.com/2003forum

History of The SCO Group
 http://www.sco.com/company/history.html

1987 SCO hosts the first SCO Forum conference (called that year "The SCO XENIX 386 Developer Conference"). This unique educational conference for the international UNIX systems community is held each summer on the redwood-forested campus of the University of California at Santa Cruz, overlooking Monterey Bay.

UC Santa Cruz Announcement from 1999 Re: SCO Forum
 http://www.ucsc.edu/news_events/messages/99-00/sco.08-10.htm

Dear Campus Community:

The Jack Baskin School of Engineering is the campus sponsor for this year's SCO Forum, "The New Millennium Now!" The Forum, currently celebrating its thirteenth year, is a conference that brings to our campus several thousand software, engineering and industry leaders from all levels of the server business.

ideas for dealing with SCO and similar STINKERS 24.Jan.2004 03:03

Aeschylous

I'm not sure if they have ears for listening to your "talking points." However, I'm willing to bet that they still have NOSES. Maybe this will stimulate creative ideas...

BTW: SCO house brands SUCK DONKEY D*CKS 24.Jan.2004 03:12

Aeschylous (a software engineering professional)

Also, I thought I should just note, I've had the misfortune to have to actually use their shit professionally, both UnixWare and SVR4. I had to port software to them, as well as configure and install them. My verdict:

They suck. Totally and irredeemably. Comparing their so-called OSes to linux is like comparing a tinker toy to a finely tuned machine.

Teaching your neighbors 24.Jan.2004 04:34

z

Maybe some Linux savvy folks should do a public workshop or two to help people like those who posted above who have trouble with Linux. That might help squeeze that other Corporate OS down the retail drain.

In Europe, everyone is turning away from Microsoft: government, universities, individuals, etc.

Just a thought on the Supremes 24.Jan.2004 09:59

Chris

That profit to be understood as a right to clean air for merely breathing takes away all the moral accountability from the one that breathes. Furthermore, it implies that government will properly regulate that behavior. Profit should never be an accepted incentive for the common good. Wanting to improve the common good just for the sake of improving should be the only motive.

I say this not as a sanctimonious twit but for the practical consideration that if profit is equal or better than the heart then it is only a matter of time that one will sincerely conclude that money is the answer to all our problems.

If the heart is outlawed (i.e., economic laws of supply and demand), then only outlaws will have heart.

End of Capitalism 2 24.Jan.2004 13:05

Tom

Thanks Jeff and z. And with apology to Antonin--

I didn't mean to go off on a wild tangent, I was trying to figure out what the problem is, since although I am not stupid, I don't know much about computer operating systems.

In general, I agree-- this business of Intellectual Property is the death knell of a robust, creative society, and the camel's nose under the tent (to be mixiing metaphors) of a class of parasites (ip lawyers and insurance people and CEO's) to suck the remaining life out of the body politic.

My field is medicine-- where people have tried to patent surgical procedures (formerly, advancements in medicine were simply added to the common good) and require licensing fees. And of course we all know (less than we should) about bio-engineered plants and Frankenfoods-- the multinationals want to "own" the genome of plants and animals!!

So obviously, something like a computer operating system that was built up over time by many different people should not be allowed to be "owned" by anyone-- not even Bill Gates. But the Windows horse is out of the barn-- I agree with AD that it mustn't happen again.

My question was innocent-- what, exactly, is the SCO claim? Jeff's answer was helpful.

My comment was that much as I would like to use Linux (or some other non-proprietary operating system) it is not easy, and there is only so much time and energy in a day-- there are other concerns that demand attention.

I like z's idea-- continue to spread linux in the less-than-geek population so we can be of some help in pushing it ahead (and eventually making Windows irrelevant.)

Microsoft 24.Jan.2004 14:34

m

I think it's really important to note that at this point a large amount of SCO's revenue is coming from microsoft and HP. This is coming in the form of purchased Unix licensess. HP is using the licensess to indemnifie it's Linux customers from these suits and defend it's Unix market. I don't think Microsoft has any legitimate need for them. Microsoft is basicly just sending SCO lots of money. Because it's suposidly for services it recives little attention. I don't know how much money.

