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Fwd: SCO smear campaign can't defeat GNU community

SCO smear campaign can't defeat GNU community
By Richard Stallman, Tech Update
June 23, 2003 12:08 PM PT

SCO's contract dispute with IBM has been accompanied
by a smear campaign against the whole GNU/Linux
system. But SCO made an obvious mistake when it
erroneously quoted me as saying that "Linux is a copy
of Unix." Many readers immediately smelled a rat--not
only because I did not say that, and not only because
the person who said it was talking about published
ideas (which are uncopyrightable) rather than code,
but because they know I would never compare Linux with

Unix is a complete operating system, but Linux is just
part of one. SCO is using the popular confusion
between Linux and the GNU/Linux system to magnify the
fear that it can spread. GNU/Linux is the GNU
operating system running with Linux as the kernel. The
kernel is the part of the system that allocates the
machine's resources to the other programs you run.
That part is Linux.

We developed GNU starting in 1984 as a campaign for
freedom, whose aim was to eliminate non-free software
from our lives. GNU is free software, meaning that
users are free to run it, study it and change it (or
pay programmers to do this for them), redistribute it
(gratis or for a fee), and publish modified versions.
(See http://www.gnu.org/gnu/the-gnu-project.html.)

In 1991, GNU was mostly finished, lacking only a
kernel. In 1992, Linus Torvalds made his kernel,
Linux, free software. Others combined GNU and Linux to
produce the first complete free operating system,
GNU/Linux. (See
http://www.gnu.org/gnu/gnu-linux-faq.html.) GNU/Linux
is also free software, and SCO made use of this
freedom by selling their version of it. Today, GNU
runs with various kernels including Linux, the GNU
Hurd (our kernel), and the NetBSD kernel. It is
basically the same system, whichever kernel you use.

Those who combined Linux with GNU didn't recognize
that's what they were doing, and they spoke of the
combination as "Linux." The confusion spread; many
users and journalists call the whole system "Linux."
Since they also properly call the kernel "Linux," the
result is even more confusion: when a statement says
"Linux," you can only guess what software it refers
to. SCO's irresponsible statements are shot through
with ambiguous references to "Linux." It is impossible
to attribute any coherent meaning to them overall, but
they appear to accuse the entire GNU/Linux system of
being copied from Unix.

The name GNU stands for "GNU's Not Unix." The whole
point of developing the GNU system is that it is not
Unix. Unix is and always was non-free software,
meaning that it denies its users the freedom to
cooperate and to control their computers. To use
computers in freedom as a community, we needed a free
software operating system. We did not have the money
to buy and liberate an existing system, but we did
have the skill to write a new one. Writing GNU was a
monumental job. We did it for our freedom, and your

To copy Unix source code would not be ethically wrong,
but it is illegal; our work would fail to give users
lawful freedom to cooperate if it were not done
lawfully. To make sure we would not copy Unix source
code or write anything similar, we told GNU
contributors not even to look at Unix source code
while developing code for GNU. We also suggested
design approaches that differ from typical Unix design
approaches, to ensure our code would not resemble Unix
code. We did our best to avoid ever copying Unix code,
despite our basic premise that to prohibit copying of
software is morally wrong.

Another SCO tool of obfuscation is the term
"intellectual property." This fashionable but foolish
term carries an evident bias: that the right way to
treat works, ideas, and names is as a kind of
property. Less evident is the harm it does by inciting
simplistic thinking: it lumps together diverse
laws--copyright law, patent law, trademark law and
others--which really have little in common. This leads
people to suppose those laws are one single issue, the
"intellectual property issue," and think about
"it"--which means, to think at such a broad abstract
level that the specific social issues raised by these
various laws are not even visible. Any "opinion about
intellectual property" is thus bound to be foolish.

In the hands of a propagandist for increased copyright
or patent powers, the term is a way to prevent clear
thinking. In the hands of someone making threats, the
term is a tool for obfuscation: "We claim we can sue
you over something, but we won't say what it is."

In an actual lawsuit, such ambiguity would make their
case fail, or even prevent it from getting off the
ground. If, however, SCO's aim is to shake the tree
and see if any money falls down, or simply to spread
fear, they may regard vagueness and mystery as

I cannot prognosticate about the SCO vs IBM lawsuit
itself: I don't know what was in their contract, I
don't know what IBM did, and I am not a lawyer. The
Free Software Foundation's lawyer, Professor Moglen,
believes that SCO gave permission for the community's
use of the code that they distributed under the GNU
GPL and other free software licenses in their version
of GNU/Linux.

However, I can address the broader issue of such
situations. In a community of over half a million
developers, we can hardly expect that there will never
be plagiarism. But it is no disaster; we discard that
material and move on. If there is material in Linux
that was contributed without legal authorization, the
Linux developers will learn what it is and replace it.
SCO cannot use its copyrights, or its contracts with
specific parties, to suppress the lawful contributions
of thousands of others. Linux itself is no longer
essential: the GNU system became popular in
conjunction with Linux, but today it also runs with
two BSD kernels and the GNU kernel. Our community
cannot be defeated by this.

Copyright 2003 Richard Stallman. Verbatim copying and
redistribution of this entire article are permitted
without royalty in any medium provided this notice is

Richard Stallman is president of the Free Software
Foundation and author of the GNU General Public License.

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