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Giving back and making money

It's not easy to build an Open Source software company.

Canonical recently has made a change to its intellectual property policy. The new policy prevents developers from distributing altered binary versions of Ubuntu. Users are still allowed to distribute unaltered Ubuntu freely, but if they make changes to Ubuntu, Canonical wants developers to either go through a review process or remove all references to Canonical trademarks, Canonical logos, and proprietary software and recompile the Ubuntu archive without any of those.

This change has caused friction with the Open Source community; many are not happy with these restrictions as it goes against the culture of Open Source sharing and collaboration. After all, Ubuntu itself is built on top of the work of hundreds of thousands of Open Source developers, and now Ubuntu is making it difficult for others to do the same.

Canonical's stated intention is to protect its trademarks and reputation; they don't want anyone to call something "Ubuntu" when it's not actually "Ubuntu". I understand that. That aside, many understand that the unstated goal is to make money from licensing deals. The changes affect organizations that base their custom distributions on Ubuntu; it's easier to buy a license from Canonical than to figure how to remove all the trademarks, proprietary software, logos, etc.

Jono Bacon, Canonical's former community manager, wrote a balanced post about the situation.

My thoughts? I understand Canonical has to find ways to make money. Most companies are downright greedy, but not Canonical or Mark Shuttleworth. I find the Open Source community "penny wise and pound foolish" about the situation.

I can relate because Canonical, like Acquia, is among a small group of Open Source companies that try to do good and do well at scale. We invest millions of dollars each year contributing to Open Source: from engineering, to marketing, to sponsoring community events and initiatives. It is not easy to build a software company on Open Source, and we all struggle to find the right balance between giving back and making money. This is further complicated when competitors choose to give back less or don't give back at all. Companies like Canonical and Acquia are good for Open Source, and helping them find that balance is key. Don't forget to support those that give back.

Comments

Posted on by Cory Fischer.

If they're going to do this, there should be a simple hook to allow developers to remove all their copyrights. Either that or they add in their own copyrights/logos to the default install which has none.

Posted on by Bill Winett.

That was my immediate thought also.

Posted on by Gregg Marshall.

Trademarks are not software. Their value is their reputation.

And I can understand Canonical's concern that changes to Ubuntu might impact Ubuntu's reputation if they aren't any good.

I can imagine the damage to Apple's reputation if a laptop that looked like a MacBook actually ran the CP/M operating system. You wouldn't know if you were buying a MacBook or something less desirable. Of course using their trademark would be met with instant litigation.

Requiring developers that change the distribution to remove the trademark doesn't say you can't use or adapt the software, just that you no longer represent it as Ubuntu. They want a brand that people can trust as having certain functionality.

Posted on by Tory Trone.

Are developers creating bad or error filled version of Ubuntu?

Posted on by Adrian Cabrera.

I definitely agree with that!

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