SCO's Legal Wrangles Take an Odd, Personal Turn

By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

May 10, 2005

Opinion: What happens when a recalcitrant reporter becomes the story in the seemingly never-ending SCO-vs.-the-world saga?

In today's blog-filled universe, you don't have to be the New York Times to make an impact with a story.

Take the recent attempts of Apple to shut down bloggers who report on Tiger or what's been going on recently with Pamela "PJ" Jones, the editor and lead-writer of the legal news and opinion site Groklaw.

Groklaw, for those of you who haven't been following the endless battles of SCO vs. the world, is the ur-site of all primary materials—legal petitions, court-papers and so on—for SCO's many legal cases.

The site is used by everyone, including SCO, as the reference desk for SCO's many Unix, Linux and contractual cases. Groklaw, also, in its editorials and news stories, has a very strong pro-open-source and anti-SCO slant.

SCO, understandably, has not been amused by Groklaw's almost-daily examination of its every business and legal move, past and present.

In fact, Darl McBride, SCO's CEO, has accused PJ as being a front for anti-SCO parties, such as IBM, and that she's not who she says she is—a paralegal who's also a journalist.

In fact, McBride said in SCO's first quarter results report, "if you look at the reality of the Pamela Jones situation, you have to conclude that all is not as appeared as it is in Groklaw land. We appreciate that many media sources disagree with us, but they're accountable. We think you need to know who's behind the news."

SCO's CEO would not go so far as to say Jones was working for IBM, but "we're digging into who Pam Jones is, and we're close to the bottom."

Jones, who is reportedly very shy, has been extremely protective of her privacy.

Her privacy, however, was blown apart recently by a "reporter" named Maureen O'Gara, who, while unable to find any smoking gun of Jones being involved with IBM, nevertheless published personal details of what may or may not be Jones' life in LBW (Linux Business Week).

O'Gara, while unable to conclude that the person she "outed" was PJ, nevertheless published photographs of Jones' home and published the addresses, phone numbers and e-mail contacts not only for Jones, but for her mother and her son as well.

This story has since been taken down. Indeed, according to James Turner, a senior editor for LinuxWorld—a sister publication to LBW from the same publisher, SYS-CON—SYS-CON's publisher has said, "Maureen O'Gara's bylined material will no longer appear anywhere in the Sys-Con universe of sites or publications."

Heck, even Blake Stowell, PR director of SCO, said of the matter, "Certainly we don't condone reporters digging to uncover things about people's personal lives that should remain private."

Nevertheless, we live in a time when bloggers, especially those who tread the fine line between journalism and just speaking their mind, are going to have to get used to living under a microscope.

Apple and SCO are only the first companies to take bloggers/journalists to task. They won't be the last.

Without the protection of a journalist's status or a major publisher, would-be authors of sites such as Think Secret and Groklaw are going to face hounding and possible legal action.

The good ones, like PJ, will stay the course. But, make no mistake about it, it hasn't been easy on her, and it won't be easy for anyone who follows in her whistleblower footsteps.

Oh, and by the way, Pamela Jones really does exist. I've met her.

That's not really the point, though. The point is that Groklaw stories tend to be meticulously researched and, when an error is made—and there's always mistakes in this world—PJ corrects them.

That doesn't mean, by the way, that I think she's always right.

Believe it or not, I, a frequent SCO critic myself, actually think that SCO does have some valid points in its claims that it was given the dirty end of the stick in how IBM closed down Project Monterey, their joint attempt to make a Unix that would run on both 64-bit Intel and POWER processors.

PJ disagrees and doesn't think that their position has any merit.

We look at the same materials, and come to different conclusions.

That's life, that's journalism, and eventually, in the Apple and SCO cases, that will be the courts. Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late '80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.

Copyright 2005