The Name "Firefox" Not Allowed In Ubuntu?

There are lots of ongoing discussions in the Ubuntu Forums about the fact that Mozilla has asked Debian to either comply with the trademarks/copyrights and use both the Firefox logo and name, and let all their patches run through Mozilla, or to neither use the logo nor the name. A typical forum post, written by Bnonn, quoted here:

This seems entirely insensible to me. Mozilla is basically stating that they would rather Debian (and, by derivation, Ubuntu) pretend that Firefox isn’t Firefox, than use Firefox with a different logo.

Now, personally I hate the damn blue globe and wish that Debian/Ubuntu could use the proper Firefox icon. It confounds me that Mozilla would make the icon non-free, thereby limiting its brand recognition and achieving absolutely nothing (what are they afraid of for crying out loud?) But surely even the blue globe with the name “Firefox” underneath it is better than a blue globe (or something better) with the name IceWeasel, or Freefox? It sounds like Mozilla is cutting off its nose to spite its face—which is particularly dumb given that, firstly, the “fix” is just a farce; secondly, it’s a non-issue anyway! And thirdly, the Debian and Ubuntu communities are big, idealistic, and outspoken, and will surely react with ill-will. I can’t see how that won’t harm Mozilla far more than any perceived benefit they’ll get.

Perhaps it’s simply that, in order to keep their trademark, they have to get Debian to comply (by law, if they don’t, they lose the trademark). But it seems like they should really consider adjusting their copyright requirements. All they’d have to do to resolve this whole issue is open-source an icon!

The truth is, however, that Mozilla Corporation’s aggressive defending of their copyright is sensible. There is (at least) one strong reason why Mozilla must defend their copyrighted name and logo, and that is quality assurance. If anyone were allowed to make their own highly modified version of the browser and for example bundle it with spyware, and on top of that still call it Firefox with the recognized fox-around-globe logo, then people would no longer associate Firefox with high quality. People would eventually associate Firefox with spyware and viruses, which is the opposite of the reputation Mozilla is trying to build. The only way to maintain Mozilla’s strong quality and security reputation is to make sure anything named Firefox really is Firefox.

Of course, one could argue that anything that leaves Debian is probably going to retain the quality of the original authors (Mozilla contributors), and Mozilla Corporation could probably legally make an exception to allow Debian to use the name Firefox even though they don’t use the copyrighted logo which Debian will never use. I am, however, not a lawyer, so I don’t know the effect on the copy/trademark rights if such an exception was made.

Update: As Dennis Kaarsemaker says in the first comment of this blog post, Debian’s DFSG makes a legal exception from Mozilla worthless. In other words, Debian has to a large part itself to blame for this dilemma.

31 thoughts on “The Name "Firefox" Not Allowed In Ubuntu?

  1. Dennis Kaarsemaker

    Such an exception would not help. Firefox would still be non-free according to DFSG #8:

    License Must Not Be Specific to Debian

    The rights attached to the program must not depend on the program’s being part of a Debian system. If the program is extracted from Debian and used or distributed without Debian but otherwise within the terms of the program’s license, all parties to whom the program is redistributed should have the same rights as those that are granted in conjunction with the Debian system.

    Reply
  2. Seo Sanghyeon

    “If anyone were allowed to make their own highly modified version of the browser and for example bundle it with spyware,”

    Well, that’s exactly the kind of freedom Debian is trying to uphold. “The license must allow modifications and derived works, and must allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software.” I guess there’s no easy way out then.

    Reply
  3. Anonymous

    > Perhaps it’s simply that, in order to keep their trademark, they have to get Debian to comply (by law, if they don’t, they lose the trademark).
    Yes, it is as simpe as that.

    Reply
  4. tr

    Uhm, replace “copyright” with “trademark” in your text and it makes much more sense.

    I think both sides are right and Debian actually should go with a different name and different logos because Debian is all about really free software, where one can take and modify things however one wants to without fear of either trademark or copyright violation. Sure, having a different name for the app will confuse people, but a bit of education of the public about the issues behind it can’t be bad.

    Reply
  5. Chris Cunningham

    Both sides are right. They want different things. Debian want to use some good software, preferably without having to make changes which increase confusion and maintenance burden. MoCo want a guarantee that any binaries identified as “Firefox” have been QAed to their own standards, and that this will be maintained in the future. Nobody’s to “blame”.

    Not that anything said in the Ubuntu forums is ever particularly helpful or insightful anyway, mind.

    – Chris

    Reply
  6. Frederik Vanderstraeten

    I don’t get it, is there any practical problem or is this just stupid American pseudo-legal bullshit?

    Reply
  7. Michael J Gruber

    As a Firefox (and Thunderbird) extension author I welcome this step by the Mozilla foundation. Many cases where Linux users have problems getting an extension to work turn out to be problems with the distribution build of FF/TB. But most users aren’t even aware there are different builds. From this point of view: distributions should either ship the original build fom mozilla.com or ship their own build and distinguish it clearly from the official build.

