13 May 2009 Burgundavia   » (Journeyer)

Extracating ourselves from the UbuntuOneUbunet mess

Yesterday I wrote about the new UbuntuOne service from Canonical. Around the same time, Tony Yarusso filed a bug report, the potential confusion around the use of the Ubuntu trademark and UbuntuOne. Specifically, this section of the trademark policy:

If you are producing new software which is intended for use with or on Ubuntu, you may use the Trademark in a way which indicates the intent of your product. For example, if you are developing a system management tool for Ubuntu, acceptable project titles would be "System Management for Ubuntu" or "Ubuntu Based Systems Management". We would strongly discourage, and likely would consider to be problematic, a name such as UbuntuMan, Ubuntu Management, ManBuntu, etc. Furthermore, you may not use the Trademarks in a way which implies an endorsement where that doesn't exist, or which attempts to unfairly or confusingly capitalise on the goodwill or brand of the project.

and this one:

Any commercial use.

I think Tony is right and I personally think that Canonical erred in choosing the naming of this product. However, Canonical is the legal holder of the Ubuntu trademark and as such, granted itself the write to use the trademark is this way. What is in dispute is whether or not they violated the spirit of the agreement, rather than the letter.

Therefor, we can boil down the issues to two:

  1. The Ubuntu trademark is being used on a proprietary product
  2. Commercial trademark use of Ubuntu is controlled by Canonical, who may end up in a conflict of interest

I will also state was this is not about:

  1. doubting that Canonical has the best interests of the larger Ubuntu project in mind. It has demonstated that they do time and time again.
  2. That the product currently known as UbuntuOne is proprietary. Canonical already offers two non-free web apps: Landscape and Launchpad. I am not happy about the latter, but we finally have a commitment from Canonical to open source at least some of it.
So, with those things in mind, what do I see as the solution? Short term, I think Canonical to do one of two things:
  1. Publicly state that the server code of UbuntuOne (Ubunet) will be made free software and that UbuntuOne will follow the Franklin Street Statement by May 31st.
  2. Canonical rebrands UbuntuOne as Ubunet and keeps the server side proprietary. While I am terribly not happy if they choose this option, they do remove the major issue of dilution of the Ubuntu brand with a proprietary web-app. After all, Canonical choose not brand Landscape with the Ubuntu moniker, even though it is explicitly designed for it.

Long term, I think we need a new process for dealing with certain trademarks. Under the current trademark policy the Community Council (CC) is already responsible for dealing with issues regarding derivatives and advocacy. I propose we extend that to commercial trademarks, including by Canonical. However, I recognize that there are commercial implications involving privacy, etc. I propose that the CC agree to keep any such discussions out of the public until both sides agree (usually the launch of said project).

Overall, I think that UbuntuOneUbunet will be a great thing for Ubuntu and beyond. We need to look at software beyond the level of a single device. It is just too bad that Canonical choose not to follow the route of libre.fm and identi.ca and make a bold statement about freedom in this new web-based age.

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