Canonical’s IPRights Policy incompatible with Ubuntu licence policy

Richard Gaskin ambassador at
Mon May 4 15:56:55 UTC 2015

This thread has taken on quite a broad scope; the original core issue 
was stated by Mr. Riddell as:


     It says "Any redistribution of modified versions of Ubuntu must
     be approved, certified or provided by Canonical if you are going
     to associate it with the Trademarks. Otherwise you must remove
     and replace the Trademarks and will need to recompile the source
     code to create your own binaries."

     It confuses the issues of Trademark and distribution, which are
     unrelated issues.

They would be unrelated if the binaries contained no Ubuntu trademarks, 
but as we know the name "Ubuntu" and the registered logo occur 
frequently throughout many components of the distro.

Moreover, that clause explicitly invites everyone to use the sources to 
make any build they want as long as it contains no registered 
trademarks, which seems consistent with the sort of proactive support of 
GPL principles we've seen from Mr. Shuttleworth, Ms. Silber, and the 
others at Canonical.

Many large FOSS projects embrace the GPL while also enforcing their 
trademarks, and for good reason:  If I were to redistribute a modified 
Ubuntu, it simply wouldn't be Ubuntu.

At best my custom build could cause confusion among people seeking to 
enjoy Ubuntu, and at worst my distribution may contain malware or other 
components completely at odds with the goals of the project, causing 
irreparable harm to the brand everyone on the project has worked so hard 
to build.

I'm obliged to note that I'm not an attorney, just an active supporter 
of the Ubuntu platform like the other participants here.  Given that, I 
recognize that there may be some nuance here which might be meaningful 
to an attorney, but frankly to this layperson the existing wording seems 
reasonably clear.

FWIW, as a community supporter of Ubuntu I've written Canonical's legal 
department several years ago requesting permission to use their 
trademarks periodically on web sites and event promotional materials 
where it may be relevant, noting that in all cases I would make a 
reasonable good faith effort to present their trademarks in a positive 
light.  They replied within just a couple days granting permission for 
use as I had described it.

I would imagine the good folks at System 76 have requested and received 
similar permission, more relevant here since as I understand it they 
actually distribute a slightly modified Ubuntu, including some custom 
drivers and/or other components not found in the build obtainable at

Similar arrangements have likely been made with Intel, ZaReason, Asus, 
Dell, and others who distribute Ubuntu in a form which may be different 
from the official downloadable version.

Given the large and thankfully ever-growing number of OEMs shipping 
devices with Ubuntu preinstalled, it would seem the legal team at 
Canonical has been doing a good job keeping up with granting trademark 

But if the request is for blanket permission to use Canonical's 
trademarks in contexts not yet defined, it shouldn't be surprising that 
such an unusual request would take more time to consider.

In the meantime, anyone who wants to make their own fork of any 
GPL-governed project remains completely free to do so.  Just pick a new 
name for the new project, and there would seem no conflict at all.

  Richard Gaskin
  Fourth World Systems

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