Why Debian is wrong.

[ music | Depeche Mode – I Want It All ]

It’s very simple. Debian currently values their name and logo, and you can’t use it willy nilly without their permission. Same goes for Mozilla and their Firefox trademark. Now, so far Debian has been using the Firefox trademark with permission from Mozilla. It was a lax permission, and the rules of that permission have changed. The rules did not change to be mean, or to be arbitrary, but due to the fact that the law states trademark holders must defend their trademarks or lose them. Adobe asks you not to call photo editing “Photoshopping”; Google asks you not to say “Googled” when you went to a search engine; Xerox barely managed to hold on to their name due to aggressive marketing, which is why you probably get documents photocopied instead of xeroxed. Mozilla must do the same, and the problem that Debian is running into is they want to heavily edit the codebase to the Mozilla foundation’s flagship browser, essentially creating their own product, and yet still call it “Firefox”. You can’t have it both ways.

There is a branding “switch” built into the Firefox codebase. Turn it on, and the the official logos and names are used. Turn it off, and you can build your own branded browser automatically with almost no extra effort. Debian broke this switch (knowingly, this wasn’t an accident, it was broken because they “needed” to make various other edits) and wound up hardcoding the Mozilla trademarks into the Debian browser. Rather than doing what other vendors do, rebranding it, Debian is pitching a fit because Mozilla is saying, “Look, we need to fix this situation. Stop using the trademarks, or start following these updated rules.” Had Debian not broken the branding switch, this would be incredibly easy for Debian to fix, just flip the switch and call the browser Iceweasel or Doodyhead or BigDaddy or whatever they want to call it. But they broke the switch, and painted themselves into a corner, and want to blame Mozilla.

Stop whining. We had to change the name from Phoenix because of Phoenix BIOS’s products. We changed the name from Firebird because of the Firebird project. We changed the Mac based browser Camino from the former name of Chimera. Those were all legit requests. When Firebird was picked, it was a logical choice, but poorly researched. The fiasco after that and the response by both the Firebird project and Mozilla were incredibly poor, but it was resolved in the only logical fashion. As of now, Debian is being asked the same thing. Please follow the rules we have for our name or change the name of your product. The code itself is as free as it always was. The issue is not about code, it’s about protected names, identities that users attach to one product and organization.

Otherwise, I’m going to launch a line of manure-based fertilizer called Debian, with the slogan, “We’re so full of shit, it’s like getting ten pounds of manure in a five pound bag!” and of course, I’ll slap the official Debian logo on the bag. After all, valuable and trusted legally-protected identities want to be free!

14 Comments

  1. anon had this to say,

    October 5, 2006 @ 5:20 pm

    No. It’s actually worse than that.

    Debian guys are fanatics. They don’t want to use the Firefox logo because it’s not "free", while for some reason they believe that the name is more "free" than the logo.

    Even worse, they are not willing to accept the only sensible solution to the trademark problem – the –enable-official-branding switch, – while their own logo/name is trademarked – without an easy way to build a non-branded version.

    I can’t understand how can reasonable people expect people making a high-quality, popular product to give up rights on their name, letting everyone name their crap "Firefox".

    Argh. It is all so frustrating :-/

  2. ben had this to say,

    October 5, 2006 @ 7:51 pm

    It’s quite clear from your post that you understand absolutely nothing of the issues at work here.

    The problem with enforcing Mozilla’s trademark (and indeed Debian’s trademark) is that it undermines some of the basic rights conferred by free software licenses, namely, that users should be able to modify the code and redistribute their modifications without having to ask the permission of the copyright owner. The way Mozilla Corporation enforces trademark means that redistributors who want to use the name ‘firefox’ have to run all their changes past Mozilla. That restricts their freedom in certain obvious ways. Freedom is freedom. If people modify Mozilla code to produce spyware, so what?

    Before you get on your high horse with Debian, you might want to answer the simple question: what exactly is it that you would have them do? Quite clearly they can’t run every change they make to Mozilla past the Mozilla Corporation without restricting the freedom of others to offer modified versions of Debian.

