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Linux Distributor Red Hat Files Suit Against SCO in Fight Over Copyright

By Chris Gaither

The Boston Globe -- SAN FRANCISCO

The open-source software movement Monday launched a counterstrike against a growing threat to Linux, as Red Hat Inc. sued the company that claims it owns substantial parts of the code for the freely distributed operating system.

Red Hat, the largest company selling exclusively open-source software, sued SCO Group Inc. in federal court in Delaware, accusing the Utah software concern of waging “an unfair, untrue, and deceptive campaign” to scare customers considering purchases of Red Hat software.

Red Hat, based in Raleigh, N.C., also pledged $1 million for small companies and nonprofit organizations to defend themselves in case SCO sues them for developing open-source software.

“We’re going on the offensive,” said Red Hat chief executive Matthew Szulik.

Boosted by a rare overlap of idealism and pragmatism, open-source software has made major advances into corporate data centers in recent years, especially as companies have sought alternatives to the operating system sold by Microsoft Corp. The SCO legal entanglement worries the open-source community, a band of programmers who share ideas and code to collectively create software that companies can then modify and sell in accordance with the General Public License, a set of rules administered by the Boston-based Free Software Foundation.

SCO says it holds the rights to Unix System V software and has sued IBM Corp. for incorporating copyrighted elements of that code into its version of Linux. SCO has released few details about which elements of Linux infringe upon its intellectual property. But the company has sent letters to about 1,500 major corporations, including some Red Hat customers, warning that they could be held liable.

Red Hat has not been sued by SCO, but Red Hat Monday asked a judge to rule that its version of Linux contains no code protected by SCO copyrights and uses no SCO trade secrets. Red Hat also accused SCO of violating federal laws regarding unfair competition and false advertising, as well as Delaware laws prohibiting trade libel, unfair competition, and interference with prospective economic advantage.

In a prepared statement, SCO said it has not been trying to instill uncertainty and fear in Linux users as Red Hat claimed. “We have been educating end users on the risks of running an operating system that is an unauthorized derivative of Unix,” it said.

In a letter to Szulik sent in response to the lawsuit, SCO chief executive Darl McBride said his company would probably in turn sue Red Hat for copyright infringement and conspiracy.