[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"…
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Would like some help picking those toys up?

Date: 2015-11-19 11:43 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Matthew, you asked if you could make and distribute a personal project on Ubuntu, and we gave you all the rights needed to do so, along with our best wishes for the project. We've done the same for HUNDREDS of other people and communities.

And this is your response?

Did you actually have such a project, or was that just a sham to try to trick us into saying something quotable? Are you actually keen to see something fun get done or just trying to be a spectacularly grumpy git?


Comparing to Fedora / Comparing to Red Hat

Date: 2015-11-20 12:09 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Here you've compared the Canonical/Ubuntu IP policy to that of Fedora, but wouldn't comparing Canonical/Ubuntu to Red Hat be more of an apples-to-apples comparison? I assume that the Fedora and Red Hat policies are different, at least in practice. AFAIK, Red Hat only supplies the SRPMS (which I don't even believe are digitally signed . . . you have no way of knowing that the SRPMS have not been tampered with), and that these SRPMs are only provided by way of the CentOS github account.

Please, someone correct me if I'm wrong.

This may still be better than what Canonical is doing with Ubuntu, and I do not disagree with what you've written above. I think it's better to make the more level-set comparison of Canonical/Ubuntu to Red Hat vs. Canonical/Ubuntu to Fedora, though.

FWIW, I am a former Ubuntu contributor, and now occasional GNOME contributor / regular Fedora user.

Re: Would like some help picking those toys up?

Date: 2015-11-20 12:41 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I guess the point is exactly that you currently needed to give those rights to HUNDREDS people one by one, instead of defining clear rules where it would be obvious what one can and cannot do.

You could even give permission to *everyone* who ask you, but by the very fact that they *need* to ask you and cannot know beforehand the criticism seems really deserved.

Re: Comparing to Fedora / Comparing to Red Hat

Date: 2015-11-20 12:42 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The above explanation seems to be illogical because Red Hat brand has more to "offer" than merely what would Fedora have - e. g. all their other applications or products based on license models.

The subscription does not refer to being able to redistribute content.

On the other hand, the claim that emails that include the word "ubuntu" would also have to be removed, is not logical. These emails are just factual targets, a brand name is not part of an email - who came up with this idea other than the author claiming this here?

Censorship does not apply to email addresses.

Re: Would like some help picking those toys up?

Date: 2015-11-20 03:47 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This is only a pointless exercise because you're disgracefully distorting the facts.

You know full well you're demanding that we relinquish any ability to say whether something that claims to be Ubuntu is, in fact, Ubuntu. We can't do that and preserve the promise that people actually depend on, that when it says it's Ubuntu it behaves in a predictable way and doesn't have key loggers installed.

You don't get to redefine free software to suit yourself. I'm incredibly proud of what we do in Ubuntu, I'm proud of the way we treated you and your request, and sad you're so comfortable being a total dick about it. You'll find all the happiness you deserve, I'm sure.

Go ahead, publish my last private mail to you on the topic, save me the trouble.

Re: Comparing to Fedora / Comparing to Red Hat

Date: 2015-11-20 03:50 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I don't understand why you think comparing Fedora to Ubuntu is any less of an apples-to-apples comparison. What makes Ubuntu so different that it can't take Fedora's approach?

Re: Would like some help picking those toys up?

Date: 2015-11-20 03:53 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Right. So you think it would be helpful for us to pre-emptively grant rights to anybody who would like to publish an Ubuntu image which helpfully steals their passwords and sends them to straight to criminal syndicates? Because if we did what you're asking, that would be a-ok.

Nice of you to be so appreciative of the work we do to ensure you don't have to worry about that.

Re: Would like some help picking those toys up?

Date: 2015-11-20 03:57 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I have no objections to your producing a derivative of Fedora at all. Have a blast.

Re: Would like some help picking those toys up?

Date: 2015-11-20 04:35 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] glyf
Mark (if this is indeed Mark); I was willing to entertain the notion that Matthew had misrepresented some nuance here, albeit unintentionally, which might have made Canonical's position more reasonable than it sounded. But this embarrassing tantrum of a response (and your pointed refusal to answer the specific concerns he has raised in any part of it, like the glib "sure, make derivative works of fedora" when the question was incredibly clearly about how to do an analogous thing) has driven home the point for me that Ubuntu is being deliberately vague. I've been slowly migrating my own personal Docker images to Debian since Matthew started raising these issues a few months back, and these responses here have convinced me to really hurry that process up and get rid of any derivative works of Ubuntu in any of my personal infrastructure.

Honestly my biggest hope is that someone with an authenticated Dreamwidth account named "Mark Shuttleworth" and not "Anonymous" posts a reply repudiating what has been said here.

Why are you confusing trademarks and copyrights?

Date: 2015-11-20 04:56 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The free software definition is about copyrights not trademarks. You are free to fork the codebase and build your own distribution.

Re: Would like some help picking those toys up?

Date: 2015-11-20 05:40 am (UTC)
marahmarie: (M In M Forever) (Default)
From: [personal profile] marahmarie
Are you seriously suggesting that if I replaced the word Ubuntu with the word Fedora in the above paragraph that the excuse you just made would stand for Red Hat, too? Why isn't Red Hat jumping up and down about this, then? Why is RH granting the very freedoms you will not allow, with you deciding everything on a case by case, ask me first basis (literally: like you are God - Gubuntu!) or else forcing people to laboriously hunt and peck, hand edit and recompile? Wth?

You know what this sounds like?