    Michael

    Reply
  8. Adam

    “Debian has itself to blame for this dilemma”?

    An interesting way of putting it. Debian only has itself to blame inasmuch as it chooses to insist on only packaging software which it and all its users are free to use, modify and redistribute. Attributing “blame” makes it sound like Debian has accidentally gotten itself into this awkward position, instead of this being a well-understood and anticipated consequence of one of its core beliefs.

    As for it being a dilemma, it’s not really. This has happened many times before in Debian’s past, and the paths from here are few and well-trod.

    Either upstream will allow the software to be used under its upstream name, local patches aside, as provided for by the GPL (which Firefox is licensed under) and other Free Software licences, or Debian will either remove the product from the distribution or fork their own version from the Free content (code/resources/etc…) that is available.

    The preferred option is to work with upstream, always. Maintaining a fork is more work that not, which is not looked forward to. But if upstream is unwilling/unable to allow the software to be used in accordance with the DFSG (which really shouldn’t be a problem for any software licensed under the GPL, among other licences) then it’s not a dilemma, it’s just a course of action that needs to be taken.

    Now, … picking a name for the fork – *that’s* a dilemma. :) I personally prefer Freefox, but a lot of people have expressed a preference for Iceweasel. Time will tell…

    Reply
  9. michael schurter

    Why not allow them to call the browser Firefox, like Debian Firefox or Ubuntu Firefox?

    That would protect Mozilla’s good name from being tacked onto unofficial derivatives, yet it would still allow distributions to use a recognizable name for the browser.

    Reply
  10. Luis Villa

    Either upstream will allow the software to be used under its upstream name, local patches aside, as provided for by the GPL (which Firefox is licensed under) and other Free Software licences,

    Maybe I’m missing something, but where does the GPL provide this? If anything, it seems that the real root of the problem is that there is a gap between what GPL provides (which relates to copyright only) and what people expect of GPL-licensed software (which encompasses all of the intellectual property and other community resources around the software.) The first is a legal relationship, and hence (relatively) clear and enforceable; the second is ‘merely’ a social contract, which the Debian folks have one understanding of and the Mozilla folks have a separate understanding of. Hence the problem.

    I’m irritated by the trademark thing because it explicitly legally privileges one group of contributors (the mozilla foundation) over all other contributors, when I understood the social contract around mozilla to make all contributors legally equal (though obviously there are differences in skill, committment, etc.)

    Reply
  11. Maimon Mons

    Well, Debian has a good point as well. If debian has a special exception from Mozilla corp, that special exception is not inherited by all the debian derivatives (Including Ubuntu, kubuntu, nubuntu, etc.).

    Really, the only way out of this is for debian to pick a totally new name that is allowed for all derivatives that use the debian “fork” of firefox & thunderbird.

    It really is a fork, since debian has longer term commitments in debian-stable than Mozilla corp is willing to commit to. Therefore, debian cannot be forced to wait for approval from Mozilla corp of all patches of the browser/email client, since there (potentially) may not be anyone at Mozilla corp that is capable and willing to reviewing the code to Firefox 1.5.x 3 years from now.

    Reply
  12. Chris Cunningham

    I’m irritated by the trademark thing because it explicitly legally privileges one group of contributors (the mozilla foundation) over all other contributors, when I understood the social contract around mozilla to make all contributors legally equal (though obviously there are differences in skill, committment, etc.)

    Insomuch as this existed in the old Mozilla.org, I’m pretty sure there was an explicit change in the approach taken once the project was refocussed on the Aviaries.

    – Chris

    Reply
  13. Luis Villa

    moz is not allowed to relicense my code without their permission just by changing the name of the project, so I’m not sure why they should be allowed to ‘explicit[ly] change’ the social contract under the same circumstances.

    [The obvious reason they did get away with it, when they wouldn't get away with it in the copyright case, is that the community was still too unsophisticated about trademark to understand that rights which previously had been the community's were being taken out of the commons by the Foundation, and as a result, those rights were not explicitly licensed into the commons and could be taken. I hope that at some point in the next 3-4 years we can get a trademark license/strategy which fixes that problem.]

    Reply
  14. Adam

    The GPL states that any copyrightable content which is licensed under it can be modified by anyone who recieves it, as much or as little as they choose, and redistributed as widely as the modifier wishes, with no further restrictions on its use than those provided by the GPL.

    This /includes/ patching, say, the part of gecko that implements the -moz-border-radius CSS style, but not patching, say, the part of Firefox that calls itself Firefox.

