SGI Sends Us a Letter: XFS Is Not a Derivative Work

Wednesday, October 01 2003 @ 08:35 PM EDT

Contributed by: PJ

SCO is at it again. They are now, according to Infoworld, giving SGI the IBM treatment:

"In an Aug. 13 letter addressed to SCO's legal department and released to the media Wednesday, SCO Chief Executive Officer Darl McBride claims that SGI's contributions to Linux put it in breach of its 1986 Unix licensing agreement, originally signed with AT&T Corp. but subsequently transferred to SCO.

"According to McBride's letter, 'SGI flagrantly permitted the copying and use of our proprietary information without any knowledge of the identities of the recipients" and "subjected our source code to unrestricted disclosure, unauthorized transfer and disposition, and unauthorized use and copying.'

"The letter threatens to terminate SGI's Unix license as of Oct. 14 should SGI fail to 'remedy all violations.'"

SGI says SCO can't terminate because, like IBM, their license is fully paid up and nonterminable. The real question is: how does SCO define "all violations"?

As you probably already know, SGI's most recent 10K has this paragraph in its risks assessment section, sometimes colloquially known as the Chicken Little or "the sky is falling" section, in that you are supposed to list every possible bad thing that could impact your company:

"We recently received a notice from SCO Group stating its intention to terminate our fully paid license to certain UNIX-related code, under which we distribute our IRIX operating system, on the basis that we have breached the terms of such license. We believe that the SCO Group's allegations are without merit and that our fully paid license is nonterminable. Nonetheless, there can be no assurance that this dispute with SCO Group will not escalate into litigation, which could have a material adverse effect on SGI, or that SCO Group's intellectual property claims will not impair the market acceptance of the Linux operating system."

In the spirit of the open source community, SGI has sent us an open letter, in every sense of the word, in which they clearly and simply set forth exactly what the SCO fuss is all about from their standpoint. What I get from the letter is that they looked for any conceivable problem (looking at it from the SCO twisted viewpoint), found a few minor issues SCO might try to use (and yes, it would have been better had there been zero such), removed them immediately to be on the safe side, despite their belief that they are public domain, and are continuing to do so, and then take their stand:

"XFS is an innovative SGI- created work. It is not a derivative work of System V in any sense, and SGI has full rights to license it to whomever we choose and to contribute it to open source."

They say their license gives SGI rights to all work they creatively do that does not include AT&T code. Here is the letter:

October 1, 2003

To the Linux Community:

As one of many contributors to the Open Source movement and to Linux, SGI takes the subject of intellectual property rights seriously. Our contributions are a valuable expression of ideas which contribute to the intellectual richness of Linux.

Over the past four years, SGI has released over a million lines of code under an open source license. Throughout, we have carried out a rigorous internal process to ensure that all software contributed by SGI represents code we are legally entitled to release as open source.

When a question was raised by the community earlier in the summer about the ate_utils.c routine, we took immediate action to address it. We quickly and carefully re-reviewed our contributions to open source, and found brief fragments of code matching System V code in three generic routines (ate_utils.c, the atoi function and systeminfo.h header file), all within the I/O infrastructure support for SGI's platform. The three code fragments had been inadvertently included and in fact were redundant from the start. We found better replacements providing the same functionality already available in the Linux kernel. All together, these three small code fragments comprised no more than 200 lines out of the more than one million lines of our overall contributions to Linux. Notably, it appears that most or all of the System V code fragments we found had previously been placed in the public domain, meaning it is very doubtful that the SCO Group has any proprietary claim to these code fragments in any case.

As a precaution, we promptly removed the code fragments from SGIs Linux website and distributed customer patches, and released patches to the 2.4 and 2.5 kernels on June 30 and July 3 to replace these routines and make other fixes to the SGI infrastructure code that were already in progress at SGI. Our changes showed up in the 2.5 kernel within a few weeks of our submission, and the 2.4 changes were available in the production version of the 2.4 kernel as of August 25 when the 2.4.22 kernel was released. Thus, the code in question has been completely removed.

Following this occurrence, we continued our investigation to determine whether any other code in the Linux kernel was even conceivably implicated. As a result of that exhaustive investigation, SGI has discovered a few additional code segments (similar in nature to the segments referred to above and trivial in amount) that may arguably be related to UNIX code. We are in the process of removing and replacing these segments.

SCO's references to XFS are completely misplaced. XFS is an innovative SGI- created work. It is not a derivative work of System V in any sense, and SGI has full rights to license it to whomever we choose and to contribute it to open source. It may be that SCO is taking the position that merely because XFS is also distributed along with IRIX it is somehow subject to the System V license. But if so, this is an absurd position, with no basis either in the license or in common sense. In fact, our UNIX license clearly provides that SGI retains ownership and all rights as to all code that was not part of AT&Ts UNIX System V.

I hope this answers some of the questions that you and the Linux community might have. We continue to release new Linux work, and are very excited about the growth and acceptance of Linux. We are continuing full speed to do new work and release new Linux products. We take our responsibility to the open source community seriously and are confident that we have an effective process to verify the quality and integrity of our contributions to Linux.

Rich Altmaier
VP of Software, SGI
richa at

UPDATE: According to, SCO spokesman Blake Stowell says they have no immediate plans to sue SGI. Huh ?!? That's what it says:

"Stowell said SCO, at this time, has no plans to sue SGI."

That must be the same kind of "no plans at this time" as in Red Hat, as in "I hope SGI doesn't go to court for a declaratory judgment."