    In the end it is the Mozilla Corporation’s right to enforce their trademark but they can hardly be surprised if Debian then decide they can’t satisfy the conditions (and, by the way, I think Fedora and OpenSuse will end up doing the same thing).

    Debian’s own trademark policy is a mistake and the conflict with DFSG is already acknowledged and will hopefully be fixed.

  3. Grey had this to say,

    October 5, 2006 @ 8:12 pm

    No, YOU don’t understand. It’s not about code, it’s about a trademarked name. All Debian has to do is call it Iceweasel or Firefucker or HighHorse or whatever they want, and they’re fine. The situation is they can’t change Firefox at will and still call it Firefox. As for Fedora and SuSE, you’re dead wrong. They’ll just not call it Firefox. Redhat and Novell well understand trademark issues, and won’t shoot themselves in the foot over it.

    Debian is free to modify the code all they want, just don’t use the logos and name when you do that.

  4. Jesse Ruderman had this to say,

    October 5, 2006 @ 8:27 pm

    Debian’s complaint about the Firefox name/logo making the code less "free" doesn’t make sense to me. There’s an "official branding" switch that makes it very easy to legally distribute modified versions. If that’s not compatible with Debian’s guidelines, that’s a bug in Debian’s guidelines that should be fixed.

    I can’t modify Debian as a whole and distribute it as "Debian"; why should different standards apply to software shipped as part of Debian?

  5. Jesse Ruderman had this to say,

    October 5, 2006 @ 8:28 pm

    Not only did Debian want to modify Firefox heavily, but they also wanted to continue distributing old versions of Firefox in their "stable" OS releases. To me, that’s even worse than direct modification, because it leaves users vulnerable to security holes and/or creates a backporting lot of work for both Debian and Mozilla. Usually both.

  6. Adam Fitzpatrick had this to say,

    October 5, 2006 @ 8:28 pm

    It’s not really a question of Debian being right or wrong. Debian and Mozilla just have contradictory goals.

    While I don’t doubt that Mozilla’s trademark protection motivation is reasonable, you must recognise that it is *unusual* for an open source project. That’s why it’s causing friction with Debian. (Well, OK, anything involving the debian-legal mailing list is far more painful than it ought to be – and I realise that’s an understatement.)

    The extensive work Debian developers do to integrate packages into a coherent operating system is the reason I haven’t ever considered trying another distribution in the seven years since I first tried Debian. Obviously they don’t always make the right decisions, and this does cause conflicts with upstream developers from time to time, but on the whole it’s of tremendous benefit to Debian users. Obviously the Debian Firefox package maintainers didn’t want to have to give up using the Firefox name just to continue making it an effective part of the Debian environment, but I think it’s the right thing to do here.

    And besides, Iceweasel is a frickin’ *awesome* name. The first time I saw it, it tickled me so much I stuck it straight into my local installation of Firefox’s branding files. Part of me still hopes Debian will adopt it.

  7. chele had this to say,

    October 5, 2006 @ 10:18 pm

    Debian kept the name ‘firefox’ and dropped the icon under agreement with mozilla. This has been the status quo for the last 2 years. I can’t see any really compelling reason why anything has to change right now.

    If mozilla wants to break the previous agreement, they need to enter into civil negotiations with debian. Perhaps in another year or 2, there will be a new arrangement that both parties can life with. I understand that debian has more important things on its plate right now then re-negociating a previous agreement on short notice.

  8. Grey had this to say,

    October 5, 2006 @ 10:26 pm

    Actually, Mozilla can change that agreement at anytime. The former agreement was made in an offhand manner with no stipulations. Mozilla doesn’t NEED to do anything. And if Debian wants people to respect the Debian name and logo, then THEY need to get this straightened out. ASAP.

  9. chele had this to say,

    October 5, 2006 @ 10:44 pm

    Grey wrote: "Mozilla doesn’t NEED to do anything."

