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Beyond Trademarks, Intellectual Monopolies at Canonical Raise Questions

Posted in Debian, Intellectual Monopoly, Ubuntu at 12:42 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

On the shoulders of giants but without shoulders of one’s own

Summary: How Canonical impedes dissemination of work that Ubuntu inherits from other projects, such as Debian and GNU

Linux Mint KDE [1] and Linux Mint Xfce [2] are two examples of Linux Mint releases that widely deviate from Ubuntu, unlike the GNOME (and derivatives like Mate and Cinnamon [3]) version of Linux Mint 16. When there were gentle arguments about security of Linux Mint Clement Lefebvre made it known that Canonical wanted Mint to license Ubuntu binary packages. This angle is being explored again [4] because products like MintBox [5] rely on Canonical giving access to those binaries (otherwise they become less secure). Jim Lynch’s studying of this relies on a bit from DistroWatch that says: “Clem claims he has been asked by Canonical’s legal department to license the binary packages used by Ubuntu. To me this is a scary thought. Ubuntu is a base distribution for many projects, some of them (such as Mint and Kubuntu) are quite successful.

Clement Lefebvre“Clem’s statement makes me wonder if Canonical has approached other open source projects about licensing the right to access Ubuntu’s package repositories. If so, what might follow? Would derivative distributions need to pay to use Canonical’s packages? How would Canonical enforce such a policy, with lawyers, by blocking access to the repositories if a user isn’t using Genuine Ubuntu?”

Should Canonical start signing licences to use Debian packages too? It looks like trademarks are no longer the only type of Intellectual Monopolies we should debate.

Canonical is growing increasingly selfish and isolated, with hardware deals around something called “Ubuntu Touch OS” [6,7,8] (hardly GNU/Linux) and work around Canonical copyrights [9] (Unity). No wonder some people see the “ugly” side [10]. In his latest talks across the UK Richard Stallman was discouraging adoption of Ubuntu by members of the audience.

Related/contextual items from the news:

  1. Linux Mint 16 KDE Edition Release Candidate Uses KDE 4.11

    Clement Lefebvre has announced earlier today, December 8, that the Release Candidate (RC) version of the upcoming Linux Mint 16 KDE Edition operating system is available for download and testing.

  2. Linux Mint Xfce 16 RC “Petra” Still Looks Beautiful and Minimalistic, Download Now
  3. Will Canonical force Linux Mint to license Ubuntu binary packages?
  4. MintBox 2 review – not as fresh, still as minty

    The MintBox 2 is here, and it’s more powerful than ever. Just how much power are you getting for nearly £400 though?

  5. Hey Linux newbie: If you’ve never had a taste, try perfect Petra … mmm, smells like Mint 16

    The recently released Mint 16, nicknamed Petra, might be the perfect Linux desktop for newcomers.

    At its core is Ubuntu 13.10, but on top of this are desktops Mate and Cinnamon, the latter being the Mint project’s homegrown user interface.

  6. Ubuntu Touch OS wins its first smartphone partner

    Canonical has inked its first deal with partner who’ll put the Linux-basd operating system on its phones, founder Mark Shuttleworth reveals.

  7. Report: Ubuntu Touch OS Finally Finds a Smartphone Partner
  8. Canonical Sign First Ubuntu Touch Hardware Partner, ‘High-End Phone’ To Debut in 2014
  9. Ubuntu 14.04 LTS to Integrate Default Torrent Scope for Unity
  10. Ubuntu 13.10: The good, the bad and the ugly
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A Single Comment

  1. saulgoode said,

    December 16, 2013 at 2:18 pm


    This is not about licensing the right to access Ubuntu’s package repositories, it is about a distributor of GPLed software being able to reference those repositories as meeting compliance requirements for making the source available.

    The view of the Free Software Foundation is that the requirement is for the distributor of the software to make the source available, or arrange with an agent to handle the task. It is not acceptable for a distro to point to the upstream hosting of source files, nor is it acceptable for one distro to point to the source code repositories of another distro, barring the existence of an agreement between the two distros that such linking is acceptable.

    Canonical/Ubuntu has been somewhat unique with regard to this, as they at one time deemed it acceptable for derivatives to link to Ubuntu’s source repositories and thus avoid the expense and hassle of mirroring sources. I’m not aware of any other distros that have agreed to host sources for their derivatives.

    Nonetheless, Canonical is well within their rights to cancel this agreement and given the popularity and the commercial aspects of the Mint project, it is not unreasonable to expect it to carry its own water, so to speak.

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