EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

SCO Director of Public Relations Blake Stowell Speaks Out

In December 2003, at the same time that a judge’s call for evidence sent SCO Group‘s stock price lower, the Lindon, Utah-based company was taking a hit on its Web site, against which malware writers had launched a denial-of-service attack. Just a few weeks ago, the company was hit again by a reportedly similar DoS attack. Overall, SCO has been the subject of a great deal of criticism from the open-source community after charging that its proprietary Unix System V source code was illegally used in IBM’s AIX operating system and Linux distributions.

It is clear that SCO has generated a lot of heated feelings in the industry, Harvard Research Group vice president Bill Claybrook recently told LinuxInsider. “I don’t think too many people like them,” Claybrook said. “The reason is the way they’ve conducted the lawsuit and the contention that anything that goes through System V, they own.” One need go no further than a local Linux-oriented discussion board to see how much debate SCO has generated among Linux proponents.

But when it comes to brass tacks, Blake Stowell, SCO’s director of public relations, believes the company is fighting the good fight, sticking up for its own intellectual property despite the effect this move eventually might have on Linux, the GPL and the open-source community in general. While we have published outspoken perspectives by industry leaders opposed to SCO’s position — such as open-source advocate Eric S. Raymond and free-software proponent Richard Stallman — we have yet to provide a forum for SCO directly.

Arguably, front-man Blake Stowell currently has one of the toughest jobs in the United States — meeting the vitriolic criticism of the open-source community daily and arguing SCO’s case to the press. To get his take on these developments, LinuxInsider turned to Stowell for an exclusive interview.

LinuxInsider: Your company has been attacked — physically by way of DoS and verbally all over the Internet — and you’ve even had to hire personal bodyguards. So, for starters, how are you doing these days — personally?

Blake Stowell: This has certainly been one of the biggest PR challenges that I’ve ever dealt with in my career to this point, but it’s also been one of the most exciting and eye-opening experiences I’ve ever had. I’ve never worked harder for a company, but also never enjoyed the work as much as I have so far with SCO.

LinuxInsider: What’s your general feeling about the open-source community? Or, to put it differently, what’s your philosophy of software?

Stowell: I think that a lot of good has come from the open-source community. The fact that developers around the world can collaborate on projects together to create something for the general good of society is an incredible thing. I’ve worked with a lot of companies and individuals that have made some great contributions to open source. SCO has both contributed to and benefited from open-source software.

The only issue that SCO as a company has had with open source is when elements of the community choose to take proprietary software and contribute it into open source. I don’t think that this is a widespread practice, but I think it’s a problem that has to be addressed. Certainly this has impacted SCO probably more than any other company.

One thing that has been disappointing, though, is the virulent and personal attacks against SCO from some people in the open-source community. We’re a company defending one of our core business assets, and we’re doing this through the courts, as the legal system requires. We should not be subjected to personal insults, physical threats, DDoS attacks and all the other things.

Even reporters who write stories that are not anti-SCO are subjected to tremendous pressure and attacks. It’s troubling that for a community founded on principles of cooperation and openness, there’s this element that is so rigid and violent.

LinuxInsider: How did your background in technology lead you to SCO, and what is your vision of the company’s present mission?

Stowell: A number of factors led me to SCO. I joined the company when it was Caldera in 2001, and I had knowledge of the company from previous work that I had done at Lineo, a sister company to Caldera. I had a certain respect and understanding for Linux and wanted to continue down that path in my career. I could see that Linux was going to be around for many years to come.

While some people might disagree with me and the company, we have no intention of trying to destroy Linux or derail its future. We do, however, firmly believe that there are intellectual property issues with Linux that have to be addressed. Some of those IP issues have impacted how SCO does business. When you think about it, a lot of the value propositions for Linux are also the same value propositions that SCO has provided for decades — it’s Unix on Intel. Businesses have loved the reliability, availability and scalability of Unix on Intel.

SCO believes there have been significant misappropriations of our key Unix-on-Intel software that have caused people to migrate to Linux (because they get all of those same benefits for free) versus continuing on a Unix-on-Intel platform through SCO. Obviously, that has hurt our business, and the company is now asking commercial business users of Linux who are benefiting from using our software to compensate the company through a license fee.

LinuxInsider: Does SCO view itself more as a vendor of intellectual property or of software?