Even before I read your responses (assuming, as another commenter already said, that you even are who you say you are) I decided you most sound like someone who is afraid to lose control of The Creation. You sound insecure. You sound like a kid. You sound like the person I figured made Ubuntu, in other words, as I have about zero respect for the operating system; back when I last tried it, it looked like it was made for a child and had none of Linux's chops. I too noticed all the Debian source code carryover (and I'm recalling this from my last installation of Ubuntu almost 10 years ago! And it wasn't just Debian, either, it was like a freakin' smorgasbord of free operating system code) so you sound like a hypocrite, on top of everything else.

You'll find all the happiness you deserve, too, I'm sure, but probably not on your current trajectory. :/

Re: Comparing to Fedora / Comparing to Red Hat

Date: 2015-11-20 05:55 am (UTC)
marahmarie: (M In M Forever) (Default)
From: [personal profile] marahmarie
"Is it what it's intended to state?"

If it is then it will completely screw everything up. In the context of what you wrote in the OP: "If an @ubuntu.com email address is present in a changelog, you'd have to change it."

To what, exactly? @redacted? I mean, seriously, this would screw up knowing who did what in the changelog which breaks the ability to trace changes back and contact the correct author(s) should any events arise where you would kind of have to know who did what or who to contact when things go wrong.

You might have snuck that in there as a half-baked joke or worst case scenario but seriously, that's a ridiculous thing to have to do. I don't clearly see how it would infringe trademark or copyright, either - I mean, my mind is bending trying to figure it out. Talk about repressive...

Why not just declare Canonical our next totalitarian state and get it over with. "I will just edit you out of existence"...yeah, right, right, right.
Edited Date: 2015-11-20 05:57 am (UTC)

Re: Would like some help picking those toys up?

Date: 2015-11-20 07:45 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)

when people reply to a blog post they do it after actually reading it. This post raises some interesting concerns and you choose to not give any specific answer to these concerns. As a matter of fact your reply validates what Matthew wrote about you: "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."

At the same time you attack Matthew with some name-calling. Your response is very immature. I would say you only do bad to your company's reputation by such poor replies. I read on the comments someone saying that he's switching to Debian as fast as he can because of this reply!

Unfortunately you still haven't replied why can't Ubuntu have the same marketing policy Fedora has which makes it quite easy for forks to exist and keep being free software in practice while protecting Fedora's brand. Or as stated in the blog post "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".

This suggests that this isn't a branding issue but more of an attempt to impose restrictions on distributing forks, which isn't free software at this point.

Kind regards,

Re: Comparing to Fedora / Comparing to Red Hat

Date: 2015-11-20 08:12 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The problem is that they put their wording in the text that grants you the right to redistribute the bits, in terms of copyright. It's not some text that's expounding Canonical's belief about what constitutes a trademark violation, which would be a different thing. It's a condition of the right of redistribution: Canonical is saying "we will let you redistribute these bits, but ONLY if you do X, Y and Z".

Note this is exactly how the GPL and all other F/OSS licenses work: the author says "this is my work, and I get to choose what you can do with it (more or less), and I say you can redistribute it but only if you do X, Y and Z" (where X, Y and Z are usually something like 'provide the source on request' and 'pass these rights on to others'). Canonical is using the *exact same mechanism*, but the condition they state is "you must remove and replace the Trademarks". Not "you must avoid infringing Canonical's trademark rights".

As Matthew's said, you could read this as simply a drafting error, but he keeps asking Canonical to say "yes, all we mean is that you should avoid infringing on our trademarks, and you can do that just by changing (these specific occurrences)", and Canonical keeps refusing to do that. The longer that dance goes on, the harder it is to just say 'oh well obviously they just *mean* they don't want you to infringe the trademarks'.

Re: Would like some help picking those toys up?

Date: 2015-11-20 09:48 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)

Re: Comparing to Fedora / Comparing to Red Hat

Date: 2015-11-20 11:18 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Ubuntu is a commercial product in addition to free software project. It needs to have brand recognition and protection, vague marketing and lawyer nonsense often despised by engineers in order to succeed and be a trustworthy commercial partner to normal companies in the world. Fedora is just a free software project, a free gift from Red Hat. It does not have the burden of needing to satisfy paying customers and make promises.

It may be wise from Red Hat to have their free software project separate from their billion dollar commercial activity, but the reason for that should not be "anti-commercialism" that is somewhat popular in free software community. There's enough confusion that "free" means gratis anyway, and it's not helped by people that hate money making and/or don't understand it. Commercial work always comes with some restrictions related to how the money is made, and some of it may be aimed to make the commercial entity stronger in order to survive, but the free software is always free software and can be forked and built upon elsewhere if wanted.

I won't comment on the actual blog post, since it's legal stuff and I'm not interested in that as long as license is clear. Trademark protections, CLA:s are all ok, and often a very good thing for commercial free software products.

Re: Comparing to Fedora / Comparing to Red Hat

Date: 2015-11-20 12:19 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The Red Hat EULA says:

"You may make a commercial redistribution of the Programs only if (a) permitted under a separate written agreement with Red Hat authorizing such commercial redistribution, or (b) you remove and replace all occurrences of Red Hat trademarks. Modifications to the software may corrupt the Programs."

Re: Would like some help picking those toys up?

Date: 2015-11-20 05:02 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
If this is somehow about different interpretations of cross-jurisdictional trademark law then it could really do with spelling it out.

Otherwise, rejecting an existing solution for stripping trademarks cleanly comes across as petty NIH syndrome.
From: (Anonymous)
Does trademark law not admit to licensing, and thus to terms and conditions on that licensing?
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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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