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Open source wins another day in courtJay Lyman, October 5, 2007 @ 2:38 pm ET
I began a recent scan of the news with a bit of disappointment. It was the RIAA court victory awarding nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the recording industry group from a woman who allegedly made music available on her Kazaa P2P account. The reason I was disappointed was the validation of the RIAA’s strategy, which goes well beyond education and pursuit of egregious offenders and burdens privacy, Internet service providers and others. When I was writing about the SCO Group’s claims and lawsuits against big Linux users in 2004, there were parallels to what the RIAA was doing. Obviously, the music industry consortium has fared much better than the Utah-based software company turned litigator (SCO never even owned the Unix rights that were the basis for its claims, a U.S. court ruled in August). Nevertheless, the RIAA’s pursuit of individual users who are most likely also customers of theirs, hadn’t gotten a boost in a long time until the recent ruling. Would it mean that broad, vague claims could be brought against a wide swath of individual consumers to make them face the full force of a company’s legal maneuvering and extreme financial penalties in the courts? Could this embolden Microsoft to consider the upside of such a strategy against open source users?
Luckily, my reading continued to find a couple of more encouraging signs. The most significant and meaningful, and probably more applicable to open source software than the RIAA-style sue Linux users scenario, was another U.S. court ruling limiting software and business method patent claims. At the very least, this shows an awareness there is a patent problem in the U.S. and it may help reduce patents and claims that actually slow innovation.
The second item was another chill in the software cold war, where mutually assured destruction consists of Microsoft claiming IP hooks in Linux and other open source software and a group of powerful vendors ready to respond. If Microsoft tries to damage open source based on patent or other IP claims, the Open Invention Network, among many, many others, will try and damage the software giant back.
Despite its claims, Microsoft officials say the company does not intend to sue Linux vendors or users anytime soon. Even though the RIAA scored a win this week, I think these other rulings, SCO’s failed efforts, patent reform and current trends would convince the company to keep it that way.
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