    Then why did they? It is mozilla who is demanding that debian either stop using the name, or only distribute an officially approved version of firefox. Debian is fine with the existing agreement.

  10. Grey had this to say,

    October 5, 2006 @ 11:18 pm

    No, I meant Mozilla doesnt’ need to have a sit down and ask Debian nicely. Mozilla owns the Firefox name, and they control it. Debian needs to respect that, both morally and legally. As it is, Mozilla can not sensibly be held responsible for what Debian does, and so for Debian to continue to produce a significantly modified browser under the Firefox name is untenable. Debian needs to either let Mofo have a look at their changes, or just use a new name, like other distributors of Mofo code have done. What if I created a bootable "Linux" CD, and gave it out to newbs everywhere, and called it "Debian", and it wound up wiping everyone’s hard disks because of a bug. I bed Debian wouldn’t be too pleased with all the feedback on that when it’s not their fault. But hey, I’m ok, because I BASED my changed on Debian, and Debian’s cool with everyone using everyone else’s identity.

  11. James had this to say,

    October 6, 2006 @ 4:22 am

    "Debian currently values their name and logo, and you can’t use it willy nilly without their permission." – ask anyone involved with the Debian project and they will tell you they consider this a bug – they want a free logo, but it’s a low priority atm, releasing is more important. Plus, they barely enforce their trademark at present.

    Debian will be changing the name of their mozilla/browser package to something else, so you can stop ranting now.

    The actual problem is that trademark law is not compatible with the ideals of FLOSS, and hence MoCo and Debian are put between a rock (FLOSS) and a hard place (trademark laws), and have to decide which one they give priority to. MoCo has gone for trademarks, Debian has gone for FLOSS. This has resulted in conflict, and it’s been resolved by Debian acquiesing to MoCo’s desires and they will change the name.

    The switch is a red herring – or rather, was broken deliberately due to permission given by Gerv (representing MoFo back in the day) to Debian to ship mozilla/browser as Firefox, but without the non-free logo. Now MoCo has decided to change its trademark enforcement, and Debian is complying.

    Debian would have preferred to ship mozilla/browser as firefox, since that’s how most people know it, and so there was a long discussion with MoCo on how this could be possible. It’s not, so Debian will be shipping it called something else.

    (NB I do not speak for Debian)

  12. ben had this to say,

    October 6, 2006 @ 4:32 am

    I didn’t say it was about code. I said it was about the freedoms which free software licenses aim to encapsulate.

    I equally didn’t say anthing about Red Hat, I specifically said Fedora. Any distribution which aims to allow others to make derivative distributions will need to consider doing the name change as far as I can see.

    In the end I don’t see what the fuss is about. Everyone changes the name to iceweasel or whatever and after a while that gets recognised as the new name for the browser that used to be called firefox, in the same way as firefox replaced phoenix/firebird etc. except that it’s not trademark-encumbered.

    As I pointed out in my last email, Debian are considering changing their trademark policy, which creates many of the same problems.

    Sign of the times: reading planet mozilla over the last few days I have read: one developer reporting on what a great time they had with Microsoft in redmond; one developer criticising ubuntu for not being more like windows; two developers criticising debian.

    Do you guys ever have anything good to say about free software projects other than your own?

  13. Henri Sivonen had this to say,

    October 6, 2006 @ 4:36 am

    Isn’t the real problem the name of the binary and not the icon? You need the name of the binary to invoke it from shell scripts, etc. That makes it a code compatibility issue as well.

  14. Anonymous had this to say,

    October 6, 2006 @ 5:05 am

    > ask anyone involved with the Debian project and they will tell you they consider this a bug – they want a free logo, but it’s a low priority atm, releasing is more important.

    Eh, what? This only makes sense if you would assume that Debian accidently file a trademark…

    Also it should be remembered that to use anything non-free in firefox you need to enable it, while it in Debian it is painfull to not use non-free content…

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