Stowell: It’s really both. Two years ago, if you were to ask an IT professional who owns the core Unix operating system source code, you probably would have received a blank stare. Today, I think SCO has successfully educated the marketplace that SCO owns this core Unix source code from which AIX, HP-UX, Solaris and dozens of other Unix operating systems were derived. In 2003, the company did major licensing deals from this Unix source code to Microsoft and Sun that resulted in millions of dollars in added revenue to the company’s bottom line. We’ll continue to license this valuable intellectual property.

At the same time, we also operate as a software company with sales of our own Unix operating systems, OpenServer and UnixWare — as well as other complementary solution products. This is where the lion’s share of our current revenue comes from. We have a very loyal customer base that continues to depend on these Unix-on-Intel products.

LinuxInsider: Rather than asking you to disclose evidence or talk about some of the legal implications of the initial filing, can you tell us what was the catalyst for filing the lawsuit? Had SCO been planning the move for a long time?

Stowell: Our lawsuit against IBM is ongoing litigation that I unfortunately can’t comment on.

LinuxInsider: On a personal level, in light of all the criticism, have you questioned your role in the SCO-IBM controversy? For example, are you at peace with your job when you go home at night?

Stowell: One of the characteristics of public relations is you’re tasked with representing your company to a number of publics and vice versa. I’ve never worked for a company where its direction was at such odds with one particular public — namely, the Linux community. Does that make my job harder? Absolutely. Do I question my role? Not at all.

I see it as one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever had in my career, and I’m of course very supportive of the company’s efforts in this area. As long as I can go home at night and know that I was honest with the media, I was respectful of another’s point of view and tried to not burn any bridges, I think that I can feel very at peace.

LinuxInsider: Part of your job is to maintain the company’s image. Given that SCO has been sharply criticized, how are you planning to transform the company’s image among open-source advocates after the lawsuit?

Stowell: Open source will probably be around for a very long time to come, and I’m sure SCO will continue to participate in and benefit from open-source software. One way the company might continue to work with and help open source is in putting some mechanisms in place to assure that proprietary software doesn’t make its way into open source. I’m sure this will continue to be a concern among open-source developers going into the future.

LinuxInsider: Do you plan to move into other markets in the future, or are you going to stay focused on your traditional business?

Stowell: Every business has to change along the way, but I’m confident that SCO’s future business will continue to involve the customer set that we’ve always been focused on through our company’s reseller channel: small-to-medium businesses and branch-office retail customers.

LinuxInsider: What do you think are some of the most interesting developments in the tech sector today?

Stowell: Probably the merging of consumer electronics and high tech. Who would have thought 10 years ago that Apple and HP would someday sell customers iPod digital music players? Or that Dell and Gateway would offer plasma televisions? Or Microsoft would introduce the Xbox?

LinuxInsider: Anything else you’d like to add?

Stowell: Thanks for giving me the opportunity to tell a side of the story that not many people get to hear.

12 Comments

  • What Blake Stowell said in this interview seems quite plainly at odds with The SCO Group’s open letter on copyright (http://www.thescogroup.com/copyright/), dated 4th December 2003.
    In this interview, Stowell said, "I think that a lot of good has come from the open-source community. The fact that developers around the world can collaborate on projects together to create something for the general good of society is an incredible thing. I’ve worked with a lot of companies and individuals that have made some great contributions to open source. SCO has both contributed to and benefited from open-source software."
    But in The SCO Group’s open letter, their CEO, Darl McBride, said, "SCO asserts that the GPL, under which Linux is distributed, violates the United States Constitution and the U.S. copyright and patent laws." What’s more, he went on to assert, "In the past 20 years, the Free Software Foundation and others in the Open Source software movement have set out to actively and intentionally undermine the U.S. and European systems of copyrights and patents." That would be the same "Open Source software movement" which The SCO Group, formerly Caldera, has actively been a part of, no?
    If you read the rest of that letter, you’ll surely be left in no doubt that Stowell’s answers in the LinuxInsider interview just do not fit with The SCO Group’s own, publicly stated position.
    It’s interesting that Stowell went on to say, "The only issue that SCO as a company has had with open source is when elements of the community choose to take proprietary software and contribute it into open source." The "only" issue? This is clearly false, given The SCO Group’s own open letter which predates this interview by a matter of months!
    What on earth is Blake Stowell trying to do? Is he trying to discredit The SCO Group, or just himself?

