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LWN.net Weekly Edition for January 22, 2004

Report from the SCO front

When SCO launched its SCOsource initiative one year ago, it must have known that it would encounter resistance at some point. Even so, the SCO Group may not have expected Novell to emerge as one of its largest obstacles. But Novell has done exactly that. Novell has disputed SCO's claims to the Unix copyright (and submitted copyright registrations in its own name), initiated audits of SCO's Unix licensing activities (with an eye, perhaps, on a 95% cut of the money from Sun and Microsoft), claimed - and exercised - the right to override SCO's actions against IBM and others, and acquired a Linux distributor of its own.

As a result of Novell's actions, even the most weak-willed corporate officer will have to think twice about buying a "license" from SCO. Said officer may not feel capable of deciding whether SCO's claims have merit, but a disputed copyright is easy to understand. SCO's chances of prevailing on its claims are minimal even in Novell's absence, but Novell's entry into the game makes those claims moot for now. Given that, SCO's lawsuit against Novell is not particularly surprising. It was, instead, inevitable. SCO had to make a show of getting Novell out of its way.

SCO's full complaint is available as an 11-page PDF file. It is, in fact, a relatively straightforward suit, the sort of thing one would expect to see from a company which feels that its copyrights are being stolen in plain sight. It states that Novell has laid claim to the Unix copyrights, that it has made statements with the intent of causing people not to do business with SCO, and has damaged SCO's reputation and business. All of these claims are demonstrably true. Of course, SCO also states that Novell's copyright ownership claims are false, which is not so clear.

SCO is asking the court to find that the copyrights belong to SCO; force Novell to pay actual, special, and punitive damages; issue preliminary and permanent injunctions requiring Novell to assign copyrights and cease claiming to own those copyrights; and to make Novell retract its past claims.

Given that the relevant purchase agreement is available online, one would think that understanding what SCO really bought would not be that hard. In fact, the agreement is written in a sort of obscure legalese that would appear to invite misunderstandings and lawsuits from the beginning. To try to figure out what SCO bought, you have to read through to the very end; the assets to be transferred are listed in schedule 1.1(a):

All rights and ownership of UNIX and UnixWare, including but not limited to all versions of UNIX and UnixWare and all copies of UNIX and UnixWare (including revisions and updates in process), and all technical, design, development, installation, operation and maintenance information concerning UNIX and UnixWare, including source code, source documentation, source listings and annotation, appropriate engineering, notebooks, test data and test results, as well as all reference manuals and support materials normally distributed by Seller to end-users and potential end-users in connection with the distribution of UNIX and UnixWare...

This paragraph provides a lengthy list of things to be transferred to SCO, but "copyrights" does not appear on that list. So it would be up to a court to decide whether "all rights and ownership" include copyrights or not. SCO claims that the issue was clarified in Amendment 2 to the agreement, which revises Schedule 1.1(b). That section lists the things which were not sold to SCO; the wording was changed to read:

All copyrights and trademarks, except for the copyrights and trademarks owned by Novell as of the date of the Agreement required for SCO to exercise its rights with respect to the acquisition of UNIX and UnixWare technologies. However, in no event shall Novell be liable to SCO for any claim brought by any third party pertaining to said copyrights and trademarks.

This language suggests that some copyrights would be transferred to SCO, but does not actually list those copyrights in any way. In summary, it is a messy agreement that will require a court to sort out.

The interesting thing is that SCO has not actually asked the court to sort it out. Regardless of what the agreement really says, one thing is strikingly clear: Novell has not actually assigned any copyrights to SCO. Novell might have signed a contract obligating it to assign copyrights to SCO, but SCO agrees that said assignment has not happened. Given that, SCO really needed to file a breach of contract suit to force Novell to live up to (what SCO sees as) its obligations. SCO's lawyers certainly know this; one wonders what they are really trying to accomplish.

