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5/24/2004
04:45 PM
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OSDL Tightens Intellectual Property Tracking In Linux

The new system is designed to track and document changes to the Linux kernel and go "a long way to eliminating doubt surrounding the origin of Linux code."

Open Source Development Labs, a consortium that promotes Linux in the enterprise and employs the operating system's creator Linus Torvalds, on Monday said it has launched a new system for tracking and documenting changes to the Linux kernel that goes "a long way toward eliminating doubt surrounding the origin of Linux code."

Linux has been caught in a maelstrom of controversy sparked by a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit filed last year by the SCO Group against IBM. SCO accuses the high-tech giant of contributing its copyrighted Unix code into Linux, which is distributed without charge through an open source license. IBM denies the allegations.

Besides IBM, SCO has also sued several large companies that use Linux.

The lawsuits, which have also prompted legal action against SCO by Linux distributors Novell and Red Hat, have clouded Linux's future within enterprises, which are carefully watching the legal maneuverings. Adoption of Linux, however, remains strong, analysts say.

The new system puts in place a Developer's Certificate of Origin that's meant to track contributions and contributors to the Linux kernel. Under the DCO, all contributors are required to sign-off on their submissions before they are considered for inclusion.

"The DCO ensures that appropriate attribution is given to developers of original contributions and derivative works, as well to those contributors who receive submissions and pass them, unchanged, up the kernel tree," OSDL said in a statement.

While lauding OSDL's improvements on the submission process, some experts said more is needed to satisfy all the issues related to the use of open source software.

The DCO, for example, applies only to the Linux kernel, and has no impact on the thousands of open source applications built to run on Linux, George Weiss, analyst for market researcher Gartner, said. In addition, the DCO relies on contributors' honesty in declaring the origin of code submissions, and there's no indication that corporate users of Linux had input in the new system.

"I wouldn't say this is going to be a panacea, but it's good to see OSDL get involved," Weiss said, noting that companies should have their legal departments look carefully at the DCO to determine its legal implications.

Stuart Cohen, OSDL chief executive, acknowledged in a joint statement with Torvalds that with Linux's success, there has come "new challenges."

"The measure we announce today goes a long way toward eliminating doubt surrounding the origin of Linux code, and does so without placing any undue burden on the development community," Cohen said.

Torvalds said the "process improvement makes Linux even stronger."

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