Canonical Apologizes For Trademark Bullying… And Again… And Again

from the how-to-respond-to-accidental-bullying dept

Last week, we were among those both surprised and disappointed to find out that Canonical, makers of the Ubuntu operating system, had been acting like a trademark bully. However, the company appears to have quickly and thoroughly responded to the claim, apologizing multiple times and explaining everything in great detail. If you want to see how to respond to a flub, this is not a bad example. First, Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical’s founder posted an apology via Google+ flat out stating that the company had messed up:

This was a bit silly on our part, sorry. Our trademark guidelines specifically allow satire and critique (‘sucks sites’) and we should at most have asked him to state that his use of the logo was subject to those guidelines.

He later updated the post to note that thanks to the ridiculousness of trademark laws, in which you’re often expected to “defend” your mark to avoid losing it (though, really, that’s only supposed to apply to situations where there’s a likelihood of confusion…) they should have just given the FixUbuntu site a free license:

We are obliged to have SOME agreement in place with anyone using the Ubuntu logo. Rules for nominative use are subjective and thus a policy and agreements are required if we want Ubuntu to remain a defensible mark. It’s a pain but that’s the system.

In this case we should just have said ‘you may use the mark if you say that you are doing so with permission’. I guess a new guy made a bad call, but that happens and there’s no point in beating Canonical up over an inadvertent slip.

At around the same time, Steve George from Canonical posted a blog post again explaining in more detail that the company is very open with its trademarks, even for sites that criticize them (though, he did ridiculously claim that there might be some confusion here — which seems highly unlikely):

In the case of, we were concerned that the use of the trademark implied a connection with and endorsement from the Ubuntu project which didn’t exist. The site owner has already agreed to remove the Ubuntu logo and clarified that there is no connection; from our perspective the situation has been resolved, and we have no issue with the site or the criticism it includes. In fact, far from an trying to silence critics, our trademark policy actually calls out parody and criticism and other uses as being allowed when the marks are used appropriately. (Please make the parodies funny – we need a good laugh as much as anyone!)

Shuttleworth then responded again, in more detail on his own blog, explaining how the company was too aggressive and how it was a mistake. As he noted, there are some instances where it helps to be able to really threaten abuse, and here the lawyer who sent the letter “chose the wrong template”:

In order to make the amount of correspondence manageable, we have a range of standard templates for correspondence. They range from the “we see you, what you are doing is fine, here is a license to use the name and logo which you need to have, no need for further correspondence”, through “please make sure you state you are speaking for yourself and not on behalf of the company or the product”, to the “please do not use the logo without permission, which we are not granting unless you actually certify those machines”, and “please do not use Ubuntu in that domain to pretend you are part of the project when you are not”.

Last week, the less-than-a-month-at-Canonical new guy sent out the toughest template letter to the folks behind a “sucks” site. Now, that was not a decision based on policy or guidance; as I said, Canonical’s trademark policy is unusually generous relative to corporate norms in explicitly allowing for this sort of usage. It was a mistake, and there is no question that the various people in the line of responsibility know and agree that it was a mistake. It was no different, however, than a bug in a line of code, which I think most developers would agree happens to the best of us. It just happened to be, in that analogy, a zero-day remote root bug.

There are still some reasonable criticisms to be made of this whole thing. For instance, some may argue that a better way to deal with the situation in the first place would be to make the change the FixUbuntu site was advocating for in the first place — better protecting users’ privacy. But, on the whole, it’s pretty rare to see a company so openly admit to mistakes being made and explaining in so much details what happened.

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Companies: canonical

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Comments on “Canonical Apologizes For Trademark Bullying… And Again… And Again”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Pretty good...

This particular issue is resolved. Canonical have always been the Ubuntu problem, they don’t listen to their users, they don’t listen to the community, and they don’t care what anyone else thinks.

This is why Ubuntu is only popular as a “newbie” OS, why savvy people don’t touch it with a 100 foot pole, and why they aren’t taken seriously by the “expert” community. Canonical has done more harm to Linux.

Just go read on the Ubuntu forums (and their 100 spinoffs), the quantity of hate towards Canonical from their users is incredible. I’m not going to go into a rant, but just look at their mobile epic clusterf***.

They’ve turned into their worst enemy, M$, and it was awesome to see it happen.

wwwarea says:

Good? And report

Good that they are trying to Apologize at least. 🙂

Speaking of this, that Full Screen Mario online game has been taken down by a DMCA notice from Nintendo recently, noticed not only it was a violation of Copyrights, but was Trademark also according to the website, which is odd is that I’m worried people won’t have free use to this even when Mario Bros ever does go to the public domain…

out_of_the_blue says:

Not a mention of the spyware. And this is progress?

It’s impossible to tell whether the whole flap was just to get attention OFF the underlying cause: spyware. No one likes spyware. No one likes being spied one. — Here. Let’s see what Mike “The Quipper” Masnick has written on the topic:

Where Mike sez: “Any system that involves spying on the activities of users is going to be a non-starter. Creeping the hell out of people isn’t a way of encouraging them to buy. It’s a way of encouraging them to want nothing to do with you.” — So why doesn’t that apply to The Google?


Zakida Paul (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not a mention of the spyware. And this is progress?

Except that a shopping lens is not spyware. The shopping lens makes it clear Amazon results are queried and displayed, it can simply be removed if not desired, and it’s no less spyware than visiting Amazon and searching for products there.

That said, the way Canonical dealt with the site criticising it was less than ideal and I am glad they have apologised.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Not a mention of the spyware. And this is progress?

plus the Ubuntu system is open source so anyone who likes everything about it except that can just fork it under the name lenslessbuntu or whatever and not have that included by default. greater changes would require dropping the *buntu name but that’s not that big a deal.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Not a mention of the spyware. And this is progress?

The CLA does not make code stop being open source. You can fork it all you want as it is GPL. The original author retains his copyright.

What the CLA (controversially) allows is for canonical to ALSO license the code differently i.e. create a proprietary fork, by giving them a licence to do so. This does not stop others from creating open sorce forks.

Please stop spreading misinformation.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The direction they’ve taken is why I quit using Ubuntu prior to this trademark bullying misstep.

The direction they are going is to:
1. spy on you
2. by forcing you to use an unusable interface
3. and forcing it upon you (just like Microsoft Windows 8)
4. in order to boost a phone OS that may or may not ever gain traction in the market

Well, sorry Ubuntu guys. The direction I need to go is to have a usable desktop system. My hand should not need to go back and forth between mouse and keyboard every time I need to launch a program. Or go through a long sequence of mouse operations. Launching a program should be as simple as pulling down a menu, submenu, pick icon, let go, it launches.

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