More to the point, however, one might well wonder whether the end result of this suit matters to Linux users in the first place. In fact, this action is a significant development in the wider SCO affair. If Novell prevails, SCO's days of threatening Linux users will be done, and that would certainly be a good thing. The IBM case, which has nothing to do with copyrights, might continue, but it would be an isolated contract dispute. All Linux users would have to worry about at that point is what Novell intends to do with its newly-defended copyrights. As we have said before, Novell owes the community a statement regarding its intentions.

If SCO prevails - with an amended complaint bringing up the contract issue, presumably - Linux users would find their position unchanged. SCO would still have to prove that Linux contains its copyrighted code, something it has not done in any convincing way so far. It is increasingly apparent that, in fact, Linux contains no significant amount of copyrighted Unix code. So a Novell defeat would not really set back Linux users in any way.

It seems fairly clear, however, that no court will allow an SCO-initiated copyright suit to proceed until the Novell case is resolved. Until then, SCO's threats against users are even emptier than before.

Meanwhile, SCO has completed a new S-3 filing updating its "risk factors" to include a few marginally relevant items, like Novell's copyright claims. The fact that SCO has known about these claims for several months but only now updated its regulatory filings could come back to haunt it later on. Groklaw has put together a nice table of differences between the old and new filings; it paints a grim picture of where things are going with SCO. Worth a read.

The new S-3 also discusses the strange accounting required by the BayStar investment. For each $1 drop in the company's stock price, SCO must record approximately $1 million in income. Don't be surprised if this phantom income somehow pushes the company into a paper profit in future quarters.

Red Hat has made a fair amount of noise about its new Open Source Assurance Program, which is automatically extended to all Enterprise Linux customers. The program, however, does not offer very much: it states that any code in Red Hat Enterprise Linux which is found to infringe upon intellectual property rights will be replaced. For users who fear, say, a patent problem, this warranty will be a comforting thing to have. It does not go far beyond what the community would do anyway, however.

Finally, it would appear that the SCO Group has sent a letter to the U.S. Congress (available in PDF format) describing the evils of free software. Among other things, it will destroy the U.S. economy and provide vital computing capabilities to America's enemies. And create some business discomfort for the SCO Group, of course. The letter is an impressive bit of work, worth a read. If you are an American citizen, you may want to consider writing a letter yourself to counter SCO's claims. The fact of the matter, however, is that SCO is unlikely to be able to out-lobby companies like IBM and HP.

Comments (13 posted)

Linux.Conf.Au trip report

Your editor is back and rested - if somewhat jet lagged - from the 2004 [Not a developer] production of Linux.Conf.Au in Adelaide. Some 540 people attended this event -- the highest attendance in this conference's five-year history. Here's a quick summary of what happened as seen by LWN.

Greg Ungerer gave an introductory talk on uClinux which will be interesting to those who haven't actually looked at how this kernel (which runs on systems without a memory management unit) works. Modern uClinux supports a vast number of architectures, and will run on systems with as little as 1MB of memory (though "you can't do much" on such a system). There's a few little things missing, of course: virtual memory support, the fork() system call (vfork() works), no dynamic stacks, no sbrk(), etc. And, of course, nothing protects the system and applications from each other. Even so, making applications work on uClinux is usually not a particularly big deal. Future plans for uClinux include supporting more hardware, adding to the list of ported applications, and integration with the RTAI real-time system.

Running device drivers in user mode was discussed by Peter Chubb. This topic will get a more detailed treatment on this week's Kernel Page. [maddog]

Your editor has come to the conclusion that Jon 'maddog' Hall serves as a mutual exclusion mechanism for Linux conferences. Since he, inevitably, shows up at every Linux event, his scheduling constraints serve to keep multiple conferences from happening at the same time. In Adelaide, he discussed the differing expectations of developers, users, and managers. Among other things, he predicted that 2004 will be the year when the Linux desktop truly begins to take over. Maddog's talks are invariably fun to hear.

