Castle spills beans on ROL disputeBy Chris Williams. Published: 21st Jun 2004, 20:32:20 | Permalink | Printable
Breaches and the history [Updated]Earlier today, Castle held a press conference to answer the burning questions on their stance against RISCOS Ltd. in the recent legal dispute between the two OS developers.
After STD and VirtualAcorn released announcements that they had suspended the shipment of products employing RISC OS 4, Castle countered with allegations that RISCOS Ltd. had breached their licence with the owners of RISC OS - which as of July 2003, is Castle, after they reportedly bought the OS from Pace Micro. RISCOS Ltd. quickly responded by refuting Castle's allegations, but Castle announced that they had terminated RISCOS Ltd's licence back in May 2004.
Castle today revealed that, ever since acquiring RISC OS, RISCOS Ltd. have allegedly breached their licence to develop and sell RISC OS by: failing to pay Castle royalties from November 2003 onwards; for releasing Printers+ as open source software; and for not passing back their work on RISC OS 4 to Castle. Several sources, including a vocal RISC OS shareholder, have insisted that RISCOS Ltd. do not need to pass back their work to Castle (although, they had to for a limited period of time when Pace Micro owned RISC OS) - but Castle's solicitors, we're told, disagreed with this. Castle also argued that as they were required to protect their intellectual property (which includes the RISC OS source code), things like Printers+ cannot be open sourced.
Castle apparently contacted RISCOS Ltd. soon after they took ownership of RISC OS, and said they've spent the past 12 months asking RISCOS Ltd. to correct its apparent licence breaches. In December 2003, Castle consulted their team of lawyers to look over all the paperwork involved, to determine if and where RISCOS Ltd. had breached its licence - now, Castle seem ultimately confident that they are in the right, despite RISCOS Ltd.'s protest to the contrary.
Castle reassured us that they did not intend to make the dispute public, however it appears that STD's and VA's announcements prompted them to make a statement - indeed many commentators have suggested that getting the whole affair out in the open is what's best for the platform right now. Castle also said that they wanted to settle the dispute as quickly as possible and have the RISCOS Ltd. sub-licencees (companies that use RISC OS 4, like STD and VirtualAcorn) licensing RISC OS 3.7, an 'early' version of 4, and RISC OS 5 from Castle, so halted products can begin shipping again. Castle stressed that their aim was to move RISC OS forward, rather than appearing hostile to their competitors. They recognised the "good work" done by RISCOS Ltd.'s sub-licencees, and said that they had privately confirmed to each sub-licencee (directly or indirectly) that they meant their competitors no harm. Really.
For example, VirtualRiscPC, in Castle's view, is a good piece of software, but Castle declared that it is not an authorised RISC OS product and cannot be authorised under current licensing issues between Castle and RISCOS Ltd. However, Castle did say that they would like to work out a suitable new licence with VirtualAcorn. Castle also sent out letters from their solicitors to dealers and AMSes, 'warning' them of the dispute with RISCOS Ltd. Soon after, STD and VA announced that they've stopped shipping.
And so, we follow Human nature in search of explanations and fault. Who's exactly to blame? Castle repeatedly accused the management of RISCOS Ltd. of being indecisive and failing to communicate with Castle. Despite several meetings with Castle, no agreement was reached, and Castle claimed they had presented various deals to RISCOS Ltd. for them to consider. Castle also blamed the RISCOS Ltd. shareholders for pulling the company apart, and failing to reach a common opinion. Itself holding at least a 25 percent stake in RISCOS Ltd., Castle admitted that it would like to see the company wound up, because the company, according to Castle, is in a terminal position - while Castle believe that RISCOS Ltd. have provided a good run of upgrades for RiscPCs and similar kit, they were not sure if this will remain a viable income.
Granted, RISC OS 4 is pitched at the legacy market, but the MicroDigital Omega and of course, the popular VirtualRiscPC have helped keep RISC OS 4 sales to a level seemingly healthy enough for RISCOS Ltd. The cynical amongst you will read between the lines and guess that Castle really want people to migrate from RISC OS 4 to RISC OS 5, quite possibly via any means necessary. Castle's spin on the situation is that the market for RISC OS 4 upgrades is barely a thousand users, which for them, just isn't enough - particularly when they're talking of moving RISC OS to newer ARM architectures.
There's also no chance right now of Castle buying RISCOS Ltd. out because Castle state that they're unsure of exactly what liabilities and debts are attached to RISCOS Ltd., which they'd have to settle as the new owners. On June 12th, RISCOS Ltd. held a shareholder meeting, where Castle and their electronic design arm Tematic, showed off a presentation on where they want to take RISC OS, but only a skeleton agreement on which path to take was decided during the course of the day.
Chillingly, one suggested option was to move to have RISCOS Ltd. liquidated and have their assests sold to pay off what money they owe to Castle and other possible creditors. Also, Castle added that there was no point wasting money dragging RISCOS Ltd. to court to sue them, as Castle consider RISCOS Ltd. to be practically bankrupt, anyway.
Rumours are rife that RISCOS Ltd. believe that Castle does not own RISC OS, and it therefore does not have to pay Castle a penny - although Castle asserted that it owns all of RISC OS "lock, stock and barrel" (Castle's Peter Wild suggested you ask Pace if you don't believe them), and that RISCOS Ltd. were, according to Castle, happy to pay royalties to the new OS owners from July 2003 to November 2003. Castle went on to accuse RISCOS Ltd. of constantly stalling for time and "using every trick in the book". RISCOS Ltd. have also, according to Castle, traded solicitors' letters with Castle over the dispute.
When asked if Castle could have approached the dispute differently, Castle's Peter Wild commented that he wished they hadn't wasted so much time and money over the past 12 months apparently chasing RISCOS Ltd. to correct the alleged licence breaches; while Castle CEO Jack Lillingston added that he couldn't see how things could have been done differently.
One person described the situation as "extremely difficult", which is an understatement to be perfectly honest. The key issues are: who's right? who's read their contracts and licences right? Either way, one side has utterly screwed up a market showing signs of growth, while the other side has been grossly exploited. Which is which, out of Castle and RISCOS Ltd.?
So, whereas Castle have boldly and categorically asserted that RISCOS Ltd are in the wrong and they have breached their licence with Castle, RISCOS Ltd. have on the other hand, refuted the allegations and continued as business as usual. This is arguably bigger than the USB driver split, and bigger than the OS split. The current poll on Iconbar suggests that 51 percent of users are supporting Castle, leaving 49 percent supporting RISCOS Ltd., or are undecided.
Can either side really afford to effectively alienate half of our already tiny market? Is it the case of who has the better lawyers, or who's holding the last pair of aces? Until one side folds, or is proven wrong, or until perhaps we see for ourselves the contracts and licences at stake, this really could be a very long and painful ride.
Update at 02:32 23/6/2004
During the press meeting, Qercus editor John Cartmell questioned Castle on how much they were charging for royalties from RISCOS Ltd. The answer given was that Castle hadn't changed any pricings for authorised products, but had earlier said that VirtualRiscPC was unauthorised - read more about it here. Also, Iconbar have uploaded an MP3 of the conference, although the quality (we're told) isn't great and it's 27M in size.
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