In a courtroom in Salt Lake City yesterday, concluding a three week trial, a jury ruled unanimously that copyrights for UNIX code are held by Novell, not The SCO Group. After a seven year dispute, this ruling stands as an important, if ostensibly obvious and overdue to many, decision in support of free and open-source practices. SCO originally charged that Linux, a paragon of free and open-source collaboration, infringed on the copyrights for Unix, which they claimed to own.
In 1991 Linus Torvalds started developing Linux, a free and open-source type of operating system based on the the GNU General Public License created two years before by Richard Stallman. GPL follows a kind of pay-it-forward philosophy called copyleft which maintains that a work may be used, modified and redistributed as long as the same rights are available in the resulting works.
Since then, such free (“..as in speech, not free beer” –Stallman) software has spread far beyond any esoteric programming communities. As Yochai Benkler stated in The Wealth of Networks, “opensource and its wide adoption in the business and bureaucratic mainstream allowed free software to emerge from the fringes of the software world”. As he also mentioned, companies like Google, Amazon, IBM, and Hewlett Packard have come to depend on Linux and actually participate in the growth of free software.
This major, mainstream reliance on and trust in free and open-source software has not just allowed it to emerge from the fringes, but has also defended and supported it, as in the recently ended seven year fight between Novell and SCO. In the Salt Lake Tribune, Jason Hall, a founder of the Utah Open Source Foundation, said this about the verdict, “There’s actually large enterprises now that have a strong stance in the matter and are willing to stand up for the rights of the enterprises themselves but also for the community as a whole.”
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The Black Night scene from Monty Python and The Holy Grail seems to be a recurring analogy in the discussion about The SCO Group’s continued efforts.