  • Let’s analyse the one specific charge made by Blake Stowell in this interview:
    "SCO believes there have been significant misappropriations of our key Unix-on-Intel software"
    There is no ‘Unix-on-Intel’ secrets in Unix SysV – it wasn’t written to run on Intel x86 processors – so this must be a reference to Openserver or UnixWare software – the other SCOG software (I use SCOG for the SCO Group to distinguish them from the Santa Cruz Operation – a different company).
    SCO (not SCOG) shared OpenServer and UnixWare with IBM a few years ago as part of project Monterrey – did IBM put these secrets into Linux? Well No. SCOG has confirmed that none of the contributions IBM has made to Linux contain SCOG copyright code. SCO’s complaint has been that IBM has put IBM owned code into Linux when SCOG think they should have kept it secret. This code is mostly related to running Linux on multiprocessor computers which neither OpenServer nor UnixWare can do so it can’t be OpenServer or UnixWare code.
    That’s right. In their case against IBM SCOG have not accused IBM of putting SCOG software into Linux; the case is all about the interpretation of a secrecy clause in some ancient Unix license between ATT and IBM and if SCOG win against IBM they will get damages from IBM but IBM will still own this code and SCOG will not be able to sue Linux users for something IBM did.
    A year after SCOG announced there is SCO IP in Linux they have yet to sue anyone for copyright infringement. The only copyright case they have brought is related to Unix code in AIX not Linux.
    There is a copyright case before the courts however; IBM is sueing SCOG for infringing IBMs copyrights by distributing SCOLinux without permission. IBM owns the copyright to some of the code in Linux. IBM (like all the other Linux copyright owners) has given permission for this code to be distributed under the GPL Licence. They haven’t given permission for it to be distributed any other way. SCO has distributed SCOLinux, including the IBM IP, under a modified licence, including extra restrictions which IBM have not agreed to – the SCO IP licence. When IBM wins this case everyone else who owns the copyright to some code in Linux, from Linus Torvalds down, can send in a bill to SCOG as well.
    Yes. That’s right. The most likely outcome of this case is that SCOG will be found to have infringed Linux IP!
    Just yesterday a court in Germany issued an injunction forbidding SCOG from repeating these allegations that Linux contains SCOG IP. SCOG could not offer any evidence to back up their allegations and the injunction was granted. RedHat has asked a court in Delaware to issue a similar order. A similar case is before the courts in Australia. Things are not going well for SCOG.

    • I might be missing something, but after some of the facts came to light, they are saying that some code that is not theirs, namely NUMA and RCU were coded by IBM and whomever else, but ended up in the linux kernel.
      Where is the damage to SCOG if the above is correct? IBM has a perpetual license and is fully paid up according to IBM. Wouldn’t this mean that whether a client chooses AIX or linux on a multi-processor machine, SCOG won’t be making a penny?
      IBM could be the only one losing revenue from not selling more AIX licenses?

  • SCO distributed code under GPL without understanding what that meant.
    As a result they are claiming that GPL is invalid/unenforceable.
    That should reflect a lot on why the Open source community is upset with them.

    • That would be true since the only evidence put forth so far seams to have been PD source from the open BSD days. Software that’s source and free use was desided IN COURT a decade ago. I serously doubt thet anyone at SCO know where there source code came from or who really owns it. Provided there is even any in linux. It seams to be on of the closest garded secrets, what exactly did IBM copy into linux. You can’t take PD software incorporate into your product and then declear the PD stuff is your IP also. They have no case. That is why IBM & RedHat want to go to court. SCO will loose and die a slow misable death… AS IT SHOULD! Cheeper that purchasing a worthless company as SCO would have them do. Just buy us out and we will go home and shut up, is SCO plan and IBM and RedHat are going to send them to the showers instead….. broke. RIP SCO!

