Linux Follies Update


Lawrence Lessig drops everything he is doing and eviscerates the latest claim from SCO that Linux rips off their Unix. Lessig notes that SCO is basically saying that open source is unconstitutional (?!) because copyright holders are supposed to try and maximize their profits, presumably with a very restrictive licensing regime.

Lessig finds this downright silly:

Does Bill Gates violate the constitution when, instead of devoting $20b of his own money to making more "profit," he decides instead to use the money to save millions of lives in Africa?…

… But more fundamentally, where is there any legal authority anywhere for the claim that the only constitutional way a copyright might be granted is if it is granted to people who choose to sell or license for money the work they have created? Answer: No where. There is no such authority, anywhere. It is, like most of the SCO suit, simply made up.

If this case were a Little League game, the skunk rule would be invoked and everyone would go home.

NEXT: Everything Old is New Again

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  1. What horrid, infantile reasoning. SCO would have no progress at all except that which is patented and catalogued by Congress. Open Source/GPL is at the consent of the creator and a person’s intellectual property is his or hers to disseminate in any manner they deem appropriate. Neither excludes the other.

  2. to be clear I was talking about SCO’s letter, not Lessigs bit.

  3. In early 2000 I went for some Linux courses at RedHat’s HQ in Durham, NC. This was right before the true horror of the dot.bomb had set in and everyone at Redhat was still really glib about their product and their stock price.

    They really thought that they could unseat Microsoft… and that soon everyone would be using RedHat on their PCs instead of Windows… how naive we were.

    During class we learned about the history of Linux – how it was based on 1970s Unix technology and was basically reverse engineered from Unix.

    Having worked with both systems as a systems/network administrator they are in almost every way copies of each other.

    So… the SCO claim is a little sketchy, but the underlying claim could be solid. It’s almost like Linux plagerizes Unix.

    Anyway – none of this matters now a days becuase we’ve seen Linux as a viable alternative for normal users come out still born. Why anyone would think that 1970s server technology would make a good platform for a home PC is beyond me…

  4. SCO needs to play the board game “RISK” against my girlfriend and her cousin.

    A week or two ago we played a 6 person game. 3 ladies, 3 gentlemen.

    One of the ladies was pretty much clueless, so she was quickly defeated after attacking my girlfriend’s territory (Europe, widely believed to be one of the most vulnerable territories on the map).

    The fun started when my girlfriend and her cousin decided not to attack each other and proceeded to “crush the men” by springboarding from Africa, up through South America, and conquering the US.

    I was working on a foothold in Asia – but it didn’t hold (though I had North America for half a turn).

    Eventually the ladies won by deciding that they would both be winners by refusing to fight.

    So it would seem that the SCO cries are comparable to those of the other guys who lost.

    I didn’t think it was unfair – but I did question the point of playing the game at all.

    If we all agree not to compete, that’s not much of a game.

    So is Lessig suggesting a similar strategy for companies? Where they refuse to compete with each other – a la the major US cable and phone companies?

  5. “Why anyone would think that 1970s server technology would make a good platform for a home PC is beyond me…”

    Steve Jobs thought so:


  6. Steve Jobs thought so

    I regard Will’s point as proven.

  7. Will, above, states “Having worked with both systems as a systems/network administrator they are in almost every way copies of each other.” and “It’s almost like Linux plagerizes Unix.”

    Not quite true. Linux has the same user and software interfaces (commands and APIs) as UNIX, meaning that the little black boxes of the software work roughly the same way for users and developers. However, the guts of the software inside those little black boxes is very different. The code used to drive linux is, for the most part, completely original. Therefore, it BEHAVES the same way as UNIX, but internally, it works very differently.

    It is reverse engineered, in the same way Compaq’s original IBM-Compatible computers were reverse-engineered from IBM computers. And this reverse-engineering is perfectly legal.

    Not quite all of the code is completely original to Linux, however. IBM, Sun, and SGI have all contributed code for various bits of software functionality to Linux based on their own UNIX-related operating systems. SCO’s original claim, which may or may not have merit, is that IBM illegally contributed code for which SCO held the rights, and sued IBM for breach of contract.

    This may or may not be true. Certainly, the only bits of code that SCO has shown which they claim is infringing have been proven to be non-infringing.

    But their current series of diatribes against the GPL (GNU Public License) are laughable.

    Oh, and for a desktop OS for Mom & Pop based on a 1970s server look at Mac OSX (based on UNIX) or Windows XP (based more loosely on VMS).

  8. Will,

    Linux is working well enough in Asia; that it now dominates in such countries as Thailand should be some cause for concern. In fact, the Thai government a few years ago tried to strike a deal with M$ as a means to get cheaper software for the public school computers they were about to heavily invest in; M$ wouldn’t play with them. So the Thai government said “screw you” and adopted Linux instead; within a year, M$ was begging to sell their incarnations of Winblows for $30 a copy.

  9. SCO just had their tochis handed to them by the judge. See the discussion on Groklaw.

  10. Will,

    Why would some people think 1970s server technology would work on PCs? Because currently, everyone is using either a 1970s disk operating system (DOS -> Win 3.1 -> Win95 -> Win 98 -> WinME) or 1970s server technology (VMS -> WinNT -> Win2k) or some kludge combination of the two (Win XP).

    Linux, the various BSDs everybody else that comes up with new operating systems thinks they can do it better because they can do it better. The MS operating systems are bloated, buggy, and insecure. On top of that, Microsoft insists on shoving everything into the operating system.

    Now, just because these other operating systems are better doesn’t mean they’ll do better in the market. Technologically better products can fail to products that happen to have features prefered by the consumer.

  11. What never ceases to amaze me is the sheer unadulterated ingnorance of what is exactly covered in the Constitution and ability for morons everywhere in America to claim rights and protections that AREN’T there.

    So much for civics classes.

  12. Skunk rule?

  13. Aside from the current round of idiotic claims, the original SCO claim referred to specific copyrighted code, not to the notion that FSF is issuing unconstitutional licenses. This claim may yet hold up or not.

    But if any form of software licensing should be deemed unenforceable under the Constitution, it’s the “shrink-wrap” licenses which you aren’t shown till after you’ve paid for and received the product. One of these licenses — this is the literal truth — authorized the manufacturer to come into my home and audit my computers if they wanted to. I sent that one back for a refund.

  14. Mark S.,

    What are you talking about? All those rights are there in Amendments 9 and 10.

  15. The Skunk Rule derives from the fact that a baseball game is not over until 9 innings have been played. Since each team pitches each inning until they get 3 outs, a team who can’t get outs will just keep getting scored on. This means that the winning team might keep scoring 5, 10, even 20 runs each inning, running up a ridiculous score.

    So the skunk rule is, that if a team is getting skunked (usually a lead of 10 runs or more), then the game will be called, keeping the game short.

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