A US District Court judge in Utah ruled Friday that SCO Group does not control the UNIX copyrights that are the foundation of its lawsuits against a number of other companies. Instead, Novell owns the copyrights for UNIX. This decision should put an end to the senseless legal cases SCO has brought against a number of companies, including IBM. Further damaging, the judge ruled that SCO owes Novell for the UNIX licensing revenues that it has collected from Microsoft and Sun Microsystems.

The news is a huge relief for the users and makers of the free UNIX-based Linux operating system, who would have faced a withering series of lawsuits from SCO had it been determined to be the UNIX copyright owner. However, since Novell is the legal owner of the copyrights, and a major proponent and vendor of Linux, the SCO threat has been effectively put to rest.

Last week's ruling stems in part from a 2003 lawsuit in which SCO Group alleged that IBM had illegally copied code from UNIX into the freely-available Linux system. SCO claimed, therefore, that Linux was an unauthorized derivative of Linux and subject to royalty fees to the copyright owner. SCO threatened to similarly sue other distributors and institutional users of Linux unless they paid royalties. Novell, the legal owner of UNIX, has been involved in a series of legal battles with SCO as well.

With its stock price trading in the $1 range and this blistering legal defeat behind it, SCO's days are likely quite numbered, and the company has yet to comment publicly on the ruling. Novell, however, was clearly ebullient at the outcome. "Today's court ruling vindicates the position Novell has taken since the inception of the dispute with SCO, and it settles the issue of who owns the copyrights of UNIX in Novell's favor," a Novell statement reads. "The court's ruling has cut out the core of SCO's case and, as a result, eliminates SCO's threat to the Linux. We are extremely pleased with the outcome."