In answer to someone above who asks why SCO would want $700 for something that you can get for $100(windows). This is because there is really not much in common between Linux and Windows for the home user. Linux is a server operating system. It's used all over the world to run email web and file servers. Google and Amazon.com use it as examples. The price for server operating systems from commercial vendors is very much higher than operating systems for home computers. These operating systems are capible of doing much more and are sold in smaller numbers. Microsoft is not dominant in this market at the moment. They have a fraction of it while the majority is Linux/Unix. The SCO suit attempts to maintain the UNIX market which has been loosing ground to Linux lately. It also attempts to increase microsofts competitiveness in the server market. This law suit and these issues don't directly effect most people and their computers. The indirect effects though are staggering. This law suit effects the future of the internet and the freedom to exchange ideas and information very directly.

I use Linux at home but it is at this point primarily a server operating system. Most computer users will not see the benifits of this. They will instead notice the technical complexity and inconsistant interface. But people should remember that the easist way to get information is often not the best. Linux is like the internet at large and indymedia for example where as Windows is like network tv. It might be easier to get your information from a television but you pay a heavy price in quality.

thanks! 25.Jan.2004 01:04

the curious

Thanks everybody for your thoughtful comments that bring out the finer points and incongruities of what is being said here with SCO and Linux etc.

Not a Linux user (yet)
Not completely tech savvy

but I highly support the idea of freeware and open source in principle.

FYI in Portland Oregon there is actually a computer nonprofit group that does offer FREE computers loaded with Linux and training sessions to learn how to use them to people - low-income, fellow nonprofits and, I think, teachers.

Their name is Free Geek and they rock in just the way that "z" suggested people should.  http://www.freegeek.org

thanks! 25.Jan.2004 01:15

the curious

Thanks everybody for your thoughtful comments that bring out the finer points and incongruities of what is being said here with SCO and Linux etc.

Not a Linux user (yet)
Not completely tech savvy

but I highly support the idea of freeware and open source in principle.

FYI in Portland Oregon there is actually a computer nonprofit group that does offer FREE computers loaded with Linux and training sessions to learn how to use them to people - low-income, fellow nonprofits and, I think, teachers.

Their name is Free Geek and they rock in just the way that "z" suggested people should.  http://www.freegeek.org

Linux, Unix and others ... 25.Jan.2004 01:49

Frenchy

Hi everyone, I hope you will understand my poor english (I am another one of these "surrender cheese eating monkeys).

About linux :
Linux is just another Unix clone (a good one). The part of the OS attacked by SCO is the kernel which is owned by Linus Torvald. The majority of the other components are owned by the free software foundation and are issued under the GNU GPL licence.
SCO is claiming property for some code "stolen" from the AT&T unix (system V) but the most important part of the linux kernel (the TCP/IP stack) comes from the BSD version of unix (which is free and open source).
The FSF has its own kernel to, it's called Hurd and it can be found on the Debian web site.
If you are looking for a "user friendly" linux try RedHat or Mandrake.

Other unix clones :
There is 3 other unix clones, much older and mature than linux, that you can find on the net for free, they are OpenBSD, FreeBSD and NetBSD. These ones can't be attacked by SCO as they all are children of the BSD unix.

My own conclusions on this SCO thing :
SCO is loosing a lot of money because of poor managerial decisions but the company would not accept its own failure. So it tries to blame it on someone else (linux) and make some money at the same time. This will not work as huge companies like IBM are on linux's side.
This reminds me of the president of a country who went to war against a tiny dictatorship just to hide the failure of his security and economical management (like the Jacksons use to say : Don't blame it on the boogy).

PLUG 25.Jan.2004 01:50

Local linux resources

There is also the Portland Linux Unix Group or PLUG:
 http://www.pdxlinux.org/
They put together a clinic and sometimes install fests. They also have a high traffic mailing list. These are mostly technical people in my experiance.

