Imagine if Darth Vader's secret identity had turned out to be Bozo the Clown. Luke Skywalker and his pals would have been afraid Darth would blow up the whole galaxy, but instead the Dark Lord of the Sith did pratfalls all around the Death Star control room, sending stacks of papers flying through the air, accidentally hitting himself in the face with a cream pie and squirting seltzer down his pants.
That's how the SCO lawsuits against the Linux community are ending up. Until early this year, it was easy to envision SCO as a super-villain, threatening the Linux community with its deft gamesmanship and masterful legal maneuvers. Now, SCO is looking like a bunch of bumblers.
A Michigan court recently dismissed most of SCO Group's lawsuit against DaimlerChrysler Corp. When the lawsuit was first filed, things looked pretty grim for DaimlerChrysler and, by extension, the entire Linux user community.
But then a couple of things became apparent: first off, SCO wasn't suing about Linux, they were suing about Unix. The DaimlerChrysler action really had very little to do with the main conflict, which was SCO's attempting to prove that Linux contained SCO's proprietary Unix intellectual property.
Worse for SCO: It later turned out that DaimlerChrysler wasn't even using SCO's products - hadn't been for seven years. Whoops! Ha ha!
And SCO has also been targeted by a lawsuit from one of its biggest investors. BayStar was introduced to SCO by Microsoft last year, but the relationship quickly soured and, in a rare slap in the face, BayStar publicly demanded return of its investment in SCO. BayStar later said SCO could keep its money, but only if SCO made changes in management and focused more on its lawsuit against IBM. Another big investor, the Royal Bank of Canada, sold its shares to BayStar. And SCO in June agreed to buy back BayStar's stake. BayStar had a $40 million investment in SCO; SCO agreed to pay $13 million in cash plus several million shares of SCO common stock.
BayStar sued on Friday, claiming SCO didn't live up to its end of the bargain. This was a few hours after SCO issued a press release saying the settlement was a done deal. BayStar claims SCO misled it on how much money could be made from SCO's intellectual property licensing, a claim that SCO denies.
The outcome of the DaimlerChrysler lawsuit and the BayStar dispute leave SCO looking pretty foolish. But it's a mistake to think SCO is completely harmless. The company is still well-funded and its main lawsuits, against IBM, Novell and customer AutoZone, are still alive. Companies and users who depend on Linux should be sure they're comfortable with the legal ground they're standing on.
The Linux community should by no means let down its guard against SCO. But a little pointing at SCO and laughing is certainly in order.