As an example of Groklaw's impact, I edited Groklaw's Open Letter to SCO's CEO, Darl McBride, and The INQUIRER published it on 20 September 2003, because at that time Groklaw was hosted at Blogspot and couldn't hold up under the high traffic volume that generated. That letter was later submitted by IBM in US District Court as Exhibit 608 in opposition to SCO's summary judgment motions.
Amazingly enough, that SCO v. IBM lawsuit is still ongoing, because SCO prepaid its lawyers more than $30m to fight to the last ditch. Otherwise, SCO is now in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in Delaware, practically penniless and awaiting dissolution.
At the time, however, SCO had sent letters to 1,500 companies threatening to issue invoices demanding that they pay for licences to run Linux, the Unix-like operating system that was independently created by Linus Torvalds and developed with the voluntary, unpaid assistance of thousands of software developers worldwide.
SCO was threatening in the press to sue companies, but Groklaw's open letter promised to sue it in every jurisdiction that we could find if it sent out those Linux invoices. It was a rather powerful statement, and it read, in part:
"With regard to the invoices you have said you will mail out by October 15, we caution you that we believe that any such action will expose you to civil lawsuits under both federal and state consumer protection laws, as well as to possible criminal prosecution and penalties should state and federal agencies, attorneys general, and district attorneys decide to get involved, which we fully intend to ask them to do upon receipt of any invoice from you. [...]
"Should we receive invoices from you, we will initiate civil actions under the anti-fraud and consumer protection statutes wherever we live, according to our respective circumstances. We also intend to contact our state attorneys general to request that they seek criminal as well as civil penalties against you, in addition to injunctive relief. In addition, we will file complaints with the FTC and other federal and state agencies, as appropriate. Some individuals have already sent letters to legislators in their respective states and in Washington, DC."
Thanks to the group collaboration of many contributors made possible by Groklaw, SCO was confronted with potentially serious legal liabilities including likely ruinous and crippling legal expenses if it tried to carry out its scheme to hijack Linux.
Faced with an aroused FOSS community armed with virtual pitchforks and in a distinctly angry mood, SCO blinked hard and didn't send out any unsolicited invoices, although it did manage to bully a couple of firms into paying 'licence' fees for Linux, much to their later chagrin.
Although I don't want to make too much of that episode, as SCO most likely would have run aground eventually in the courts even if it had sent out invoices for so-called Linux 'licences', it was an important victory for all free and open source software developers and advocates. The entire community stood together and made it crystal clear, with one voice, that we were determined to fight that scurrilous, illegitimate attempt to steal our intellectual property, and therefore we won without ever having to actually go to court.
I believe Sun Tzu said in the Art of War that the best general is the one who wins without fighting. Faced with SCO's dire threats, it seems that our best general to defend free and open source software was the young woman who called herself PJ and wrote at a blog that she had named Groklaw.
Of course it didn't hurt that SCO had sued IBM, and thereby bit off far more than it could ever chew. However, that had not played out then, and SCO's threat was immediate. Conceivably it might have worked, too, at least for a little while, and damaged Linux.
Sign up for INQbot – a weekly roundup of the best from the INQ