Did I miss anything?


Catching up on blogs, emails and Debian mailing lists I see that nothing really important has happened while I was off-line: the dunc-tank caboodle escalated and died down when the majority voted that it was not worth the commotion, some people got upset at some other people and decided stop working on Debian because of that, Mozilla went even more bonkers about its trademarks.

The dunk-tank scandal ended just like I thought it would. As one could imply from my eternal unstable concept, I do not see making releases as a the main thing that Debian contributes to the society - it is more about the integration and cross-empowerment of all the packages that Debian has. In that context, making a release is a not the most important job in Debian, but it need to be done from time to time. Release management combines technical and social challenges - there is not much of novelty in it (I imagine). So, from this perspective, there is nothing bad in money being paid to do this mundane and hard work, if we really, really need to release in a specific time frame (IMHO the only reason to release Debian in 2006, as opposed to 2008, is the Lars tattoo bet). If we return to "release when its ready" paradigm and aim for about one release every 2-3 years (and I see nothing really wrong with that) then paying release manager will not be needed. Money is about getting things done on a schedule. It does not make things good (or bad). It does not make thing important (or not). It make things go by the schedule (unless you pay by the hour). It is the obvious solution to releasing Debian in December. Now two questions need to be answered - will it work? and do we really want to release in December?

The second thing - in any group of 1000 people anyone can easily find a lot of people that he would not love/not respect/disagree with/disregard/hate and be unable to work with. It is no reason to stop working on Debian, unless one does it only to be universally loved. It is inevitable that we will need to learn to do what we like to do without paying attention to the irritations.

And about the trademarks - in Debconf 5 in Helsinki I was giving a talk at the Debian Day, just after I helped to win the first big fight against software patents in EU, and Branden (who was GPL at the time) asked me what do I think Debian should do about its trademarks. Both then and now I strongly think that trademarks and any other litigation inducing concepts (except enforcement of GPL) have no place whatsoever in free software. I think Debian should lead the way and give up the "Debian" trademark. And Mozilla should follow the lead. So what if there is a pron site "Debian chicks"? You will not solve that with litigation anyway (at least not in a year or two) and why should we really care? So what if some one make a distro and calls it SuperDebian? If someone will really think that it is related to Debian but better (especially despite warnings to the contrary), then that someone will really deserve to get the trojan planted in that distro. And again, against a well prepared criminal, litigation will not help much.

So, did I miss anything?

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David 13 years, 3 months ago

Yes, you missed the risk of a hostile entity registering, using and ultimately enforcing the Debian trademark against Debian.

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aigarius 13 years, 3 months ago

I believe that it would have to be registred before the current Debian trademark was and before the Debian project was founded. However even reading the Wikipedia page on trademarks shows that this system is very complex and twisted. Even holding and enfocing a Debian trademark does not prevent teoretical lawsuits against Debian. That is the thing about "intellectual property" lawsuits - you are never 100% safe. The mere existence is a threat in itself. The best one can do is ignore it until you are sued and then strike back with all possible might if it does happen.
Making everyones lives harder just because there is some risk is NOT a solution - it is a problem in itself.

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bignose 13 years, 3 months ago

Your arguments seem to be against all trademarks, held by anyone for any product. If that's not so, can you show a few trademarks that you do not think should be abandoned, and why they're exempt from your reasoning?

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David 13 years, 3 months ago

It's not that simple (it never is with law).

You said "Even holding and enfocing a Debian trademark does not prevent teoretical lawsuits against Debian" - I agree, but it's not a relevant point. *Nothing* can protect against "theoretical" lawsuits against Debian. But the risks can be reduced.

"I believe that it would have to be registred before the current Debian trademark was and before the Debian project was founded" - this is not the whole truth. There are many factors which you haven't accounted for, e.g. if someone was to register a trademark which you wanted invalidated due to prior use, the onus of proving the prior use would now be on you (in most jurisdictions).

In addition, even "prior use" can be ousted by "later use" if the "later use" becomes popular enough to eclipse the "prior use". This can of course happen with a registered trademark as well, but it would be much harder for the "enemy" to do so (again, in most jurisdictions that I know of).

As for the advantages of the "ignore it until you are sued and then strike back with all possible might" approach, I failed to see any statements to back it up.

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aigarius 13 years, 3 months ago

Law is not simple - a read of GPL proves that instantly. However an idea can be simple. In this case the idea is freedom - if the code is free then the name should also be free.
Registring Debian trademark is like taking ot patents for free software ideas - it is creating a restriction and restricting competition, not via copyright law, but via other laws.
If such litigation would come up, it would be very like the SCO case and will have to be handled the same way. Otherwise we are just requesting everyone to take off their jackets and shues for screening - no gain in security, but a delay and humiliation for everyone involved.

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toni 12 years, 11 months ago

You missed one important point: If you are holding a trademark, you're in a much strong(er) position in court than if you don't have one. By default, the party having registered the trademark is considered to be "right", and the other party is wrong. So, if eg. M$ would register the Debian trademark, you'll have a hard time proving that they are using it abusively, and that the trademark is, in fact, invalid (it could work that way in Germany, under special circumstances). Otherwise, you can suddenly find yourself forced to relinquish using the name "Debian".

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