    If anyone can find langauge in the GPL that disallows this specificity of patching, feel free to post it. In the meantime, the Free Software Definition[0], which the GPL is the legal incarnation of, mentions a similar situation to what we have here:

    “Rules about how to package a modified version are acceptable, if they don’t substantively block your freedom to release modified versions. [...] It is also acceptable for the license to require [that] you identify yourself on your modifications.”

    …and specifically does not mention that the name of the product must be changed; at most it requires that modifications are identified. Debian has /always/ identified and made available the specific set of patches it has applied to an upstream source when it distributes same, and provided (to the best of my knowledge) tools which can undo the patches it has applied to give the user a pristine upstream source if they desire.

    [0] http://www.fsf.org/licensing/essays/free-sw.html

    Reply
  15. Luis Villa

    The trademark is a distinct issue from the copyright; both FSF and CC will tell you that. While I doubt there is any precedent I could point at that would clearly disambiguate the two in the sense you want (i.e., a ruling that licensing a copyrighted work does not at the same time license the trademarks used within the work) I have very little doubt that any judge would find that licensing a copyrighted work does not give the copyright licensor free reign to use the marks in the copyrighted work as you please. That would be completely antithetical to the entire rationale for trademark.

    [If the court did rule that way, tangentially, the impact would be to make it legally impossible to ever trademark a mark used in GPL'd code, as a GPL'd trademark would constitute a naked license and the mark would immediately be invalidated.]

    [NB: IANAL, yet.]

    Reply
  16. Adam

    Luis > I’m mostly aware of how copyright and TM are different and being used against each other here. AFAICT, it’s pretty much how Mozilla is capable of shipping stuff under the GPL (a copyright license) but still preventing people from exercising the rights the GPL is supposed to grant them. (using TM law)

    The point is that Mozilla claims to release Firefox under the GPL (which is DFSG-friendly), but prevents some GPL-granted uses of the work (which is not DFSG-friendly). Therefore Debian will, in a positive step protecting its and its users right to freely modify and redistribute the software in its main archive, either remove Firefox or fork it.

    (And I say “prevents” instead of just “threatens” as the threat of unleashing the dogs of law can be almost as bad as actually doing so. I’m not that involved in Debian, but I’m pretty sure that no-one there wants to take things as far as court to find out which way it might go. If a developer wants to take them to court over them using their software, I’m pretty sure they’ll figure it’s not worth it and just drop the package. If the developer doesn’t want you to use their software *that* much, it’s not really Free anyway, is it? Mozilla are effectively preventing Debian from using Firefox.)

    Reply
  17. Steven Brown

    Users should be aware of the problems being caused by the Mozilla Foundation on the naming issue, so whatever rename of the browser Debian/Ubuntu go with should have an explanation of the situation on the initial home page of the browser.

    Reply
  18. Luis Villa

    Hrm. So… I’m at least bothered enough by your argument, Adam, that I’ll be bringing up trademarks at my next GPL v3 committee meeting. :)

    I poked at the Moz TM FAQ**, and was reminded that:
    * FFox is tri-licensed, so they can build from an MPL-licensed ‘temporary fork’ of that codebase w/ icons included without any GPL issues.
    * They distribute their CVS trunk (i.e., the code that is GPL-licensed) without the icons, so the icons are at no point GPL’d.

    So the only possible problem is the ‘GPL’d’ name of the binary itself (and presumably perhaps some menu entries, doc entries, etc.) this is not minor, but gives me more context than I had before. If FFox were serious about clarifying this issue, they’d apply all the naming and branding at the same time that the icons are applied- i.e., privately and to an MPL’d fork. A build from trunk would have a binary name like ‘generic-web-browser’, etc.

    [Note that I'm assuming that MPL has a clause allowing this sort of thing; I really don't remember if it does or not.]

    ** Which they need to update- their reference to the FSF’s list of compatible licenses appears to refer to material that is no longer there, or at least no longer makes sense in combination with that Moz says about it.

    [P.S. DJST: about 1 out of every three posts I've submitted today have been rejected for an invalid security number; you might look at switching your captcha software to something a little more reliable.]

    Reply
  19. Luis Villa

    I might add that GPL v3 explicitly forbids name change requirements in the last paragraph of section 7b of the current draft, though it does allow other restrictions on trademarks. Fun times!

    Reply
  20. Kelly Clowers

    As a Debian user and a user of a mozilla.org project, I have to say that I find myself getting rather annoyed with the Mozilla Foundation. They say they want to protect the trademark and their reputation. Well, I am sure other OSS projects want to protect their reputation (and, if they have one, their trademark), but you don’t see them pulling this kind of stuff (or at least I never heard of it).

    Reply
  21. Nickolay Ponomarev

    “If FFox were serious about clarifying this issue, they’d apply all the naming and branding at the same time that the icons are applied- i.e., privately and to an MPL’d fork. A build from trunk would have a binary name like ‘generic-web-browser’, etc.”

