As this month's Linux Magazine goes to press, the mainstream media and the technorati (the geek paparazzi) are widely reporting on the Open Source Development Labs' creation of a Linux legal defense fund. Briefly (and you can read more details in our "Report from the Front" on page 8), OSDL's fund will subsidize the legal expenses of any Linux end-user that's threatened by broad intellectual property claims, such as SCO's assertion that code in the Linux kernel infringes its copyrights. OSDL plans to raise $10 million for the fund; the fund's been seeded with $3 million by IBM, Intel, and others.
As this month’s Linux Magazine goes to press, the mainstream media and the technorati (the geek paparazzi) are widely reporting on the Open Source Development Labs’ creation of a Linux legal defense fund. Briefly (and you can read more details in our “Report from the Front” on page 8), OSDL’s fund will subsidize the legal expenses of any Linux end-user that’s threatened by broad intellectual property claims, such as SCO’s assertion that code in the Linux kernel infringes its copyrights. OSDL plans to raise $10 million for the fund; the fund’s been seeded with $3 million by IBM, Intel, and others.
While SCO spun the story hard, practically deeming the fund an admission of guilt — Darl McBride said, “No amount of money in a defense fund can protect somebody if they’re the guilty party” — I applaud OSDL’s initiative. It’s sensible for OSDL to build a war chest, especially when SCO seems fixated on a “scorched earth” strategy. But more importantly, the fund reinforces OSDL’s position as an authority.
I mean authority in the both senses of the word: as an expert on the subject and as a looming, threatening figure. Linux needs both. Linux needs a voice and persona beyond Linus that can paint a big picture for the mainstream press and the suits. Linux also needs a “bodyguard,” a “backstop,” that walks softly and carries a big stick, perhaps for no other reason than to reassuringly defend and reconfirm the intellectual independence of Linux. OSDL’s sponsorship of Linus Torvalds and Andrew Morton adds to OSDL’s credibility as experts. The legal defense fund adds some much needed muscle.
Now, conspiracy theorists and Slashdotters might argue that this centralization of power is suspect, perhaps even antithetical to Open Source. But it’s not. OSDL isn’t usurping the technology — Linus still has ultimate control of the kernel — and OSDL isn’t usurping the methodology. In fact, if you read last month’s issue, you probably saw that OSDL is advertising the advantages of our beloved “many brains, many places, many eyes” model of open, distributed, and benevolenty dictated development.
Instead, OSDL is filling a void that needs to be filled — one that Linus and Andrew and other software and hardware developers, even individual companies, cannot fill. It’s remarkable and wonderful that Linux isn’t owned by anyone — but the same philosophy that builds Linux can’t be applied to its defense. (Well, unless you and I take up pitchforks, torches, and axes and get medieval on the headquarters of SCO. Hmm. That’s not a bad idea. Meet me in Lindon in two hours, and bring me the head of the head of SCO.)
Robert Cringely recently made two predictions for Linux in 2004. He predicted that SCO’s case would implode (albeit after the executives and investors made off like thieves after running up SCO’s stock price) and posited that Linux would need to reorganize or slip into its demise. I concur with his former opinion, and agree only partially with his latter prognostication. As I imply above, as Linux grows, it needs a steward to guide its growth, appease, no, please the suits, and man the parapets. OSDL is answering the call to arms.
You and I can provide support and cash, not to mention boiling vats of oil, flaming arrows, blue war paint, and rallying cries.
Give me Linux, or give me death.
Martin Streicher, Editor