Greg Lehey discussed his Vinum volume manager. Vinum runs on FreeBSD and NetBSD, but a Linux port is in the works. It provides many of the usual features: disk concatenation and striping, along with implementations of the various RAID levels. Among other things, Vinum was intended to be easy to configure via a relatively straightforward text file. As Greg noted, however, "pilot errors" remain possible.

Bdale Garbee gave a wide-ranging talk covering a number of topics. The core of the discussion, however, had to do with truly large-scale Linux [Bdale] deployments, such as those which have happened in Extremadura (Spain), and in Brazil. He notes that Linux has become an obvious first choice for publicly-sponsored computing initiatives in many parts of the world - especially the less rich areas. Use of Linux allows greater control, doesn't require sending large amounts of hard currency to the United States, and can help in the creation of local information technology expertise. Bdale also noted, with visible pleasure, that the Debian distribution (or a derivative thereof) tends to be chosen for this sort of project. He sees Debian as embodying many of the free software community's core concepts and being appealing for its essential openness.

Havoc Pennington touched on some similar concepts with his "state of the Linux desktop" keynote. He repeatedly pointed out that, to achieve true success on the desktop, the free software community must focus on what [Havoc] it does best, rather than trying to imitate current proprietary offerings. For example, since any interested party can add to free software and influence its development, the very best translation and accessibility support tend to be found in free systems. Many languages and user communities are too small to be worth supporting for a proprietary software company, but the users themselves don't care about that. Then, there are projects like Dashboard and GNOME Storage (among many others) which show that anybody can pursue interesting ideas; if others like the results, those ideas will be enhanced by others and eventually incorporated. For this reason, it is important that the Linux desktop remains 100% free software; as soon as proprietary components start to appear, the advantages of free software are lost.

His call to go beyond imitation notwithstanding, Havoc is clearly very focused on where Microsoft is headed, especially with the forthcoming "Longhorn" release. He says that the delays in Longhorn give Linux a window of opportunity to step in (especially since moving to Longhorn looks like it will be no easier than switching to Linux), but we have to be aware of the sort of features Longhorn will offer and have something which will be a competitive alternative.

Jeff Waugh gave a high-energy talk on the GNOME project. His focus was on the decentralized nature of the project, the increasing number of developers, and the tightly-run six-month release schedule. He talked of some trends in GNOME development (the new "evolution data server" which will provide contact and calendar information; embracing of standards and code coming out of FreeDesktop.org; the commitment to ABI stability across GNOME 2.x, etc.) but it seems that nobody really knows what future GNOME releases will bring. The one sure thing, according to Jeff, is "we will rock you."

Beyond the talks, this conference included a well-developed "partners program" for the families of attendees, dinner events put on by [Fearless leader] IBM and Oracle, and the now-famous dunk tank. The break area lacked coffee (by American standards, anyway) but made up for it in free ice cream. The venue was beautiful; Elder Hall with its woodwork and pipe organ is far superior to the typical conference ballroom. And the whole event was suffused by an Australian sense of humor and fun.

Also worthy of note was the "Miniconf" program which ran for two days before the main event (and which, unfortunately, your editor was unable to attend). The Linux and Open Source in Government miniconf, in particular, seems to have brought out many themes which resonated through the rest of the event.

In summary; Linux.Conf.Au was a great success. It was, as intended, a seriously fun gathering with much talk about the technology and no marketing. Let it never be said that volunteers cannot bring off a complex event of this type. Linux.Conf.Au is more volunteer-driven than most; it is run by a different committee in a different city every year. Despite the talk of heroic, last-minute, all-nighters put on by the conference staff, the attendee experience was smooth and seamless. Linux.Conf.Au came off better than many events run by "professionals." Great congratulations are due to the dedicated group of people who pulled this off.

LWN would like to thank HP one last time for making our presence at Linux.Conf.Au possible.

Comments (4 posted)

The MIT 2004 Spam Conference

January 21, 2004

This article was contributed by Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier.