Buy the way.... FreeGeek does not offer free computers. FreeGeek recycles computers that are being thrown out. Part of how they do this is rebuilding them. People can volenteer at freegeek and get a computer after helping rebuilding and recycleing for a while. Some organizations may also be given a computer depending on how many working computers FreeGeek has on hand. But please don't go to FreeGeek and ask for your free computer. That's not how it works. You go to FreeGeek and sign up to volenteer, then you wait for them to contact you, then you volenteer, then you get a computer.

OS X 25.Jan.2004 12:08

Mac user

I understand that Mac operating systems OS 10.2.x (jaguar) and 10.3.x (panther) are Unix based.

Are there intellectual property liabilities associated with this, or does Apple leave a brown paper bag filled with unmarked bills at the SCO warehouse backdoor at the end of each month?

Fuck SCO 27.Jan.2004 01:23

YO

SCO UNIX is a piece of shit.

The whole thing is just a SCO scam to become microshits pitbull for lots of cash. As far as proprietary code goes, I've tried to find out but so far the only thing I can figure out is the the letters NIX are in both UNIX and Linux.

To me thier attitude towards the open source movement is akin to a church burning down and a community banding together to rebuild the church, only to be voraciously sued by some big contractor, because they didn't get to build the church at some outrageous price (and thier workers were all stupid sloppy drunks).

I suggest people boycott SCO and ALL of thier "strategic partners".

According to thier website at:  http://www.caldera.com/company/partners/ looks like these are thier major partners:

Computer Associates -  http://www.ca.com
Fujitsu-Siemens Computers
Hewlett Packard
Intel
Oracle
Progress Software Corporation -  http://www.progress.com

You can look up thier other partners in your hometown at:
 http://wdb1.sco.com/sdir_web/owa/ptrLocator.search

Boycott them too. Fuck them to hell.

Well, at least it looks like there's a new worm coming out of Russia thats attacking SCO as we speak. Neato:  http://www.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,4057,8507028%255E15306,00.html

Also, fresh off the press, The Governement of Australia has decided NOT to pay the $285-$999 that SCO is asking of them.
Read here:  link to australianit.news.com.au

I'll bet that Microshit set the prices for them. Oh, look how much you can save by using our stupid fucked up piece of shit OS! Better switch now you uncooperative governements, we want our billions...
Scumbag Extraordinaire Darl McBride
Scumbag Extraordinaire Darl McBride

Pengy be mad 27.Jan.2004 09:39

HMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM


Todays Seattle-PI 27.Jan.2004 16:55

Microsoft Bob

"Leading companies and third-party analysts confirm it: Windows has a lower total cost of ownership and outperforms Linux."
-- Seattle PI article

Article: "Studies on Linux help their patron: Microsoft"
 link to seattlepi.nwsource.com

Pretty funny stuff, right from the mouth of our favorite 800 billion dollar gorilla.

I can tell you right now, since I switched to Linux the day after I quit my Microsoft job years ago, I've had nothing but good times. At Microsoft Product Support I was trained to, as they put it, "deflect the customer". Never worked in a place where I would see people quitting thier jobs by running out the door like a chicken with thier head chopped off, screaming some crazy nonsense. I hear they shipped all those jobs to India or something though. Feel sorry for India.

wweek article 20.Mar.2004 22:29

ouijongbu cody@gtyh.ath.cx

hey, did anyone read that article a few weeks (months) back in the willamette week? it was all about linux and open source, it was a great article for anyone new to the community...

but anyway, i think the best argrument for why open source and the gnu gpl works is Free Geek. These people not only recycle old computers instead of shipping them off to third world countries, they also provide low cost computers to low income families and non profit organizations. They use the gnu/linux os on all there computers. This allows them to keep costs down, while still providing working computers with internet and writing capabilities to people who need them.

Also, my high school is starting the switch to linux, it is going to save us a ton of money that can be used for better technology and all in all a better education...now, mr Darl McBride, how is THAT bad for our country?