[personal profile] mjg59
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

Your Footnote

Date: 2016-12-02 04:30 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
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

Date: 2016-12-02 05:07 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
@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." [https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10615405]

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

Date: 2016-12-02 07:00 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
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

Date: 2016-12-02 05:11 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
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.


Matthew Garrett

About Matthew

Power management, mobile and firmware developer on Linux. Security developer at Google. Ex-biologist. @mjg59 on Twitter. Content here should not be interpreted as the opinion of my employer.

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