Disappointing To See Canonical Act Like A Trademark Bully Over Ubuntu

from the get-over-it-guys dept

Well, this is disappointing. Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, apparently has decided to act like a trademark bully. The maker of a fairly popular version of Linux sent a cease-and-desist letter to the website FixUbuntu.com, which is a website run by Micah Lee (who happens to work for EFF), that shows Ubuntu users how to disable a default feature in Ubuntu that Lee reasonably considers to be privacy invading. It’s pretty straightforward, but Ubuntu’s trademark lawyers are trying to kill it. While the letter is more on the friendly end of the spectrum, it’s still problematic. It argues that Lee does not have the right to use the logo:

To keep the balance between the integrity of our trademarks and the ability to to use and promote Ubuntu, we’ve tried to define a reasonable Intellectual Property Policy. You can read the full policy at http://www.canonical.com/intellectual-property-policy. As you can see from our policy, to use the Ubuntu trademarks and and Ubuntu word in a domain name would require approval from Canonical.

Unfortunately, in this instance we cannot give you permission to use Ubuntu trademarks on your website and in your domain name as they may lead to confusion or the misunderstanding that your website is associated with Canonical or Ubuntu.

So, whilst we are very happy for you to write about Ubuntu, we request you to remove Ubuntu word from you domain name and Ubuntu logo from your website. We would highly appreciate if you could confirm you have done so by replying this email to us.

Of course, legally, this is hogwash. As we’ve been pointing out for years and years, the case law is pretty damn well established around so-called “sucks sites” (sites that criticize or discuss a brand, including using that brand in their own domain) are not, in fact, trademark infringement. In response, Lee and his colleagues at EFF came up with a wonderful disclaimer they’ve added to the site just to make it extra clear that there will be no confusion:

Disclaimer: In case you are either 1) a complete idiot; or 2) a lawyer; or 3) both, please be aware that this site is not affiliated with or approved by Canonical Limited. This site criticizes Canonical for certain privacy-invading features of Ubuntu and teaches users how to fix them. So, obviously, the site is not approved by Canonical. And our use of the trademarked term Ubuntu is plainly descriptive—it helps the public find this site and understand its message.

How often do you get to put the terms “complete idiot” in a disclaimer?

Of course, as Lee also points out, if Canonical really wants the site to go away, they can make that particular feature opt-in instead of default. But, even if they don’t, their cease-and-desist demand is meaningless, because it’s not infringement. It’s too bad that a company that is an open source leader would also get into trademark bullying, even if it’s done so with a smile.

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Comments on “Disappointing To See Canonical Act Like A Trademark Bully Over Ubuntu”

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Shayne says:

Re: Re:

I’d suggest contacting Ubuntu Legal and getting written permission for it. Most companies dont mind contractors using their logo to advertise services, but you just need to get their permission. The reason is companies have to police their trademarks or they lose them. So by just getting permission they have no legal reason to go after you.

Me says:

I removed Ubuntu from all the home and office machines over the summer because of this. Went with Mint Debian instead and couldn’t be happier.

Canonical is no better than Windows in their appeal to users who don’t really know what they’re doing around computers, and they’re no better than Facebook, Google, et al in respecting their users and their users’ privacy.

Screw Ubuntu. It’s the OS for nerdy 17 year old who know just enough to feel superior to their mom who is on Windows, but not enough to realize their just using another hand-holding, anticonsumer product.

PT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I removed Ubuntu from my machines a couple of years ago, not over this, but because it tried too hard to distance itself from the familiar. I didn’t have the time nor the inclination to learn a whole new way of doing things. If Shuttleworth were to design a car, he’d probably differentiate it from General Motors by putting the accelerator on the left. And he’d weld the hood shut.

Ubuntu Evil says:

In 2009, Jane Silber became the CEO of Canonical in 2009. Canonical makes Ubuntu.

Jane Silber’s previous job was at that military contractor, namely the C4 Division of General Dynamics. It turns out that at the C4 Systems division is all about using computers for spying.

From their website: “General Dynamics C4 Systems is a trusted leader in the development of intelligence and information gathering systems for national defense and homeland security. These systems are designed to receive, process, exploit and disseminate information — in different forms and often from different networks — and distribute relevant information to operators, both in the field and at higher headquarters.”

In 2012, G.D. C4 Systems gave 96% of its $14,000 of campaign contributions to Republicans, which could suggest C4’s leadership takes a hawkish attitude about war and has a disregard for human rights.

