Re: Linux mark extortion
On 6/18/05, Michael K. Edwards <email@example.com> wrote:
> Sooner or later Linus (or his delegate) will have to either 1) make
> some effort to exert QA authority over the kernels that distros ship
> under the mark "Linux" or 2) face the loss of his trademark, and
> possibly the success of someone else in enforcing it against _his_
> licensees in related markets (ACME Certified Linux SysAdmin Training
> -- if you didn't learn from us, you don't know Linux!). AIUI (IANAL),
> that's how trademark works. Sounds a little far-fetched at present
> given that Linux is famously Linus's personal trademark -- but there
> are real-world examples from Aspirin to Zipper. (Bayer, for instance,
> which commercialized Aspirin and still holds trademark to that name in
> Europe, can't call a buffered aspirin product Bufferin in the US --
> that's a trademark of Bristol-Myers-Squibb.)
If some distro takes something that's not Linux (for example,
the BSD kernel) and trys calling it Linux, I can see that happening.
But, as the DFSG is currently written, this is not a DFSG issue.
And there's already a well established history that Linux can
be modified in a wide variety of ways and still be called Linux.
That's how Linux got to be what it is today.
> 1. By exercising effective oversight authority over the QA procedures
> and advertising claims of her licensed distribution chain and
> outsourced manufacturing;
Debian has made it a practice to cooperate with upstream when
they ask us to do something. If Linus wants us to make changes
in what we're distributing, all he has to do is ask...
> 2. By pursuing legal action against makers and marketers of
> counterfeit or unauthorized goods labeled with her mark (including
> those which merely threaten to blur the distinction between her
> products and those of others in related markets) when they come to her
> attention; and
Eh... Linus has accepted a number of our changes into the official
kernel, in the past. And, not just from us but from many people
throughout the free software community. If he pursues legal action
against his users and developers for developing and using Linux
that would effectively halt development of Linux and utterly destroy
I can't believe he'd want to do that.
And it's not like we're doing something stupid -- like opening up
network security holes or making fantastic claims about what it
is that we're doing.
> 3. By monitoring the conduct of non-licensees who handle her
> authentic goods in the course of business, demanding that they bring
> their processes up to snuff (and prosecuting if necessary) when their
> actions risk tarnishment of her mark by encouraging false expectations
> or by associating it with products that are inferior by the time they
> reach the consumer.
This is where I came in. (Threatened legal action against
userlinux -- http://www.userlinux.com/ -- if they didn't
pay license fees in recognition of oversight authority.)
> So a trademark is both a privilege and a duty; like patent (which
> carries the duty of publishing an accurate and complete record of how
> the invention works) and copyright (which used to carry a duty of
> depositing a stack of copies with the copyright registry, back when
> that greatly increased the odds of the work's survival beyond initial
> publication), it is a limited monopoly granted ultimately for the
> public's benefit. And in the case of the Linux trademark, Linus may
> have to take seriously both blurring (which may apply to the UserLinux
> mark, for instance, even if there's nothing wrong with their products
> and services) and tarnishment (which may apply to distro kernels
> mangled for fair reasons or foul).
Once again, I don't see why Linus take legal action against the
development community which makes Linux so valuable.
If somebody opts out of that community (for example, suing people
for using their mods to the kernel), I can see grounds for legal
action if they call the result Linux, but I don't see what that has
to do with Debian.
> The traditional way to do this is to condition wholesale access to
> marked products (or, on the manufacturing side, permission to affix
> the mark when packaging) on acceptance of a trademark license with QA
> teeth. (Money often also changes hands, but in a way that's secondary
> to the assertion of oversight authority.) That obviously doesn't mesh
> very well with the guaranteed right to modify in the GPL and the DFSG.
> From what little I have read about the Linux Mark Institute's
> efforts, they don't seem very well-conceived; I have a rather more
> positive view of the Mozilla Foundation's effort, which (as discussed
> in another thread) could result in a more palatable "non-license
> safety zone" modus vivendi.
I can easily believe that LMI's current approach could be buggy.
That can be a characteristic of anything which needs to be
If that's the case, it seems to me that the proper approach would be
to write up how to reproduce the bug and submit a patch. (Which
I think Bruce is in the process of doing.)
Anyways, if there is to be a more tightly controlled branch of Linux, it's easy
enough for LMI to add some adjective to represent that control (Authorized
Linux (TM), or Official Linux (TM) or something like that).
But I think that calling these potential bugs extortion is a bit over the top.