On the uselessness of Debian trademarks.
I've been having some discussions with Chris Rourk (SPI counsel) lately about
Debian trademarks and his points are worth discussing. His opinion is that
Debian would be best served by abandoning its marks and purposefully making
the term "Debian" generic. There are some clear benefits.
Programmers (like myself) try to map our perceptions of systems we know and
love onto others that have little to do with computation. Law is probably one
of the worst. We like to think of trademark law as something like firewall
rules where we can say "this is ok, this isn't, except in this situation" and
so forth. If you look at real trademarks this is not the case.
For instance, take Coke or Star Wars or anything of that caliber. You will
see, quite consistently, that the owners of these marks show absolutely no
leniency in enforcement. You can be assured that making Coke t-shirts without
permission will meet serious legal resistance. This enforcement is the only
way that a trademark can truly be held. The owner must be the universal and
final arbitrator of use and must show that use is carefully monitored and
With the Debian trademark we want use that is almost entirely unenforced
except for a few particular (and somewhat poorly defined) situations. This
policy will put us in a difficult position if we have to litigate. The
defendant will put forth the argument that there is no clear definition of
proper use and claim that our mark is generic. Our only alternative is to
religiously shut down everyone who is using the word Debian without our
explicit permission. That isn't very Debian. Why not just cut to the chase?
I'm not sure if Chris is right, but I see the logic in his reasoning. If
anyone can put this email in front of any attorneys, I would be very curious
to hear their thoughts.
Ean Schuessler, CTO