SCO Targets SGI in Linux Fight

Move over, IBM—you've got company in lawsuits over disputed code

Move over Big Blue, you’ve got company. The SCO Group last week targeted Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) in its fight over Linux.

In a letter that SCO sent to SGI's legal department in mid-August—made public last week—SCO CEO Darl McBride charged that SGI had “subjected our source code to unrestricted disclosure, unauthorized transfer and disposition, and unauthorized use and copying."

At issue were SGI’s contributions to Linux, which SCO says violate a 1986 licensing agreement that the company originally entered into with AT&T Corp., but which was subsequently transferred to SCO.

In a now-familiar move, SCO threatened to revoke SGI’s Unix license by October 14th if the Unix stalwart doesn’t redress the alleged violations.

SCO has said that if it revokes the Unix license, SGI will have to stop shipping its Irix operating system. Analysts—citing SCO’s revocation of IBM’s Unix license—say there’s a slim chance that will happen. “Well, they revoked IBM’s [Unix] license and that hasn’t stopped them from shipping AIX,” notes Gordon Haff, a senior analyst with consultancy Illuminata.

Haff notes, however, that after the deadline for “compliance” came and went with nary a response from IBM, SCO trebled the amount of damages that it sought in its lawsuit (from $1 billion to $3 billion). At this point, SCO has not said that SGI will become a target of litigation, however.

Analysts have long expected SCO to take action of some kind against SGI. After all, says Haff, SCO representatives showed Illuminata snippets of Linux code—bearing SGI copyrights—several months ago. Moreover, SCO went public with some of this evidence during a presentation at SCO Forum, held in late August in Las Vegas. Show attendees were treated to a slideshow presentation of disputed Linux code, including a kernel memory allocation routine that bore an SGI copyright.

The only problem, say analysts and Open Source advocates, is that the code in question may have been legitimately transferred to Linux—not under the GNU General Public License (GPL), but instead under a BSD license. “The same code is available under the BSD license … in code copyrighted by the University [of California],” wrote Open Source advocate Bruce Perens in an online discussion thread (see

Moreover, Caldera itself appears to have open-sourced some of the disputed code last year under a BSD-like license that doesn’t explicitly prohibit commercial usage (see “Certainly large areas of other code in current SCO product are also part of these older products and would be likewise covered,” Haff observes.

As Haff notes, SCO has since downplayed some of its claims. Instead, the embattled vendor is focusing on SGI’s XFS contributions to Linux (see XFS is a 64-bit journaling file system that supports extremely large disk capacities—up to 9 exabytes—along with rapid recovery from system or disk failures. In a statement released last week, SCO said that it had charged SGI with violating its licensing agreement with SCO “by making Unix derivative code contributions (specifically XFS) to Linux.”

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About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.