Great post on the Debian/Firefox spork

Mark Shuttleworth on Firefox and Ubuntu

I think its important to focus on the key fact that regardless of who did what, and who said what, there are fundamental conflicts between 100% free-as-in-freedom software and the need for trademarks to protect users. The logo itself is no more encumbered than the trademark, and any lack of freedom for the icon is identical to the lack of free for the trademark. Neither is allowed to be used for derived marks or logos, and neither is licensed or would likely ever be licensed in such a way as to comply with the DFSG, since that would effectively nullify the mark’s value [1]. Anything else really doesn’t matter, since we fundamentally disagree on what side of that coin is more important. Patch approvals and working within the system and seemingly misinterpreted email threads are not relevant in the end, since both sides were never in any sort of solid agreement. [2]

Does the issue of trademarks absolutely require forking? Absolutely not, Debian could simply specify alternate branding to comply with the DFSG, and still work with the rest of the community to maintain and improve the apps they’re shipping. I would personally be glad to work with them, despite some public perceptions that I’m some freedom-hating corporate tyrant. There are of course some tensions that predate any discussion of trademarks (even when I started working on Mozilla as a volunteer, three and a half years ago, Debian builds were explicitly unsupported because of incompatibilities across the board). I don’t think those tensions are insurmountable, and I don’t think there’s a real benefit to forking, but ultimately the Mozilla codebase is free and people can do what they want with it, as other Firefox-based browsers such as Flock and Netscape 8 have done before, and I’m sure others will do in the future.
I’ll admit that sometimes we’re hard to work with, and sometimes reviews get bogged down. It happens, and it sucks, but we only have a couple dozen paid developers at MoCo, with a handful more scattered across IBM, Red Hat, Novell, and others, so sometimes things get overlooked for a while. That said, if there are roadblocks to working together technically, venting on blogs doesn’t help either side. Open communication and understanding of what each side are trying to achieve will help, especially better communication from downstream developers as to what really matters to them. I’ve been working with Red Hat and Ubuntu lately, and its helped me gain an understanding of what hurts and what helps when it comes to Linux. Hopefully we’ll figure out better ways of working with distros and with the community to make the Linux experience better, and the process more appropriate to what Linux is giving and getting.

  1. If anyone wanted to build a Firefox browser, they could just use Debian’s source tarball, and claim derivative licensing, and shazam.
  2. People keeping linking to Gerv’s post to debian-legal as some sort of agreement, when it was clearly a proposal that he admittedly wasn’t sure was in line with MoFo. I can’t see how anyone reading the whole email would have concluded differently.


  1. Lee Houghton says:

    The first link points to your wordpress admin section :o

  2. glandium says:

    Just to make things clear : Debian is not forking. GNU is. They even did it before you sent your bug report, except that nobody was aware of it. I actually found out about it *after* we decided to settle by renaming. It’s very unfortunate they chose the name Nathaniel Nerode came up with when the issue rose in the first place, but we will try to work with them to have something in common.
    We’re not going to withdraw our commitment to send patches to Mozilla because of this situation.
    Anyways, the discussion about trademarks and renaming has ended a long ago, this is not what it is about now.
    What it is about now is that you (Mozilla) are publicly FUDing. And I can’t accept that. As I wrote in Mark’s blog comments, from my point of view, we both agreed that the solution about our common problem was renaming Firefox. There would be no tension now if you would just leave us alone and wouldn’t start FUDing.

  3. marcoos says:

    The link to Shuttleworth’s post actually links to your WordPress dashboard…

  4. Kim Sullivan says:

    Um… for some reason, the link to Mark Shutthleworth’s post links to instead of his blog (the alt text seems to be fine, though).

  5. Gen Kanai says:

    Mike- your link to Shuttleworth’s post is the wrong one.

  6. glandium says:

    > People keeping linking to Gerv’s post to debian-legal as some sort of agreement, when it was clearly a proposal that he admittedly wasn’t sure was in line with MoFo. I can’t see how anyone reading the whole email would have concluded differently.

    Try looking for much later messages, when we were asked to rename the package and the program from mozilla-firefox to firefox. That happened in November 2005, so this must have been discussed a few weeks earlier.

  7. Ben says:

    Well said. It’s great to see a constructive blog post from a Mozilla developer about this thorny issue. I was really disappointed that no-one commented before, except for this infantile post by Asa Dotzler. Of course blog posts are not official position statements, but it’s awfully easy to interpret them that way.

  8. Mike says:

    Mike, I don’t think you can deny that there has been tensions and a distinct lack of cooperation between Debian’s Mozilla maintainers and I consider the current state of affairs, pre-renaming, to be a loose fork, not just because of patches not being consistent, but because the end result causes lots of bug reports about inconsistencies between the two builds. It might be a minor fork, and it might have the best of intentions, but if it is not 100% compatible its a fork.

