[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"…

Re: Comparing to Fedora / Comparing to Red Hat

Date: 2015-11-23 08:49 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Make a statement that you will only be sued for violations that you commit? Why do you need an official statement for that?

Re: Comparing to Fedora / Comparing to Red Hat

Date: 2015-11-23 09:20 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
You can only be sued based on a specific wrong, and only under the laws that govern it. That's not something that Canonical can change. You can only sued for property damage if there was actually damaged property. Likewise you can only be sued for copyright infringement if you infringed on copyright. You don't need a statement from Canonical for that.

But I don't think that's what you want. What I think you want is a promise that, if you are given a copyright license contingent on you adhering to our trademark policy, you won't be sued for infringing copyright if you violate that policy but continue distributing copies. Basically you want to void the requirement that you adhere to the trademark policy, and you won't get that.

Re: Comparing to Fedora / Comparing to Red Hat

Date: 2015-11-23 10:04 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
> I have no interest in infringing Canonical's trademark rights.

Good then you won't do that and you have nothing to be concerned about. Even if you were to leave in a mark that Canonical considered infringing, all you would have to do is correct that when it's discovered. It's not like there's an immediate death sentence for your project if you left something in.

Now, if you left something in that Canonical considered infringing and you refused to remove it when asked, *and* you continued to redistribute modified copies of Ubuntu with that infringing mark in them, *then* would you be sued in order to compel you to stop. But since that would require a willful desire to infringe on your part, something you say you do not have, then this isn't something you need to be concerned about either.

> But that's only useful work if Canonical will agree that any modified version of Ubuntu that replaces those packages can be freely distributed without requiring any additional permission from Canonical.

You won't get that because there are still things people can do, without those packages installed, that would violate trademark and/or copyright. Even Red Hat, who has done this work already, will not give you blanket permission to do whatever you want with RHEL just because don't include those packages. You can't sell a DVD labeled "Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Free Edition", even if you don't have the Red Hat trademark packages installed on it. Nor can you just replace the Red Hat logos with your own in a RHEL DVD and redistribute that.

Isolating the trademarks in their own package will make it easier for you to build a derivative distro without them, which is great if that's what you want to do. But it won't give you a blank check to do whatever you want with Ubuntu itself.

Re: Comparing to Fedora / Comparing to Red Hat

Date: 2015-11-24 01:43 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
> Canonical appear to reserve the right to sue me for copyright infringement if any of their trademarks are present in the packages that I distribute, even if the use of those trademarks is non-infringing.

On the contrary, Canonical has offered you a license that covers the trademarks contained in your product. You keep acting like you're being threatened and just waiting for us to send our lawyers after you, when in reality you've already been approved to do what you said you were going to do.

> Sure you can.

Good luck finding somebody from Red Hat to confirm that.

Re: Comparing to Fedora / Comparing to Red Hat

Date: 2015-11-24 02:39 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
> For one specific project, as long as I don't exceed $10,000 in revenue

Surely at that point you can afford to either pay to use the trademarks, or pay to host your own archives.

> and which can't be extended to any downstream recipients.

It covers your project and all it's users. It does not give you the ability to grant trademark use to other projects, no. Do you honestly expect Canonical to give you the ability to grant trademark use to other projects?

> Page 4 of this document - if I replace the two packages mentioned and don't call it RHEL, I can redistribute it without needing to ask for permission.

Are you sure that isn't referring to the source packages only? I read the document too, and it mentions doing this with software downloaded from their FTP site, and all I could find on their FTP site was source RPMs. I find it very unlikely that they would allow Oracle to do what you want to do with Ubuntu.


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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