Miriam Ruiz
random thoughts on technology and life











{September 15, 2008}   Is freedom only about software licenses?

A couple of years ago Debian had to change the name of Firefox to Iceweasel because Mozilla Corp. was using their trademark to impose conditions on the software that were not restricted by the license. Now the problem is brought again to life for Ubuntu, with Mozilla forcing them to show an EULA before letting users start Firefox. Jeff Licquia explains the situation quite well, in any case.

At first glance, having to add an EULA seems a small price to pay, but underneath the obvious there might be something really serious happening. Software licenses seems to be just one of the possible ways of restricting users’ freedom. We’ve already seen some companies trying to use different methods to restrict it: via software patents, tivoization, etc. It seems we might want to add the usage of trademarks to the list.

According to the Free Software Definition, there are four types of freedom that users need to have to consider a program as Free Software:

In any case, nowhere is said that those freedoms must be given just to end users. Distributions and such must also have these freedoms, including the freedom to modify the program and adapt it to their needs, and their users’ needs. While it makes sense that you cannot call a program Firefox just because it includes 10 lines from its source code, it also doesn’t seem tolerable to try to use trademark to prevent you from adapting the program to your needs and keep calling it free. Is it valid that an organization or company tries to restrict that freedom for you by using their trademark rights? Should a clause preventing that be added to GPL4?

In any case, the final reason for the discussion seems to be much ado about nothing, as the EULA does not, and cannot, add any restriction to the usage of the program. First freedom (to run the program, for any purpose), remember?




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