SCO: Open source is bad for the economy

SCO: Open source is bad for the economy

The SCO Group Inc. sent letters to every member of Congress this month urging them to consider the potentially negative effects of open-source software, a SCO spokesman confirmed today.

A copy of the letter (www.osaia.org/letters/sco_hill.pdf) was posted yesterday by the Open Source and Industry Alliance, a public policy group of the Computer and Communications Industry Association.

'The intention of [the letter] was to be more informational and educational rather than to elicit a specific response back from any one member of Congress,' said Blake Stowell, director of corporate communications for the Lindon, Utah-based Unix vendor. He said the company sent the letter to help lawmakers understand the 'threat' that open-source software poses to 'to proprietary software, to the national economy, to national security and other areas.'

Open-source software makes its source code available to users, whereas most commercial software packages do not include source code. Source code is the instructions, written in a programming language, used by a compiler to create an executable program.

Much software considered 'open-source' uses the GNU General Public License as an end-user licensing agreement. The GNU GPL grants the right to users to redistribute that software'either freely or for a price'on the condition that the source code is included or made available.

SCO's letter, dated Jan. 8, asserted that the GNU GPL conflicts with U.S. copyright laws.

The GNU GPL ' 'frees' software that is proprietary, licensable, and a source of income from the companies that developed it,' the letter stated.

In March 2003, SCO sued IBM Corp. for $1 billion over misuse of the intellectual property rights to the Unix operating system (The amount of damages sought has since been increased to $3 billion.) The company claimed that IBM inappropriately added some of SCO's Unix proprietary code to its own version of Linux.

Linux is under the GNU GPL. Software vendors such as IBM, Red Hat Inc. of Raleigh, N.C.,, and even SCO itself, have modified and sold their own distributions of the operating system, also using the license.

'The damage this has inflicted on SCO's Unix business is an example of what could happen to the entire software industry if the current open-source model continues,' the letter asserted, noting that as use of Linux has grown, overall revenue for licensing fees for Unix has shrunk.

The letter expanded this example to other areas of software, claiming that it could damage the economic recovery now under way.

'Each open-source installation displaces or pre-empts a sale of proprietary, licensable and copyright-protected software,' the letter stated.

OSAIA disagreed with this assessment.

'I don't think IBM, Novell and Oracle and others in the IT sector have been finding that to be the case,' said Gabe Rubin, a spokesman for the association. He said such companies use open-source software as the basis for offering services.

The letter also mentions national security issues, noting that export licensing restrictions have traditionally blocked proprietary software from getting into the hands of the nation's enemies. GNU GPL, being available freely, circumvents these measures.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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