    That’s exactly what is done. There’s a switch to choose between official branding (the app is named Firefox, the official logo is used) and unofficial free builds (the app is named “Minefield” and the blue globe is used as a logo).

    Debian package maintainers have changed the build system to always use the trademarked name Firefox, no matter whether –enable-official-branding is enabled or not. (They did suggest to revert that change.)

    Also, I’ve heard people (#developers) complaining about the patches Debian applies to their version of Firefox, there are real concerns about their quality.

    Nickolay

    P.S. Yes, the captcha is quite unreliable.

    Reply
  22. Nickolay Ponomarev

    “A build from trunk would have a binary name like ‘generic-web-browser’, etc.”

    Er, well, the binary name is still ‘firefox-bin’, but all the branding is stripped.

    Kelly: “Well, I am sure other OSS projects want to protect their reputation (and, if they have one, their trademark), but you don’t see them pulling this kind of stuff (or at least I never heard of it).”

    Apparently they either don’t care about their reputation that much or don’t have their names trademarked. Honestly this part of DSFG makes no sense to me – how can they expect people building a popular high-quality product let everyone use their name for any binary of questionable quality?

    Reply
  23. Chris Cunningham

    moz is not allowed to relicense my code without their permission just by changing the name of the project, so I’m not sure why they should be allowed to ‘explicit[ly] change’ the social contract under the same circumstances.

    I assume you’re arguing from a moral rather than a legal point of view here. MoCo can change their social contract as much as they like, because their code isn’t bound by it.

    If FFox were serious about clarifying this issue, they’d apply all the naming and branding at the same time that the icons are applied- i.e., privately and to an MPL’d fork. A build from trunk would have a binary name like ‘generic-web-browser’, etc.

    I’d respectfully suggest that they just didn’t care to account for this in the build system rather than doing it deliberately. It’d be trivial.

    – Chris

    Reply
  24. Luis Villa

    I assume you’re arguing from a moral rather than a legal point of view here. MoCo can change their social contract as much as they like, because their code isn’t bound by it.

    Oh, of course. Yay for MoCo’s legal right to be immoral!

    (I might note that I don’t seriously think MoCo is exactly immoral here; it isn’t like there is a clearly developed sense of ownership of the mark. More like they are doing something which I consider dubious and which takes advantage of the community’s underdeveloped and immature sense of ownership over their mark. But they are clearly doing with honest and positive motivations about which reasonable people can disagree.)

    I’d respectfully suggest that they just didn’t care to account for this in the build system rather than doing it deliberately. It’d be trivial.

    Oh, of course. I didn’t mean to imply it was intentional; just that their claim would be stronger if they went ahead and did it.

    Reply
  25. Curtis

    I get pissed that evidently Firefox is so tied into Ubuntu that they have had to disable the auto-update feature to ensure the stability of the operating system. I wish linux applications could all just be self-contained little fully idependant binarys that ignored one another completely. Even if it made them bigger. All this code tangling up into stuff in the OS really feels restrictive and annoying.

    And as far as the icon goes, I think they should just not include Firefox and let the end user install it from the site. But of course that’s not possible either. When one does it that way, the install must be a seperate install because of how integral FF evidently is to the OS. WHY? And secondly, isn’t that just a bit too much like Windows and IE? I thought we had learned to keep our browsers seperate from the OS.

    Reply
  26. Adam

    Curtis > The point with auto-update is that it won’t work for most users. On UNIX and linux systems, most users do not have permission to update system applications (like firefox). Which is one of the reasons that they’re more secure.

    Users can generally install their own programs in their home directory, so not including it and letting a user download their own would be feasible, but then every user would have to have their own copy, which is a huge waste of space. (Bob is not allowed to overwrite Alice’s files, so even if Bob could run Alice’s copy of FF, the auto-update feature will certainly break)

    FF is not *integrated* into Ubuntu. It’s merely been packaged for it in the same manner as *every single other application* on Ubuntu. Including *all the other web browsers*. FF, and Konquerer, and Galeon, and Lynx, are all packaged in the same way, and any of them can be installed (or not, including none of them) with the same status as each other. FF is no more bundled than any other program and can be safely removed just as much as any other program. That’s a *big* difference from what MS did with IE.

    Reply
  27. Antonio

    Why the issue is coming up now? The trademark policy is old news for me and i thought this was the reason for a different logo showing up in Ubuntu…

    Reply
  28. Pingback: Zarro Boogs found. » Thoughts on marks, the tri-license, and the notion of community

  29. James

    The branding switch was broken because Debian thought it had an agreement with MoFo to use the Firefox name but not the logo (which is non-free).

    Reply
  30. Pingback: Firebird News » The Name “Firefox” Not Allowed In Ubuntu/Debian?

  31. Pingback: Totally Free Software To Remove Spyware Completely

Comment on this post:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s