Money Matters - Simplified

Judge Kimball: Novell, not SCO Group, is the owner of Unix copyrights

In a ruling that is bound to soothe the frayed nerves of open-source advocates, U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball declared Unix operating system copyrights did not belong to the SCO Group.

Judge Kimball: Novell, not SCO Group, is the owner of Unix copyrightsGet original file (9KB)

Analysts feel this is a major setback to the SCO Group, which has been claiming copyright ownership of Unix OS code. The SCO Group has for long been complaining about Linux's use of Unix code, saying it violated copyright issues. The company has been threatening legal action against users of Linux for a while now.

According to industry watchers and analysts, while the judgment was good news for Linux users, it was possibly just a temporary reprieve. They felt this was not the end of the matter, and the SCO Group would possibly pursue further legal action.

While handing out the judgment, Judge Kimball also said the copyrights to Unix code lay with Novell. Novell had acquired these rights from AT&T. Counsel for Novell said there was no problem from the company’s end as Novell itself is a Linux provider.

General Counsel for Novell, Joe LaSala, said Novell itself was an advocate of open-source and were quite happy with the judge’s ruling. He said the ruling itself was good news for Linux users.

SCO has all along been claiming ownership of applicable Unix copyrights from the time it filed a lawsuit in 2003 against IBM. In the mid-1990s, SCO had actually gone ahead and bought some assets related to Unix from Novell. Novell had, however, been smart enough not to hand over the Unix copyrights, according to the judge's ruling.

While the ruling is being seen as good news for open-source users, it could mean serious damage to SCO’s pending lawsuit against IBM, with some analysts going so far as to say it might just wipe out SCO’s case.

One careful look at Judge Kimball’s ruling confirms this. In one part of his ruling, the judge says Novell actually has the legal right to direct SCO to put aside its claims against IBM.

The reactions to the ruling have been varied. While the reaction from IBM was a cautious ‘no comment,’ SCO was obviously disappointed. It, however, put up a brave face saying they were happy with the positives of the trial and said they would think about further legal action, true to form.

Open source advocates were very happy with the decision. Executive director of the Linux Foundation Jim Zemlin said the ruling would bring to a close much of the fear and indecisiveness the market was facing owing to this issue.

SCO’s investors did not share this feeling of bravado, a fact that became clear as company stock value fell by 72% on Monday. At closing, stock value was 44 cents per share.