Canonical Responds to Ubuntu Trademark Issue - The UpStream

Canonical Responds to Ubuntu Trademark Issue

posted Sunday Nov 17, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Canonical Responds to Ubuntu Trademark Issue

Last week, an interesting thing happened in the Linux community. Canonical, the owners of Ubuntu and one of the leaders of the open data movement, threatened a critical website over trademark issues. Something they either didn't expect or didn't research was that the website, Fix Ubuntu, is owned an operated by Micah Lee from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

While the EFF has taken some cases that have been questionable, their involvement in this case has been a positive. They contacted Canonical and we have received an interesting response from Mark Shuttleworth, CEO of Canonical.

In a blog post on his website, Shuttleworth said,

Last week, someone at Canonical made a mistake in sending the wrong response to a trademark issue out of the range of responses we usually take. That has been addressed, and steps are being taken to reduce the likelihood of a future repeat...

We do have to "enforce" those trademarks, or we lose them. That means:

  • we have an email address,, where people can request permission to use the name and logo
  • we actively monitor, mostly using standard services, use of the name and logo
  • we aim to ensure that every use of the name and logo is supported by a "license" or grant of permission

The only problem here is that, of course, you don't HAVE to enforce all issues. For example, a website being critical of a corporation falls under the 1st Amendment of the Constitution, and through fair use has the ability to use said corporation's name and logo. This issue has been tried and settled in court many times, leaving Canonical with no real recourse.

The excuse given by Shuttleworth was that of a company whose Twitter was mixed up for a personal one. He said in the same blog post,

In order to make the amount of correspondence manageable, we have a range of standard templates for correspondence. They range from the "we see you, what you are doing is fine, here is a license to use the name and logo which you need to have, no need for further correspondence," through "please make sure you state you are speaking for yourself and not on behalf of the company or the product," to the "please do not use the logo without permission, which we are not granting unless you actually certify those machines," and "please do not use Ubuntu in that domain to pretend you are part of the project when you are not."

Last week, the less-than-a-month-at-Canonical new guy sent out the toughest template letter to the folks behind a "sucks" site. Now, that was not a decision based on policy or guidance; as I said, Canonical's trademark policy is unusually generous relative to corporate norms in explicitly allowing for this sort of usage. It was a mistake, and there is no question that the various people in the line of responsibility know and agree that it was a mistake. It was no different, however, than a bug in a line of code, which I think most developers would agree happens to the best of us. It just happened to be, in that analogy, a zero-day remote root bug.

So, the new guy did it, not we're mad that someone is criticizing our business model. It will be interesting to see what the EFF has to say about Shuttleworth's response.


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