So, why her? When searching for a CEO, Canonical surely had many candidates to choose from. What work experiences had Jane Silber built up that made her appear to Canonical’s leadership to be the best candidate? It’s reasonable to deduce that her having created spyware was her main selling point and the reason why she was hired. Looking at her CV, nothing else stands out.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ubuntu is spyware

There’s really no other way to put it. Oh, Canonical will tell you that you can “opt out”, but that’s as much a self-serving lie as spammers telling you can “opt out”.

And oh look — surprise, Canonical has crawled into bed with the spammers at Marketo. Gosh. I wonder where they got the idea that it would be acceptable to invade the privacy and security of their users in order to harvest data that’s sold for profit.

I second the recommendation upthread for Mint (on desktops and laptops), particularly the Debian edition, which is not in any way related to Ubuntu. On servers, there are many choices; CentOS is a good one, I think, but clearly those with specialized needs might choose another.

But Ubuntu? Ubuntu is dead, and is now only used by ignorant newbies and clueless fanboys who don’t realize that Shuttleworth and company have sold them out.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Ubuntu is spyware

I’m an Ubuntu user. I like open code and a project I can contribute to but frankly I don’t care for the politics.

Sounds you should be using Debian to me. It’s still open source and not controlled by any corporation. Ubuntu is based on Debian and most of Ubuntu gets downstreamed to Debian and vise versa anyways.

Here’s a good article about the relationship between the two:


Greg says:

Re: Re: Re: Ubuntu is spyware

I do have an enormous amount of respect for Debian and the work they do thy would definitely be a good choice. I’ve kinda gotten hooked on unity though, been using it so long. I was saying I don’t care if Ubuntu is backed by a cooperation like Microsoft so long as the product is good. I also like how ambitious Ubuntu Is and I read news articles related to that. Its saddening to stumble across this article. There are to many people trying to tear Ubuntu down.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Ubuntu is spyware

I guess you don’t read so well, he answered your question in the statement you pasted.

I would expect that his statement is the case for most people, most people don’t buy a product because of the name, they buy it because they believe the product is good.

I guess you are not one of those people I guess you buy a product because of the name of the company that makes it, regardless of its relative ‘goodness’. I find that odd.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Ubuntu is spyware

The people “trying to tear Ubuntu down” are people with clue — like me. And we have good reason, so it would be in your best interest to listen.

I’ve supported Linux for a VERY long time — my code ships in every Linux distribution. I’ve been an advocate for it, even when it’s cost me time, money and career advancement. I’ve been in the front lines for decades, breaking down barriers and pushing as hard as I can to get Linux (and other open source software) accepted, used, and supported.

So from my point of view, Shuttleworth is a pissant newbie. His principle skill isn’t tech: it’s PR. And that would be okay, really — I wouldn’t care about it — EXCEPT that he’s chosen to use it to push his personal agenda and his personal project and his company at the expense of the greater community.

To put it another way: he sold out. Worse, he sold the user community out.

So now, as someone who invested heavily in Ubuntu in a server operation, I have to rip it out. I have no choice, really: I can’t very well go to my management and say well, you know, it ships with embedded spyware — but there’s an off switch, so it’s okay. No, it NOT okay. It’s bullshit. It’s a self-serving lie by Canonical.

So I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past year systematically ripping out Ubuntu from servers (and desktops) (and laptops). It would be unethical and unprofessional not to: spyware is unacceptable, period.

“tear Ubuntu down”? Yes, now. It’s the only reasonable response. Wish it wasn’t that way, but it wasn’t my decision to climb into bed with spammers.

It won’t end here, you know. Emboldened by this, Canonical will do more. And they’ll play the victim card (oh, whoops, they already have — note Shuttleworth’s whining about technically astute criticism) and they’ll say it’s about jealousy and they’ll say ANYTHING. They’ve shown their true colors. They’re not about community. They’re not about open source. They’re not about Linux. They’re all about themselves and they are laughing themselves silly at the ignorant, naive lusers who haven’t caught on yet.

Think I’m wrong? Okay. Fine. Stick with Ubuntu. But no whining when it all goes down.

out_of_the_blue says:

It's amazing how Mike makes this about trademark rather than spyware.

