Matthew Garrett ([personal profile] mjg59) wrote2016-12-02 01:12 am
Entry tags:

Ubuntu still isn't free software

Mark Shuttleworth just blogged about their stance against unofficial Ubuntu images. The assertion is that a cloud hoster is providing unofficial and modified Ubuntu images, and that these images are meaningfully different from upstream Ubuntu in terms of their functionality and security. Users are attempting to make use of these images, are finding that they don't work properly and are assuming that Ubuntu is a shoddy product. This is an entirely legitimate concern, and if Canonical are acting to reduce user confusion then they should be commended for that.

The appropriate means to handle this kind of issue is trademark law. If someone claims that something is Ubuntu when it isn't, that's probably an infringement of the trademark and it's entirely reasonable for the trademark owner to take action to protect the value associated with their trademark. But Canonical's IP policy goes much further than that - it can be interpreted as meaning[1] that you can't distribute works based on Ubuntu without paying Canonical for the privilege, even if you call it something other than Ubuntu.

This remains incompatible with the principles of free software. The freedom to take someone else's work and redistribute it is a vital part of the four freedoms. It's legitimate for Canonical to insist that you not pass it off as their work when doing so, but their IP policy continues to insist that you remove all references to Canonical's trademarks even if their use would not infringe trademark law.

If you ask a copyright holder if you can give a copy of their work to someone else (assuming it doesn't infringe trademark law), and they say no or insist you need an additional contract, it's not free software. If they insist that you recompile source code before you can give copies to someone else, it's not free software. Asking that you remove trademarks that would otherwise infringe trademark law is fine, but if you can't use their trademarks in non-infringing ways, that's still not free software.

Canonical's IP policy continues to impose restrictions on all of these things, and therefore Ubuntu is not free software.

[1] And by "interpreted as meaning" I mean that's what it says and Canonical refuse to say otherwise

I interpret it differently

(Anonymous) 2016-12-02 10:33 am (UTC)(link)
Taken from the IP policy page you link:

Any redistribution of modified versions of Ubuntu must be approved, certified or provided by Canonical if you are going to associate it with the Trademarks. Otherwise you must remove and replace the Trademarks and will need to recompile the source code to create your own binaries. This does not affect your rights under any open source licence applicable to any of the components of Ubuntu. If you need us to approve, certify or provide modified versions for redistribution you will require a licence agreement from Canonical, for which you may be required to pay. For further information, please contact us (as set out below).

As far as I understand (I'm no lawyer) it says you can modify and redistribute it as long as you don't say it's Ubuntu. Am I mistaken?
bens_dad: (Default)

[personal profile] bens_dad 2016-12-02 12:11 pm (UTC)(link)
Scientific Linux remove logos, the name "Red Hat" and rebuild binaries when making their releases derived from Red Hat software.*

I believe that SL started doing this after Oracle shipped a modified version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (possibly an alpha or beta release) with the Red Hat branding and Red Hat got annoyed about all the support calls.

I don't know how much of this is required by the Red Hat licence, but it does sound rather similar to what you say Ubuntu requires. But then Red Hat Enterprise Linux does not claim to be free software; is that the point, that what Canonical is requiring makes Ubuntu like RHEL rather than SL ?


* As an example here is the latest entry in the change log for the httpd binary package on SL6
(TUV = "The Upstream Vendor"):

* Tue Nov 15 2016 Scientific Linux Auto Patch Process <>
- Added Source:
--> The index.html file is outside of the source tarball, so we need to patch it in the install step
- Ran Regex: vstring Red Hat => vstring Scientific Linux
--> This package must not feature TUVs branding
- Ran Regex: distro Red Hat => distro Scientific Linux
--> This package must not feature TUVs branding
- Added Source:
--> This patch removes TUV branding from the default index.html
- Added Source: httpd.ini
--> Config file for automated patch script
- Ran Regex: (Release: .*)%{\?dist}(.*) => \1.sl6\2
--> Modify release string to note changes

(Anonymous) 2016-12-02 01:45 pm (UTC)(link)
Scientific Linux are able to mention Red Hat in their %changelog, because the fact that their packages are based on those from Red Hat is a non-misleading statement, and trademarks do not forbid non-misleading statements that use the trademark.

