Feature StoryOn Ubuntu, its derivatives and trademark enforcementsUbuntu Judging by the discussion taking place in this publication's comments area, many DistroWatch readers find the growing number of *buntus, or distribution derived from – and named after – Ubuntu, rather ridiculous. Some even think that it's happening at the detriment of the entire open source movement. After all, wouldn't it be better if these "developers" helped squashing bugs in the parent distribution instead of recreating it with a slightly modified package list and a different desktop theme? And yet, every time a new *buntu variant appears, there is plenty of interest. Take Ubuntulite, a distribution added to DistroWatch last week. It has been near the top of most search-for distributions for weeks and once mentioned in DistroWatch Weekly, it promptly received over 1,500 clicks during the first 24 hours of its listing!Whatever your opinion about the growing number of *buntus, one thing is becoming clear: it is quite possible that we have now seen the end of their relentless supply. The reason? The trademark lawyers at Canonical have started asserting the law by warning several projects which call themselves "*buntu" and which do not comply with Canonical's trademark guidelines. By co-incidence, one of them was Ubuntulite, an innocent looking distribution that seemed no different from dozens of other *buntus* that had been created over the past few years (other than being more useful than most). Here is the excerpt from the email, as published on the Ubuntulite web site under the title of A message from Canonical: Change your name:"In terms of our trademark policy you cannot use the Ubuntu, Kubuntu or Edubuntu logos in combination with other marks or logos. With your project you are using our Kubuntu logo together with your project name Ubuntulite and this is a breach of our trademark. Your project name, Ubuntulite, is also not compliant with our trademark policy. We do encourage people to make custom versions of Ubuntu, and we have established the "remix" concept and terminology to allow use of the trademark if the changes are minimal or include only software from the Ubuntu repositories. It is of course fine to host repositories and distribute the software - the issue is that you are attaching the brand, quality and assurance messages of the Ubuntu marks to something which is not Ubuntu."This is a fairly new development as historically Canonical has not been known to enforce their trademarks in this way. In fact, in the project's early days, creating an Ubuntu derivative was not only tolerated, chances were that the new project would later become an official Ubuntu sub-project (such were the cases with Kubuntu and Xubuntu, and more recently, also Mythbuntu and Ubuntu Studio). However, the number of *buntus was still growing fast and DistroWatch now also lists projects with names like Fluxbuntu, nUbuntu, Ubuntu Christian Edition and Ubuntu Muslim Edition, while our waiting list has distributions such as Elbuntu, Minibuntu, UbuntuiES, Estobuntu, Zebuntu, Ubuntu Rescue Mix or Bubuntu. Just last week, a new distribution called Boxbuntu was also submitted to DistroWatch. Of the above (and to the best of our knowledge), only Ubuntu Christian Edition has been granted permission by Canonical to use the word "Ubuntu" in their product name. The fact that Canonical has become more strict in enforcing their trademarks will likely mean fewer *buntus in the future. It won't necessarily stop the flood of new Ubuntu-based distributions, but they will probably arrive "disguised" under a seemingly unrelated name and with a logo not resembling any Ubuntu graphic.While we haven't seen any lawsuits brought by a Linux company or organisation against any project allegedly breaking the trademark law, many distributions do enforce their trademarks by sending letters similar to the one quoted above. Red Hat is the most famous example of this; some readers will remember that they used to threaten online CD shops with lawsuits unless they stopped calling their freely downloadable Red Hat Linux CDs as "Red Hat Linux" (although it was fine to sell these CDs under a different name). Other big or small Linux companies, such as Novell or Mandriva, are likely to crack down on any trademark abuse, while some non-profit community projects, such as Debian GNU/Linux, are also known to enforce their trademarks. And Slackware's Patrick Volkerding has sent out quite a few emails of his own; as an example he asked the developer of Slax (formerly Slackware Live) to change its name, but even those who use a variation of the word "slack" in their product name could expect an email from "da man" sooner or later.* * * * *Interestingly, the trademark laws can sometimes bite the big distributions themselves. Last Sunday, a heated debate hit the Ubuntu mailing list and the Launchpad bug reporting facility. Apparently, Mozilla Foundation has updated their trademark policy, requiring every user to explicitly accept the licence agreement before using their products. This was seen as a usability drawback by Ubuntu's Mark Shuttleworth and many of the project's developers. Phoronix has published a good summary of the events under the title Battle Brews Over Firefox In Ubuntu 8.10, with a full quote from the Ubuntu founder and other links that discuss the situation.This brings memories of a similar debate that took place on the debian-devel mailing list not long ago. With Mozilla Corporation imposing guidelines and licenses increasingly incompatible with Debian's own policies, the distribution came up with a typically open-source solution. Since all Mozilla products are provided in the form of freely available source code, one can simply compile the code, rename the resulting binary - and voilą, a new product is born. Since October 2006, Debian no longer includes Firefox, Thunderbird or SeaMonkey in their distribution, but instead ships Iceweasel (a Debian edition of Firefox), Icedove (Thunderbird) and Iceape (SeaMonkey). While most Debian derivatives accepted this situation and switched to Iceweasel, Ubuntu had, at the time, struck a deal with Mozilla that was acceptable to both parties, thus continuing to provide Firefox in Ubuntu under its proper name. This, however, might now change. As a matter of fact, the Ubuntu development repositories now contain a package called abrowser, an unbranded edition of Firefox.It will be interesting to see how other distributions handle this tricky issue. Luckily, it seems that the open source world provides a greater number of acceptable solutions to these types of controversies than any closed-source or proprietary software product ever could.