SCO threatens Energy with Linux lawsuits

The SCO Group Inc. of Lindon, Utah, has threatened the Energy Department with a legal smackdown if it does not pay licensing fees for its use of the Linux operating system, according to two letters sent to agency labs by the company. The letters were obtained by a Washington law firm earlier this month.

SCO sent letters to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, in Livermore, Calif., and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, which is part of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.

The letters threatened legal action unless each organization pays licensing rights for use of SCO's proprietary Unix System V code. SCO claims portions of its Unix operating system were merged into Linux, violating copyright law.

SCO is suing IBM Corp. for $5 million for allegedly inappropriately adding the code into the Linux kernel, which is governed under an open-source license.

Mark Koehn, an attorney for Shaw Pittman LLP of McLean, Va., obtained the two letters from the Justice Department using a Freedom of Information Act request.

One letter, dated Jan. 16, was addressed to Horst Simon, director of the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center. It outlines charges of copyright infringement and requests a meeting to 'propose solutions that that will be agreeable and economically feasible to you.' The letter threatens possible legal action if the office does not respond.

A similar letter, dated Dec. 18, targeted Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, though it was addressed to Karen Evans, the former chief information officer of the Energy Department. Evans left the CIO post last summer to assume duties as the Office of Management and Budget's associate administrator for IT.

'That SCO has apparently targeted at least some federal agencies should be noted by other ' Linux end-users'especially those who received letters from SCO'and those in Congress with whom SCO may be communicating,' Koehn wrote by e-mail.

In January, SCO sent letters to every member of Congress warning about the potentially negative effects of open-source software (Click for GCN story).

The letters sent to the Energy Department are part of a larger effort on the part of SCO to request license fees from some of the largest enterprise users of Linux, SCO spokesman Blake Stowell confirmed. Earlier this month, the company filed suit against automobile parts chain AutoZone Inc. of Memphis, Tenn., for not paying SCO licensing fees for its use of Linux.

Stowell would not reveal if any other letters were sent to other federal agencies. Nor did he disclose a time period in which SCO expects the agencies to respond.

The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center's Parallel Distributed Systems Facility uses a 390-processor Linux cluster for detector simulation, data analysis and software development.

Jon Bashor, spokesman for the center, said the letter had been passed on to the lab's legal department, and that he could not comment on it further.

Lawrence Livermore deploys a 2,304-processor system provided by Linux Networx Inc. of Bluffdale, Utah. Under SCO's licensing terms of $699 per server, as stated on its Web page, Lawrence Livermore could pay $1.6 million for its system.

Lawrence Livermore spokesman Bob Hirschfeld said he was unaware of the letter. The Energy Department has not returned calls placed today.

About the Author

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

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