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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
Brainfood, Inc.

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