[Date Prev][Date Next] [Thread Prev][Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

The SPI/Debian trademark committee

In the last few months, there were several complaints about the way
Debian was used by other parties than the Debian project.  The
"Debian" name has been and is being used to refer to things that are
not part of, or perhaps even related to, the official Debian project
and sometimes the name and logo is used in ways that makes Debian
developers very uncomfortable.  Such issues were raised several times
on debian-project and the SPI mailing lists in regards to particular
uses.  The issue was also discussed during the SPI Workshop at
Debconf 3 run by Benj. Mako Hill and in a number of other places.

Thankfully, "Debian" is a trademark held by Software in the Public
Interest, Inc. (SPI) which holds other Debian assets like hardware and
money.  However, the only policy regarding use of the Debian trademark
is a message published by Bruce Perens in 1998 [1].  Prompted by
various trademark issues it has become clear to me that this policy is
neither well known enough, clear enough, complete enough, or legally
enforceable.  A better policy is therefore needed.

SPI Board Member Benjamin Mako Hill and Gregory Pomerantz, a hacker,
SPI contributing member, Debian users and a lawyer with the law firm
Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, drafted a resolution (attached
below) that they brought before the SPI board and that was passed in
early June, 2003 to create a committee to draft a new policy.  The
committee is retaining Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton [2] which
has agreed to engage SPI on a pro-bono basis for work in regards to
the trademark.

The new policy will attempt to balance the restrictive elements of
trademark law with the need for certain types of open use that are
important to community driven Free Software projects like Debian.  We
recognize that other projects than Debian face similar issues, and
hope that our trademark policy can be used by other Free Software
projects as well.

So far, the committee has not be active in drafting a new policy but
plans to move forward with this goal.  Due to issues around
attorney/client relationship, the committee was created to be fairly
small and uses a non-publically archived mailing list.  However, since
we want others to get involved in this discussion, we plan to carry
out most discussions on debian-project and use the trademark list
specifically for confidential issues.  We will also try to make the
archives of this mailing list available on master.debian.org; details
will be posted to debian-project as they become available.

While the committee will be kept small, it is certainly not closed to
participation by interested and active members of the Debian and SPI
communities.  Please visit the list information page and contact the
list administrator if you are interested [3].

To summarize, we are working on a refined trademark policy which is
clearer and more complete than the current policy and which will
strike a balance between the restrictive elements of trademark law and
the need for certain types of open use by the community.

  Martin Michlmayr, Debian Project Leader
  Benj. Mako Hill, member of the Board of Directors of SPI

[1] http://lists.debian.org/debian-announce/debian-announce-1998/msg00006.html
[2] http://www.cgsh.com/
[3] http://lists.spi-inc.org/cgi-bin/listinfo/spi-trademark

SPI's resolution on the trademark committee:


SPI is in control of DEBIAN, a registered trademark in the United
States, and may in the future come to control registered trademarks
for other member projects.

Debian, and possibly other SPI supported projects in the future, is in
the unusual position of desiring to encourage the open use of its
trademark without abandoning the quality control and source
designation functions inherent in a trademark.

Toward this end, Bruce Perens wrote a trademark policy and posted it
to a Debian mailing list in 1998 [1] that has served as SPI's
trademark policy up until this point. While this policy successfully
captures the spirit of SPI's intentions in regards to its member
project's trademarks, it is informal and not well known.

In recent months, SPI has been involved in several trademark issues
regarding the use of the DEBIAN trademark. While these cases have been
resolved, they alert SPI to the need to review, reconsider, and
re-articulate its trademark policy with respect to the DEBIAN
trademark, and potentially with respect to trademarks held for other
member projects, in more formal and legal terms.

SPI is in the unique, and perhaps unprecedented, position of drafting
a policy that aims to balance the control called for in trademark law
with the openness, freedom, and flexibility at the center of many SPI
supported projects.


1. The board shall create a committee (the "Trademark Committee")
comprised of Chris Rourk (Legal Counsel for SPI), Greg Pomerantz (SPI
Contributing Member), Bruce Perens and Benjamin Mako Hill to act as a
liaison for the SPI Board of Directors and Martin Michlmayr (Debian
Project Leader) or a delegate representing the Debian Project and open
to participation by other board members and SPI contributing members,
for the purpose of reviewing SPI's trademark policy. If the committee
feels that there is sufficient justification for elaboration of the
existing policy, the committee will draft a new trademark policy with
the DEBIAN mark in mind, and present this policy to the board for

2. The Trademark Committee shall have the authority to retain Cleary,
Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, on a pro bono basis, solely for advice
concerning the foregoing activities.  

[1] http://lists.debian.org/debian-announce/debian-announce-1998/msg00006.html

Martin Michlmayr

Attachment: signature.asc
Description: Digital signature

Reply to: