PJ Bows Out

April 19, 2011

A little over a week ago, on Saturday, April 9, there was a message posted at the Groklaw blog, which in a small way marks the end of an era.  The message was posted by Pamela Jones, known affectionately to many of us as PJ, the founder of the site back in 2003, and editor and prime mover ever since.  PJ announced that she would stop publishing new material on Monday, May 16, because the original impetus behind the site, the lawsuit brought by SCO Group v. IBM over Linux, is now essentially a dead letter.

I have decided that Groklaw will stop publishing new articles on our anniversary, May 16.

I know a lot of you will be unhappy to hear it, so let me briefly explain, because my decision is made and it’s firm. In a simple sentence, the reason is this: the crisis SCO initiated over Linux is over, and Linux won. SCO as we knew it is no more.

In that lawsuit, SCO sought damages of $2 billion from IBM, on the grounds that IBM’s distribution of the open-source Linux operating system violated SCO’s intellectual property rights in UNIX, which it had acquired after a series of transactions.  (Groklaw has an “SCO Overview” page that links to articles on different aspects of this complex proceeding.  There is also a summary of SCO v. IBM, the core of the saga, although it ultimately involved many other players, including AutoZone, Red Hat, Daimler-Chrysler, Novell, and Microsoft, among others.)

Many of us who have been involved in some way with the open-source community, and with Linux in particular, felt that the suit was groundless, but were not really familiar with the applicable laws and legal procedures relevant to this type of action.  Although IBM certainly has extensive legal resources (and it seemed in that sense crazy for SCO to take on IBM), the history of UNIX itself is sufficiently complicated¹ that lawyers without a technical background would find the going difficult.   PJ, who was an experienced paralegal, started Groklaw to provide a forum for the techies and lawyers to put their heads together.  (The first part of the name, “Grok”, is from Robert Heinlein’s classic science fiction novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, where it is introduced as a Martian term meaning to understand deeply.)   Despite personal attacks from SCO and some of its shills, PJ persevered, providing along the way an enormous amount of lucid explanation of how the legal process was unfolding.

The result has been truly impressive: the Groklaw site lays out, in detail and together with supporting documents, the whole history of SCO v IBM and all the related legal action.   It is the first instance I know of where the collaboration methods of open-source software were used to analyze a legal case.  PJ and Groklaw richly deserved the Free Software Foundation’s Free Software Award that it won in 2008.  I am very glad to say that, although new articles will not be added after mid-May, the site itself will continue in existence.  If you are interested at all in this area, it is a resource well worth your time to explore.

Bruce Byfield also has a “Eulogy for Groklaw” article at Linux Pro magazine.


¹ I have posted a couple of previous articles on UNIX history.  For those who are interested in more detail, Groklaw has a copy of Dr. Peter Salus’s excellent book, The Daemon, the GNU, and the Penguin, which relates this history and its relation to the development of Linux as a “work-alike” system.  The book is also available in softcover, published by Reed Media Services, ISBN 097903423X.

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