[personal profile] mjg59
I've previously written about Canonical's obnoxious IP policy and how Mark Shuttleworth admits it's deliberately vague. After spending some time discussing specific examples with Canonical, I've been explicitly told that while Canonical will gladly give me a cost-free trademark license permitting me to redistribute unmodified Ubuntu binaries, they will not tell me what 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 actually means.

Why does this matter? The free software definition requires that you be able to redistribute software to other people in either unmodified or modified form without needing to ask for permission first. This makes it clear that Ubuntu itself isn't free software - distributing the individual binary packages without permission is forbidden, even if they wouldn't contain any infringing trademarks[1]. This is obnoxious, but not inherently toxic. The source packages for Ubuntu could still be free software, making it fairly straightforward to build a free software equivalent.

Unfortunately, while true in theory, this isn't true in practice. The issue here is the apparently simple phrase you must remove and replace the Trademarks and will need to recompile the source code. "Trademarks" is defined later as being the words "Ubuntu", "Kubuntu", "Juju", "Landscape", "Edubuntu" and "Xubuntu" in either textual or logo form. The naive interpretation of this is that you have to remove trademarks where they'd be infringing - for instance, shipping the Ubuntu bootsplash as part of a modified product would almost certainly be clear trademark infringement, so you shouldn't do that. But that's not what the policy actually says. It insists that all trademarks be removed, whether they would embody an infringement or not. If a README says "To build this software under Ubuntu, install the following packages", a literal reading of Canonical's policy would require you to remove or replace the word "Ubuntu" even though failing to do so wouldn't be a trademark infringement. If an @ubuntu.com email address is present in a changelog, you'd have to change it. You wouldn't be able to ship the juju-core package without renaming it and the application within. If this is what the policy means, it's so impractical to be able to rebuild Ubuntu that it's not free software in any meaningful way.

This seems like a pretty ludicrous interpretation, but it's one that Canonical refuse to explicitly rule out. Compare this to Red Hat's requirements around Fedora - if you replace the fedora-logos, fedora-release and fedora-release-notes packages with your own content, you're good. A policy like this satisfies the concerns that Dustin raised over people misrepresenting their products, but still makes it easy for users to distribute modified code to other users. There's nothing whatsoever stopping Canonical from adopting a similarly unambiguous policy.

Mark has repeatedly asserted that attempts to raise this issue are mere FUD, but he won't answer you if you ask him direct questions about this policy and will insist that it's necessary to protect Ubuntu's brand. The reality is that if Debian had had an identical policy in 2004, Ubuntu wouldn't exist. The effort required to strip all Debian trademarks from the source packages would have been immense[2], and this would have had to be repeated for every release. While this policy is in place, nobody's going to be able to take Ubuntu and build something better. It's grotesquely hypocritical, especially when the Ubuntu website still talks about their belief that people should be able to distribute modifications without licensing fees.

All that's required for Canonical to deal with this problem is to follow Fedora's lead and isolate their trademarks in a small set of packages, then tell users that those packages must be replaced if distributing a modified version of Ubuntu. If they're serious about this being a branding issue, they'll do it. And if I'm right that the policy is deliberately obfuscated so Canonical can encourage people to buy licenses, they won't. It's easy for them to prove me wrong, and I'll be delighted if they do. Let's see what happens.

[1] The policy is quite clear on this. If you want to distribute something other than an unmodified Ubuntu image, you have two choices:
  1. Gain approval or certification from Canonical
  2. Remove all trademarks and recompile the source code
Note that option 2 requires you to rebuild even if there are no trademarks to remove.

[2] Especially when every source package contains a directory called "debian"…


Date: 2015-11-21 10:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jr [launchpad.net]
Canonical can't add arbitrary restrictions just by virtue of saying they do, especially vaguely saying they have but won't say how. If so I could do the same and I'd get a lot more hugs than I do now http://jriddell.org/2015/09/02/jonathan-riddell-ip-policy/ A policy doesn't have any way of arbitrarily adding restrictions just because it's said in an authoritative language.

