Bonum Certa Men Certa

Debian trademark canceled

posted by Roy Schestowitz on Feb 23, 2024

Reprinted with permission from Daniel Pocock.

In November, I submitted a request to the Swiss intellectual property office to cancel the Debian trademark registration. In the request, I noted that the main reason for cancelation is my lack of confidence in the Swiss legal system. This is explained in much more detail in my earlier blog about Parreaux, Thiebaud & Partners / Justicia SA.

The fact that a small group of lawyers decided to fly too close to the sun is not very dramatic if it happened in isolation. What makes this case so outrageous is that the practices of Parreaux, Thiebaud & Partners were known to the bar associations for a number of years and yet the rogue firm continued trading. News reports told us they had 450 clients in 2018. A LinkedIn post from Mr Parreaux tells us he had 20,000 clients when the financial regulator shut him down in 2023. How many of those 20,000 clients could have been saved if the bar association and FINMA had acted two years earlier in 2021? They knew and they failed to protect the public and small businesses.

In every other industry, ethical disputes such as this can be escalated to the judiciary. For example, if there are disputes about a doctor or an airline pilot, they may initially resolve the matter within a professional body or they may escalate the dispute into the courts. The legal profession is unique in that it is the only profession that regulates itself. If lawyers can not resolve misconduct within their own ranks, there is no other profession who can come in and do it for them.

The only example that is remotely similar is that of the Catholic Church, where they decided they could ignore national regulations about abuse and investigate the complaints under Cannon Law. They even published the Crimen Sollicitationis, their own secret Code of Conduct for investigating abuse. Crimen Sollicitationis tells bishops that abuse cases should be kept hidden. We see exactly the same thing in Switzerland where FINMA published a verdict that redacts the names of the rogue lawyers so clients would be unlikely to ever find it.

FINMA, Parreaux Thiébaud & Partners, Justicia SA, Justiva SA, Mathieu Parreaux

While concern about the integrity of the Swiss legal profession is a significant factor in my decision to cancel the trademark, I want to emphasize one other point from the attempts to censor various web sites using the UDRP. In each of the censorship cases, aggressors have argued that independent web sites run the risk of tarnishing the trademark. In the case of Debian, I can't think of anything that tarnishes the trademark more than the repeated deaths of volunteers, including the volunteer who resigned to commit suicide on the Debian Day anniversary and in the middle of the 2023 legal vendettas, in the middle of the Debian annual conference DebConf23, another volunteer died in avoidable circumstances. Given the enormous damage that these avoidable deaths do to both the brand and the community, it feels absurd to spend money fighting over whether some independent web site has tarnished the trademark too.

If you have registered domain names containing the Debian trademark then it is recommended that you seek advice about whether your web site content meets the criteria for legitimate interests under the UDRP or similar fair use frameworks that apply in your jurisdiction. The judgment about the Scientologie.org domain name provides an interesting example where the right of copyright interests was deemed to be superior to the trademark rights. As all Debian Developers have copyright interests in our work, the Scientologie.org precedent gives us a strong defence against malicious UDRP cases.

From a practical perspective, if the Scientologie.org precedent authorizes legitimate interest and fair use web sites using the Debian domain name then it feels wasteful to spend large amounts of time and money arguing over which authors can have a trademark registration.

The ball is now in Jonathan Carter's court to decide whether he wants to continue vendettas into 2024 or whether he wants to use the Christmas season as an opportunity to bury the hatchet and stop attacking my family and I. Rogue elements of the Debian community began attacking my family at a time when I lost two family members. It reflects something uniquely bad about Debian culture and leadership.

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