crypto and public policy

SCO vs. Ethical Software

Filed under: Free Software August 31, 2003 @ 1:40 am

Imagine, for a second, Ford accusing Toyota of stealing their clever headlight technology. Toyota responds “bull, that is ridiculous,” then Ford turns around and declares “okay, then, before the courts make any decision on the validity of our claims, we’re going to discredit you in the press, take cheap shots like calling you ‘thieves’, and scare all Toyota owners individually into paying Ford $700 for the right to continue operating their headlights on their Toyota automobile.” Does this sound ridiculous? A hint of extortion, maybe? It’s exactly what’s happening in the software world with SCO, and for some reason the press hasn’t quite caught on to how frivolous this is.

SCO claims it owns parts of the Linux operating system. The Free Software Foundation has clearly analyzed how this is most likely untrue, and, most importantly, how, even if the claims are true, SCO has no right to pursue individual Linux users.

Yet that is exactly what they’re doing: they want $700 from every Linux user and are threatening to sue these individuals otherwise. (This includes me).

Software is confusing. In today’s business models, it straddles two worlds: that of physical, shrink-wrapped objects, and that of abstract ideas. In the midst of this confusion, software users look to their vendors for guidance.

Of course, one can make use of the confusion, spread Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD), and work to make as much money as possible. In fact, that’s the game far too many software vendors have been playing for the past 20 years: the customer doesn’t understand software, so the vendor tells some really juicy stories about how such-and-such thing is so difficult to build, and that’s why it’s so expensive, and oh don’t forget customization costs, and oh don’t forget the 20% a year for support. SCO is simply taking this attitude to the next level.

The thing is, there’s a bunch of us who have decided not to use the people’s confusion to our advantage. We’re the free software guys and gals, and we focus entirely on our users’ rights. We want software to make sense to people, to provide opportunity, to create competitive markets that enable innovation. We want software to realize its immense potential. We do this by adopting an architecture for software distribution that forces everyone to play fair, so that if one of us screws up, a user can easily turn to someone else to finish the job. (Try doing that with non-free software.)

Free software is ethical software.

SCO is not just preying on users’ confusion about software to make a quick buck. SCO is working to completely discredit the one software movement that’s trying to do away with the very kind of abusive, unethical behavior that they’re engaging in.

That’s unacceptable. I strongly support all actions of the Free Software Foundation, Open Source Initiative, IBM, RedHat, Suse, the EFF and others against SCO. This is not just a fight for Linux, it’s a fight for ethical software development.

Join the fight with the EFF.

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