Nobody has a problem with trademarked branding needing to be removed but no court will consider an e-mail address to be branding. Remove the splash screen and a few other obvious uses and it's all good.

I do wish people would stop being bullied about by Canonical and imaging problems that could exist, I've never seen any restrictions which stand up to any serious scrutiny in making a derived distribution of Ubuntu. Everything in Ubuntu is licensed as free software very explicitly. It would take some equally explicit and well understood way of restricting it to have a valid problem. Otherwise it's just like believing in a god because someone in an authoritative tone of voice says you should without any evidence.


Re: RE

Date: 2015-11-21 01:06 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] jewelfox
If it's all as easy as that, why doesn't Canonical's policy explicitly say that? Why was Mark's response "well okay then, I give you permission" instead of just clearing things up by himself?

If we're going with religious analogies here, this comment sorta reminds me of Mormon apologia. In that you don't seem to acknowledge that there's a discrepancy between what you're unofficially saying and what Mark officially said.

Re: RE

Date: 2015-11-22 10:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jr [launchpad.net]
> If it's all as easy as that, why doesn't Canonical's policy explicitly say that?

Canonical has a business model based on FUD.

You call Mark official and me unofficial is exactly my point about people believing stuff just because it sounds authoritative. I've been the largest contributor to Ubuntu and I've strictly enforced Ubuntu policy in the archive for the last decade, I have just as much right to be official when it comes to discussing licences for Ubuntu but I'm still waiting for my hugs as required by my IP policy.

Re: RE

Date: 2015-11-22 02:26 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] jewelfox
Okay ... so what you are saying is you've put a lot of labour into enabling a FUD vendor, in the hopes of getting hugs which have never come.

That's kind of sad, but it doesn't excuse blaming the victim. As though being bullied is a choice. :P Especially when the "victim" in question is someone who's shining a light on Canonical's shady practices and you appear to be telling him to turn it off.

Re: RE

Date: 2015-11-21 06:17 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
> Nobody has a problem with trademarked branding needing to be removed but no court will consider an e-mail address to be branding.

The problem is that the policy purports to demand the removal of instances of trademarks (not merely the removal of branding) in order to be allowed permission to distribute modified versions of copyrighted material.

"Ubuntu" is their trademark whether its placement in a particular location constitutes branding or not.

Re: RE

Date: 2015-11-22 10:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jr [launchpad.net]
They can't add arbitrary restrictions which are not backed up by law. The existence of the letters u b u n t and u is not restricted except for trading through trademark law.

Re: RE

Date: 2015-11-23 12:01 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
> They can't add arbitrary restrictions which are not backed up by law.

Canonical's CLA means that anything a contributor submits to Canonical may be licensed by Canonical under *any* license whatsoever.

Given that -in the US- copyright's default stance is to *forbid* others from distributing modified copies of a work, I don't see how a hypothetical modified works redistribution license that *requires* to you remove *all* instances of Canonical's registered trademarks from *all* packages for which Canonical has licensing power, regardless of whether or not they are violations of *trademark* law would not be backed up by law.

Contracts and licenses can have all *sorts* of silly things in them and still be 100% enforceable.

Re: RE

Date: 2015-11-23 02:07 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
> Canonical's CLA means that anything a contributor submits to Canonical may be licensed by Canonical under *any* license whatsoever.

That really doesn't have anything to do with the topic at hand.

Re: RE

Date: 2015-11-23 06:45 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I don't see how it's irrelevant.

While the submitter retains copyright ownership of the submission, Canonical grants themselves the right to release the submission under *any* license they deem fit, just so long as they *also* release it under the license used for the submission at the time it was submitted.

This means that submitters can't use their copyright on their work to prevent Canonical from re-licensing it under some odious terms, no matter how strenuously they object to those terms.


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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