    Its easy to claim FUD, and it’d be easy to pick random posts off Debian weblogs and make claims of FUDing as well, so let’s stop that brand of name-calling as well. There’s a lot of he-said, he-said going around, and the reality is certainly different from all of those things. If you want to work together and not fork, that’s awesome. We can start by getting better traction on that list of bugs you cited. I’ll note that I asked repeatedly for that exact breakdown, but no one provided it until you felt like proving a point, which really doesn’t sound like cooperation to me…

  9. glandium says:

    Mike, I never heard your complains about Debian’s Firefox being
    “significantly”(sic) different before you raised trademark issues, except a post from Benjamin Smedbergs, but that was about xulrunner, not firefox.
    The agreement we had with Gervase is that *you* would complain if our patches gave you problems. Again, we never heard about you until you came to tell we use the brand without a license. In the light of that kind of discussion, where you take back words that were given, how relevant do you thing a patchset could have been ? Moreover, you were already looking at it by yourself, saying “I’m not
    sure I’m comfortable with some of the changes shipping with official
    branding, but this isn’t the right place to discuss that”. (Well, it seems you finally were comfortable with them, since Ubuntu ships with them).
    Anyways, the patchset was not the point of the discussion, and even if you would have allowed us to use the trademark by agreing that the patchset wa okay, you were also asking us to ship with the official logo, which we can’t do. And that was also part of the agreement: We could ship with the name, but with the unbranded logo.
    But let’s just stop this discussion, it has last too long, and it’s already over.
    I’d still like to hear what Christopher Beard has to say about the FUDing, though… (because that was not a random post off a Mozilla weblog, that was an official Q&A about Ubuntu and Mozilla’s love affair, with spitting on Debian inside)

  10. Mike says:

    Where’s the agreement? I haven’t found one that was not a proposal.

    As for the “tell us if you don’t like something we’re doing” part, that really doesn’t seem fair to Red Hat and Novell, both of whom have fulltime developers contributing to the product, yet they still have to get individual patches approved. I can’t imagine the people who put that requirement on those two distros waiving it entirely for Debian or anyone else.

    If you want to claim ‘we had an agreement’ repeatedly, please show me the agreement, even in private mail. I don’t know what the agreement is, and no one’s given me a link or an email thread that shows who approved it and when.

  11. Jed says:

    I hope your comments here don’t really represent Debian.

    You are not a nice person at all (atleast in writting, as I don’t know you in the real world), and if your comments here reflect in any way how this “issue” has been handled, then I must say shame on you and shame on debian for giving you that kind of authority.

  12. sipaq says:

    Glandium, Mike,
    as far as I recall, there’s a middleground between a Firefox build with official branding and a build without the Firefox name and without the official branding artwork.

    Why don’t you, Glandium, and MoCo get together to discuss a “Firefox Debian Community Edition” [1]. There you would have the Firefox name, without the official branding artwork and with the patchset that seems to be acceptable for Ubuntu and which therefore should also be acceptable for Debian.

    Then we could all live happily ever after.


  13. Baptiste says:

    “any lack of freedom for the icon is identical to the lack of free for the trademark”

    This is not true for the following reasons:

    1) the fair use cases are different for copyright and trademark law (ex: trademark law allows parody)

    2) trademark protection is limited to one economic sector

    3) the penalties for copyright infringement are harsher that for trademark infringement.

    Also, if the copyright of the icon really made no difference, that would be one more reason to change it to a free software licence in the name of apeasement.

    That way, you could even have blessed the Debian build, as the only difference with the Ubuntu version is the icon :->

  14. Mark says:

    “””The logo itself is no more encumbered than the trademark, and any lack of freedom for the icon is identical to the lack of free for the trademark.”””

    Lo! A new talking point from the ashes! (BTW, this is crap, but I’ll leave it to a lawyer to explain why.)

    “””Debian could simply specify alternate branding to comply with the DFSG, and still work with the rest of the community to maintain and improve the apps they’re shipping. I would personally be glad to work with them…”””

    You could start by correcting your post to acknowledge that that is exactly what Debian is doing, i.e. exactly what you demanded they do in your original bug report.

  15. Mike says:

    There’s legal differences in what you can do with copyright and trademark, however we basically use them in the same manner, and license them together in nearly all cases. Copyright law is easier to enforce for various reasons, so its a good tool, but in terms of the license terms I don’t think that there are additional DFSG-compatible restrictions in our copyright license. No one has explained to me in clear terms why the icon is not covered under the name change section of the DFSG, since it is used in conjunction with the name of the browser only.

    Mark, I asked the same question in the bug, and got the same textbook answer, but not a reply to why our copyright license is incompatible with the aggressive trademark enforcement that _is_ ok under the DFSG. its not a new talking point, I just don’t get it.

  16. James says:

    Let’s see what LICENSE has to say, right at the top:

    “You are not granted rights or licenses to the trademarks of the Mozilla Foundation or any party, including without limitation the Firefox name or logo.”

    Nowhere in this discussion have I seen alternate terms for distribution of the logo discussed. So even ignoring its unmodifiability (to satisfy DFSG), there’s no legal way for Debian to distribute the logo.

  17. Joshua Rodman says:

    As always, it is not only your organization’s refusal to allow derivative works of the logo which creates the problem (a point I do not agree is a trademark concern, but agree to disagree), but your unwillingness to allow Debian to discard the logo altogether and retain the name Firefox.

    So, no, Debian cannot satisfy your chosen set of needs except by changing the entire name, which is what they are doing. Hopefully you can stop posting this stuff at least until you change your position.

  18. Man, what a well set-up website!

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