When Matthew pointed out that the Canonical IP policy as written would require redistributors to censor all mentions of Ubuntu in files like debian/changelog (including -1ubuntu2 version numbers!) and asked for clarification, Canonical appear to have been careful not to say that this was a misinterpretation.

Your Footnote

(Anonymous) 2016-12-02 04:30 pm (UTC)(link)
If you are going to make a clarifying footnote, then it ought to be accurate. Yours isn't. Your footnote:

And by "interpreted as meaning" I mean that's what it says and Canonical refuse to say otherwise

It doesn't say that you can't redistribute. It says you can't redistribute *if you are going to associate it with trademarks.* That is completely clear legally. The fact is that you get yourself hung up on the IPP's further
(and overbroad) language of what it means to "associate it with trademarks." Specifically:

Otherwise you must remove and replace the Trademarks and will need to recompile the source code to create your own binaries. This does not affect your rights under any open source licence applicable to any of the components of Ubuntu.

Of course this probably should mean that it's OK to simply remove *outward facing* Trademarks/associations. And, yes, it's unfortunate that Canonical won't go on record to affirm that when you asked. But what do we do in the business world when they don't respond when asked nicely? You create a distro removing outward associations and sue for summary judgement that it doesn't infringe. i.e. You can force them to answer and if they don't, have a judge provide the answer.

So stop whining and get a court ruling!

Re: Your Footnote

(Anonymous) 2016-12-02 05:07 pm (UTC)(link)
@mjg59, you said (quite a while ago), "I'm willing to do the technical work required to split the trademarks into separate packages as long as Canonical are willing to accept that." []

Would you do so if it meant a summary judgement from a court? (IANAL, I don't know what the process is, just going by what was in the parent comment).

Re: Your Footnote

(Anonymous) 2016-12-02 07:00 pm (UTC)(link)
Got it. Canonical's continual pussyfooting around this issue really makes me think twice about using their stuff because I like to use open software whenever possible. Please keep up the good fight.

Re: Your Footnote

(Anonymous) 2016-12-02 05:11 pm (UTC)(link)
A summary judgment would be nice, but it's clearly much more work and more expensive than writing a blog post. And just for the record, his (and others') blog posts on this subject are the principal reason why I go out of my way to avoid Canonical distributions myself. So clearly the posts are making a difference.

Personally I don't need a summary judgment to see the Canonical is not acting in the spirit of free software. I'm sure there are others that feel the same way.

GNU Philosophy seems to address this

(Anonymous) 2016-12-02 06:12 pm (UTC)(link)

"Rules about packaging and distribution details

Rules about how to package a modified version are acceptable, if they don't substantively limit your freedom to release modified versions, or your freedom to make and use modified versions privately. Thus, it is acceptable for the license to require that you change the name of the modified version, remove a logo, or identify your modifications as yours. As long as these requirements are not so burdensome that they effectively hamper you from releasing your changes, they are acceptable; you're already making other changes to the program, so you won't have trouble making a few more."

So you take a copy of Ubuntu's ISO and to wrap things around it. You've modified the results from Canonical. So this block clearly applies. You're still free to distribute their binary packages unmodified.

I'd argue removing Canonical IP/trademarks is "so burdensome" as to "effectively hamper anyone from releasing your changes". Anyone with the interest in packaging a distro is going to require sufficient knowledge and skill to do so. They'll be plenty capable of doing the work requested by Canonical.

Re: GNU Philosophy seems to address this

(Anonymous) 2016-12-02 06:13 pm (UTC)(link)
Dang; I meant "is not so burdensome"
shipitfish: (cincinnati-kid-betting)

[personal profile] shipitfish 2016-12-03 04:56 pm (UTC)(link)
Software Freedom Conservancy published an analysis which explains why Canonical, Ltd.'s IP policy turns the non-copylefted software in Ubuntu into non-Free-Software:

The GPL'd stuff is still Free Software, because they have a "trump" clause for that, but like any non-copyleft software, you can turn the other stuff into non-Free, which Canonical, Ltd. does here.