Spyware. Off top of my head, I notice another LACK here at Techdirt, and that’s pieces about spyware. So I used the evil Google and pretty much confirmed it. This does too:


Top two of the TD results are relatively recent (including in 2nd place the annoying featured post), then skips back to 2010, 2009. And the pieces are mostly about national spy agencies planting spyware, NOT the more frequent commercial kind…

Now, having confirmed the lack, think I’m on solid ground to say that Mike avoids the topic because inevitably leads to readers considering how the web is monetized, information extracted “legally”, including especially Google — its Chrome browser is little mre than thinly disguised spyware.

But draw your own conclusions. You can’t deny that here Mike skips past the spyware aspect quick and indirect: “a default feature in Ubuntu that Lee reasonably considers to be privacy invading.” So what does it mean when Mike can’t even bring himself to use the well known term “spyware”?

Ahhhhhh please... says:

Go get some ...

… I mean that you can be so anal. Just disable the feature … There you go. If you can’t then you are the idiot.

I for one are happy that Ubuntu, the world’s most popular distro, has broken through with all the choice in the world… a breath of fresh air.

As opposed to Mint’s illeagal inclusion of proprietry codec’s by default.

… I can smell the vinigar, the chip on your shoulder is sooo big.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Go get some ...

I mean that you can be so anal. Just disable the feature … There you go. If you can’t then you are the idiot.

No, the idiots are the ones who can’t look past the implementation details of this and grasp the implications. Quite obviously you’re one of them.

Listen, kid: the problem is not how Canonical embedded spyware in Ubuntu. The problem is that they did. They have declared their intentions. At the point, the details become irrelevant. Take a step back and realize that Canonical has just made it abundantly clear that they will sell their users out whenever they find it convenient or useful.

How they do it, when they do it, whether it’s opt-in or opt-out, whether it’s overt or covert — none of these things really matter. What matters is that they’ve tipped their hand. And if you continue to do business with them, you’re an absolute moron who DESERVES to have your privacy destroyed and your security breached, because you’re asking for it.

So, YES, of course I could turn it off — I’ve probably been using Linux (and Unix) since well before you were born. But that’s not the correct choice. The correct choice is to realize that situations like this always get worse — they never get better — and leave NOW before that happens.

debianaro says:

Re: Re: Go get some ...


“The correct choice is to realize that situations like this always get worse — they never get better — and leave NOW before that happens.”

I absolutely agree!

However I switched to Debian 3 years ago before Canonical turned Ubuntu totally into crap, just when I realized that LTS releases are very buggy too.

Goodbye Canonical. Goodbye Ubuntu.

Anonymous Coward says:

ubuntu irony

The bad publicity ubuntu gets from sending a takedown letter to the wrong guy may mean they have to get rid of the spyware elements in future versions. So, in trying to protect their partnership with amazon, they may have destroyed it. Streisand wept.

Disclosure: I currently use ubuntu 12.04 LTR at home (with settings tweaked for privacy), and I’ll be switching to another flavor for my next machine build.

Daniel Joseph Calvanese (profile) says:

Ubuntu needs FixUbuntu

Canonical ought to be celebrating this website for bringing to its attention a massive screw up on its part.

This ‘feature’ should be opt-in instead of opt-out. It should come with warning labels saying that everything you type into the dash will be sent over the internet while its default settings are active.

Just remember that while this bug is in place, you can turn it off. It was a mistake, and they should turn the default spyware off in the next version.

With that said, Canonical announced it would try the spyware, gave people an option to turn it off, didn’t try to hide it, and even explained the benefits of having it on while shopping or searching from the dash. As it is now, it’s a failure, but it has potential when it is selectively turned on.

So the experiment failed, and Canonical left an ‘opt out’ button. When was the last time Microsoft, Apple, the NSA, or Google gave ‘opt out’ options on all of their spyware?

Microsoft, without even telling me (they probably just buried it in the terms of service) allows the company I work for to remotely wipe my windows phone whenever it wants (this feature surreptitiously activates when you log into your corporate email from the device). Microsoft won’t let me turn off its spyware, period, nor does it even tell me where or when I will be spied on (I assume everywhere). The only thing I can trust about it is that it will try to molest me whenever it can and make me subscribe for things that shouldn’t be subscription based – developer license $99, windows store $50, have to be online once a month or else visual studio locks up, and other shenanigans. Apple won’t let me do anything unapple and unapproved so help me God, and Google just pretends to be honest (you may only use this android flashlight if you give us permission to {download your contacts, make calls, access all memory, acquire location info, eat your babies}).

