NEW YORK — Fashion companies that use the popular free operating system known as Linux could become targets of lawsuits from software company SCO Group Inc. of Lindon, Utah.

SCO filed suit in U.S. District Court in Nevada Wednesday against auto parts retailer AutoZone Inc. for alleged copyright violations, and said that it intends to file a similar lawsuit against DaimlerChrysler Corp. SCO has already sued other software companies that sell Linux or Linux-related products, such as IBM, but Wednesday’s suit was the first against a user of the software.

Retailers that use Linux should be worried, said Maureen O’Gara, editor in chief of the Unigram X newsletter based in Sea Cliff, N.Y. “I think SCO has a list and it’s the Fortune 500.”

O’Gara said that probably every major retailer uses Linux, a competing operating system to Microsoft’s Windows, in at least part of their operations.

Mass market behemoth Target could be in the company’s sights, she added. That’s because in another court document related to one of its lawsuits, SCO complained that Target, a former user of SCO software, had allegedly switched to Linux with the help of IBM, she said.

SCO’s suit against AutoZone alleges that SCO holds the copyright to Unix, and that Linux is an unauthorized clone of Unix. Therefore, AutoZone has violated SCO’s copyright by using Linux, the suit claims.

“To me, this sounds as if you have a struggling company who is trying to become profitable by use of the courts and litigation,” said Dave Hogan, chief information officer for the National Retail Federation. But whether the case has merits or not, he said, retailers should still be concerned “because you have no control over what can happen in a court case.”

SCO, formerly known as Caldera Systems Inc., may sue other Linux users in the future, said a company spokesman. Fortune 100 companies that want to use Linux with SCO’s blessing may pay SCO a onetime license fee of $699 per server, or $149 per server per year, he said. SCO’s software is widely used in point-of-sale systems made by other companies.Software makers Novell, Red Hat and Hewlett-Packard now offer legal protection to users who buy Linux-based products from them, and the Open Source Development Labs has established a legal defense fund, according to reports.

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