  • Blackmale is blackmale. If he is so interest in letting the courts deside the case. Why are they asking for fee before the proof is layed out in court, and they have won? Because they are using the pain in the ass tatic to increase stock proces falsely and for hope someone will buy them to shut them up. PERIOD! That is all that I see in SCO anymore…

  • When you run an interview that contains bald and serious accusations of impropriety against an individual, I believe that it is incumbent upon you to either attempt to verify those statements, or at least give that person an opportunity to respond.
    Pamela Jones has run a weblog for the last year of surpassing integrity and content. Her research into the details of the conflict between SCO and the Linux community is not just unsurpassed — it is so good that nobody even tries to compete. Furthermore, in the cases where she has been mistaken, she owns up to it quickly and completely — as in the case where she was perhaps to quick to give credence to the idea of SCO fabricting a DDoS attack on themselves.
    Where can you find all public details of the agreements between SCO and Novell? Groklaw is the only place. Where can you find transcripts of SCO’s public statements? Only Groklaw. Where can you find searchable text copies of the legal filings in the SCO cases? Only Groklaw. Where can you find examples of refutations of SCO’s claims against IBM, as in the recent case of the programmers of AutoZone authoritatively ripping apart SCO’s claims that IBM influenced AutoZone into converting to Linux? Groklaw.
    Where can you find ubsubstantiated accusations that Ms Jones is somehow controlled by IBM? I’m afraid that you can only find that in LinuxInsider — and I think that you should find a way to verify or refute those statements.
    Thad Beier

  • What people want to know is why, if SCO IP is in Linux doesn’t SCO want to minimize the damage to the value of their IP and remove it? It is well known that allowing the Linux community to remove the alledged SCO IP by disclosure of what is infringing and why would make the open source community very happy and should make SCO happy as well by ending damages on both ends. Yet to this day SCO is not telling anyone what is really wrong (if anything) so it can be fixed, trying to sell IP licenses for Linux, and attepting to give the appearance that everything is good with open source in the case of Stowell, while McBride is going so far as to write Congress with major FUD over Linux, open source, and GPL. This gives the company two faces to show you depending on what they want to show you on any given day. I should not be surprised by this two faced SCO’s public statements concerning self imposed deadlines to act against Linux end users to come and pass with no action taken. I should expect them to continue the I have a secret and I won’t tell child’s strategy to continue. I still wonder why, if SCO is on the up and up concerning their Linux IP licensing don’t they offer refunds and other common customer protections along with the ironclad SCO protection clearly stated within the license. If SCO answered these questionable items honestly along with questions then raised by their answers I think they would find a high level of cooperation, improved respect, and a potential future after litigation. SCO must realize they are killing their company in the long run. SCO must realize that even if they some how prevail they can not continue to force others to use SCO IP they don’t want to use. Linux and other developers will as soon as the IP lines are drawn clearly and permanently; remove any and all SCO IP from Linux. SCO appears to have choosen the short term and temporary FUD and litigation path to greatly raise the price of their stock while destroying it’s sustainable value in the long run. Win or loose the price for SCO’s seemingly unethical conduct today will be paid by furure SCO stock holders who will see the price of their SCOX stock return to it’s true value. In closing let it be said that SCO can only be judged by what can be seen. SCO’s public actions concerning the protection of it’s alledged IP have not been forth coming, consistant, or constructive. SCO has said publically that no SCO IP exists in the Linux kernel one day to just to turn around and sue over that non-existent IP the next. Read for yourselves and judge for yorselves for the only true freedom one has in life is making a choice for themselves.
    So here we sit with Dr. Stowell and Mr. McBride.

  • "Thanks for giving me the opportunity to tell a side of the story that not many people get to hear."
    Actually it seems to be the other way around. SCOG has been trying its case in the court of public opinion from time beofre it ever filed its first law suit. And if any of those who report on the case would take the time to follow the IBM and Red hat suits a little more closely, it would be found that SCOG is doing its level best not to have its case(s) actually heard in court.
    Glenn

  • One way open source might continue to work with and help the company (The SCO Group) is in putting some mechanisms in place to assure that open-source software doesn’t make its way into proprietary distributions. I’m sure this will continue to be an aim AM ongst open-source developers going into the future.
    Despite what Blake says to the contrary, I know I could not sleep at nights if I had a job where I had to lie to the world. He once again implies that the DDoS attacks were caused by the open source community, how is this being honest with the media? His only defence in this matter would be that he made an honest mistake, but he must have been told that it was the work of criminals linked to spammers. Everybody else in the IT community understands this but not Blake. BS is very apt

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