We have to fix mobile. Ubuntu is our best shot right now. If you really want to own your phone and move technology away from these walled gardens, we can eventually have everything. We can protect privacy, we can shut off spyware, and we can shove the assertion that true cross platform cannot be done right in the faces of Microsoft and Apple.

The Rufmeister-General says:

Mistake by Canonical instead

This article was published on friday, by sunday, the CEO of Canonical issued a statement that the letter was wrong, sent by a “new guy” who didn’t know the policy and that it shouldn’t have been sent.

His blog post about it (essentially a public apology) is here: http://www.markshuttleworth.com/archives/1299

Maybe it would be wise updating your article with this information.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Irresponsible Journalism

Hmm, the only fact I see there is the correction to the notion that no other FOSS outfit has sued on trademark grounds, which is a very minor point. Everything else is pure opinion.

My main web browser also has my favorite name. It’s a Firefox build, but Mozilla sued them for trademark infringement. So they renamed it to IceWeasel.

Richard (profile) says:

RE: Ubuntu is spyware

“Ubuntu is dead, and is now only used by ignorant newbies and clueless fanboys…”

I’ve been programming for food since 1985. With respect to Linux in particular, I’ve used Slackware [1996], Red Hat [1996-2000], Mandrake [2000-2004], Red Hat [2004-2007], Fedora [2007-2009], Kubuntu [2009-present] (also, Suse and CentOS on my home file, print, and svn server).

Mr. Lee was not saying get rid of Ubuntu – he advocated fixing it to be non-invasive of privacy.

I’m neither an ignorant newbie nor a clueless fanboy. On the other hand, I do find your anonymous rant indicative of both your ignorance and cluelessness.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

His rant was overly hyperbolic, but there is a small element of truth truth to it. In my engineering circles, about half of my colleagues and friends primarily run Linux — probably 30 seats. Only one runs Ubuntu.

While using Ubuntu is not indicative of being clueless or ignorant at all, the target audience for the distro is overtly people who are unfamiliar with the Linux way and have little interest in becoming technically proficient.

LinuxCanuck says:

What a bunch of uninformed crap

First off this is old news. Secondly, Shuttleworth said this was an error. All they need to do is credit the TM to Ubuntu and they are free to criticize.

As for the adware or spying allegations this is even older news and complete nonsense. What Ubuntu does is have a shopping lens for their Dash and this links to Amazon and they collect and store data. The same thing would be happening if you opened a browser and did the search. All Canonical is doing is including the search in the Dash.

You do not need to do the search. You do not need to use the lens. You are warned if you try to install the lens and you can easily remove it.

All of this criticism is unfounded. Canonical is focused on improving the experience for users by making things they normally do available without having to take extra steps. In this case that would be to open a browser. You are not forced into anything and you can easily remove it or not use that function.

Canonical is not spying. Amazon is collecting data in the same way they would if you went to their site. They are just doing it without the web browser an interface. It is right from the Dash. The only spying Ubuntu does is if you check the box to help improve the experience and send anonymous data back to Canonical for analysis. That is unchecked by default. You need to purposefully do this.

All of this flap was caused by Ubuntu haters. These are disaffected Debian users who were jealous of Ubuntu from day one. Many applied for jobs and did not get them. Others are disaffected GNOME 2 users who have never liked Unity and blamed Ubuntu wrongly for not supporting a desktop that GNOME shut down. A third group of Ubuntu haters are those who just do not like the front runner. There are also a few unbending ideologues like RMS who look for any excuse to air their views.

I add that I am not an Ubuntu user. I prefer KDE. I use many distributions. I just do not like falsities being spread. I want people to step up and show some leadership and take some risks, but always stay positive. Just because you do not like something that does not make it bad for all. The key for me is freedom to choose.

Marky says:

Who cares about privacy! I want more regular people using Linux for regular day to day use.

This means that since they are so concerned about privacy, Ubuntu must be getting real popular and being downloaded/used by non-techies (or geeks). This could be good news. Or the guys at that FixUbuntu site are just a bunch of overreacting zealots (no offense intended). I really don’t care. They can post whatever they want.

What I do care is that more “regular/normal” people do use Linux as desktop (NOT server). I don’t care which distro as long as it’s Linux. It has been my dream for so long (over 10 years?) to see somebody at a coffee shop using Linux on his laptop. That has NEVER happened! It is always Windows or Mac. Very sad.

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