You know that spam prevention efforts have reached fever pitch when a spam conference brings together lawyers, developers, economists, Eric Raymond and a representative from Microsoft to discuss the problem and ways to stop it. MIT hosted a conference on this topic on January 16, and we decided to check out the webcast to see what kind of work is being done in this area. The answer is, there's quite a bit of work going on, and the future looks much more encouraging than you might think.

Lawyers Jon Praed and Matthew Prince both spoke about spam from the legal perspective. Praed discussed experiences in suing spammers. Interestingly, Praed wasn't as negative about the recent CAN-SPAM Act as many in the anti-spam community have been. Praed noted that legal solutions can often do something that technical solutions alone have failed to do: significantly drive up the cost of sending spam by requiring spammers to deal with legal bills. He also said that 2003 was a banner year for legal efforts against spam, because it brought the first arrests solely for spamming. According to Praed, the CAN-SPAM Act is effective, in that it makes it clear that spamming in and of itself is a crime.

Prince was less enthused with CAN-SPAM. Prince pointed out that 37 state spam laws have been passed prior to CAN-SPAM; now all 37 are pre-empted by federal law, which is weaker than most of the state laws. But even the stronger state laws have been largely ineffectual for stopping spam. He also noted that spam laws were not based on the volume of spam, which is the problem we now face, but were written to counter the problem of fraud in spam.

Prince did bring up the McCain amendment to CAN-SPAM for praise, and said it had received almost no coverage. Essentially, the McCain amendment says that when prosecutors are going after a spammer, they don't necessarily have to go after the sender. It allows prosecutors to attach liability to advertisers, which may be much more effective than having to go after the spammer.

Prince also said that we would have to remove anonymity of email to solve the legal problem of spam. Washington has been the most successful because its law includes a registry of email addresses that are located in the state of Washington. He said that it was necessary to establish a national do-not-spam registry which would establish jurisdiction to allow spammers to be sued and prosecuted.

Both Prince and Praed agreed that the important thing about legal solutions is that they impose costs on spammers.

Yahoo's Miles Libbey talked about trends in spam, as seen passing through Yahoo Mail. Like many other speakers, Libbey saw a emerging emphasis on spammers trying to hide their identity, and attempting to make messages more random to avoid filters. On a scary note, Libbey said that Yahoo! had found that spammers had reacted to their anti-spam filters within a space of two hours.

Another presentation focused on finding economic means to deal with spam. Thede Loder, Marshall Van Alstyne, and Rick Wash outlined the Attention Bond Mechanism (ABM) where senders would have to put up a "bond" where users could charge the sender a sum of money for unwanted messages or release the money if the message was wanted.

Assuming a working model could be found and implemented, they say this would be of benefit to users and marketers. According to Loder, Van Alstyne and Wash, it could be cheaper than direct mail, while giving the recipient an incentive not to block the email automatically. Either the message would be of benefit to the user, or the user could reap a small financial gain by accepting the message. Most importantly, this model would return the control of a user's inbox to the user where it belongs and shift the burden to marketers.

Along the same lines, Eric Johansson of CAMRAM talked about a hybrid system that would add a money-free sender-pays type of system incrementally to email. Instead of being a money-based system, the stamp creation would be time-based. That is to say, that each "stamped" email would contain a 22-bit or 23-bit stamp that costs a given amount of time to generate. Adding that amount of time to generate each email would be somewhat prohibitive for spammers, as spammers need to send email in volume to make money.

Of course, there were also many discussions of technical means to filter and block spam. William Yerazunis spoke about ways to go beyond the accuracy of Bayesian and Markovian spam filtering. One interesting note from Yerazunis' talk is that he noted that some spammers are getting desperate enough to actually sign up for "well-credentialed" email lists in an effort to penetrate those lists and send spam to the mailing list members. He also noted that the "Habeas Haiku" method of whitelisting mail has actually become an indicator of spam rather than an indicator that the email is clean, as spammers have been brazenly using the Haikus in their spam.

