IBM/SCO/GPL (Was: Re: (L)GPL remarks and FreeGIS licensing)

Alex Hudson home at
Sun Aug 24 12:12:29 UTC 2003

On Sun, 2003-08-24 at 11:51, Paul Tansom wrote:
> Catching up on my mail, so a bit slow to reply here, but...

Tell me about it :o) 

> I'm no legal expert and I don't know how things differ in the US, but
> surely ignorance is no defense in the eyes of the law?

Well, ignorance is actually a defence. For example, if someone cons you
into signing a document that is actually a contract for something, that
signature doesn't really mean much and you are not considered bound by
the contract.

The point I was making was that it seems to me to be different to
redistribute software and to grant a copyright licence to your own
software. The reason I think people argue the point is because with free
software, you can see what is in it, and people think SCO should have
been aware. I don't really think that matters though. They didn't give
permission for people to distribute the code, so the fact they were
effectively conned into distributing it shouldn't automatically GPL it.

I just think any other scenario would be unfair, in general, no matter
what I might think about SCO themselves.

> In SCO/Caldera's case, they had a product that had a close relationship
> to the Linux code they were/are distributing.  As such they should have
> examined to code to ensure they weren't 'giving away' anything they
> didn't want to, and if/since they didn't that is their own problem.

I don't think so. The UnixWare/Linux groups were apparently very far
apart (different continents). They purposefully kept the groups separate
so that code couldn't 'migrate' from one to the other. On that basis,
which of these groups was in a position to warn that Unix code was
getting into Linux? Neither, in my opinion.

The only people I know who regularly audit their whole code base would
be the BSD people, especially OpenBSD. As I understand it, the majority
of that auditing is done mechanically. If you expect people to audit
free software before redistribution, you effectively remove their
freedom to redistribute, because it's an almost unsatisfiable burden. It
would also be a burden that only free software would bear, since with
proprietary software you cannot see what is inside it and therefore
cannot audit it. 

If SCO had redistributed their Unix code as free-as-in-beer proprietary
closed-source software, what would happen in your scenario? Are they
still liable, even though they cannot actually see the source code and
verify it? Or, are they not liable? If they are not, then you're making
proprietary software much, much easier to deal with. Free software would
become even more distasteful.


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