Marty Lamb spoke about Martian Software's TarProxy, or "creating pain for spammers." TarProxy is a method for throttling connections between the spammer and an SMTP server by slowing the rate at which a spammer can send spam, and thereby make it more costly. It also would cause headaches for administrators of open relays, with the eventual goal of forcing them to fix the configuration of their server.

Jonathan Zdziarski managed to present two topics in the allotted 20 minute space. Zdziarski spoke about using "chained tokens" to provide more information when filtering spam, rather than using a single word as a token. The "chained token" technique basically works on the concept that it is easier and less risky to identify spam by multiple words or tokens rather than a single word or token. Tokens can include mail headers, HTML fragments and other bits of an e-mail. A white paper discussing the technique can be found on the DSPAM website in PDF.

Zdziarski is also working with Bill Yerazunis on an RFC for MIME Encoding for message inoculation, create a message format that allows different spam filters on different servers to share inoculation information.

John Graham-Cumming taped his presentation beforehand. Instead of discussing how to block spam, Graham-Cumming's presentation focused on how spammers could beat spam filters by using filters like POPFile to detect "good" words to get through a spam filter. Graham-Cumming predicts that spammers will continue to react to adaptive filtering, and said that it would be possible for a spammer to insert "web bugs" into spam to help train filters to see which messages are delivered and which are not. Graham-Cumming said that it would be necessary to choke off feedback to spammers, such as bounces and SMTP error messages, to prevent adaptive filtering to work against spam filtering.

Eric Raymond was also on hand at the conference, and spoke about several topics. One topic Raymond discussed is a provision in the CAN-SPAM Act that requires the Department of Commerce to consult with the IETF on spam-labeling standards. While the CAN-SPAM Act directs the department to consult with the IETF on this issue, the IETF does not have any labeling standards at the moment. Raymond says he is working on a draft RFC that could "pass constitutional muster" that could be used.

Raymond also discussed Sender Permitted From (SPF). SPF allows a server to query whether something is a valid IP address, and to set policies based on that information. To use SPF, you add information to DNS that informs the world which IP addresses are valid for sending e-mail from your domain. When spammers attempt to spoof "from" headers and so on, a server using SPF can check to see whether or not the IP addresses match the valid IP addresses listed in DNS records.

Raymond admitted that there are compatibility problems with SPF. For example, SPF breaks forwarding and causes problems for roving users who need to send mail from different IP addresses. He noted that no one technology for stopping spam is perfect, but several tactics can work together as a "drug cocktail" to help end the spam problem.

For those interested in attending an anti-spam conference before MIT's 2005 conference, several speakers plugged the First Conference on Email and Anti-Spam (CEAS), which is scheduled for July 30 and 31 in Mountain View, California. For those working on anti-spam technologies or in related areas, there is a call for papers with a deadline of April 16.

The full presentations from the MIT conference are available in RealPlayer format at the Spam Conference website.

Comments (7 posted)

Page editor: Jonathan Corbet

Inside this week's LWN.net Weekly Edition

  • Security: Linux cryptoloop weakness; New vulnerabilities in kdepim, mc, netpbm, qmail, ...
  • Kernel: User-space device drivers; Shrinking the kernel; FUSYNs.
  • Distributions: GoboLinux - Fun with File System Hierarchy; Spawn of Debian reviews
  • Development: The Bochs x86 PC Emulator, new versions of ZODB, Sendmail, Gimp-Print, PyKota, Sussen, Dasher, GNUsound, Visecas, Passepartout, TeXmacs, PyQt, DOSEMU, Balsa, Gnumeric, Epiphany, Mozilla, Perl, GSview.
  • Press: New spam fighting technique, open-source awards, Eclipse splitting from IBM, Oracle pushes Linux, Linux in entertainment systems.
  • Announcements: linuxaudio consortium, Open Ireland, LinuxWorld announcements, linuxmusician.com.
  • Letters: Happy Birthday LWN; What is SCO selling?
Next page: Security>>

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