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?

pwnguin says:

The trick is that Mozilla wrote the MPL. Modifying the GPL won’t help you any, you have to get them to change the MPL itself.

I’ve seen people suggest Debian’s fork, but honestly I think IceWeasel is a failure. I have no idea what their trademark and license policy is, or where to get their code. They simply have not produced a viable upstream project, let alone a recognizable icon that says “this is the web browser”.

Zarate says:

This is just so sad. Although I sort of understand Mozilla, they should allow certain people to bypass their trademark rubbish. Something like:

“you cannot modify a line of Firefox and still call it Firefox unless you get our permission”.

And then give permission to whoever deserves it. I think it’s totally unacceptable showing the EULA. Full stop. I much rather have Iceweasel.

But if things go finally that way, the real looser would be Mozilla/FF.

Besides, giving hard times to the very people that are promoting you the most? C’mon…

Ben Finney says:

This restriction by Mozilla Corp is in violation of Freedom Three: the recipient of the work (Ubuntu) is restricted from improving the program (by removing the stupid EULA nag) and redistributing the result.

So, no, this is *not* much ado about nothing.

Ben Finney says:

Subsequently, the Mozilla VCS for Firefox shows changeset da539de11534, with the changelog comment “Bug 443918: Don’t show (and force user to accept) EULA for open-source builds.”

Miry says:

I agree with you regarding Freedom Three, Ben. Thanks for the info about the patch.

pwnguin: AFAIK, Firefox is distributed under a triple license: either MPL (1.1), GPL (2 or above) or LGPL (2.1 or above) can be chosen.

Zárate: It’s more or less what they’re doing now, giving permission tho those they think deserve it.

Zarate says:

“giving permission tho those they think deserve it.”

And they think Debian and Ubuntu don’t????? Now I’m puzzled :|

Miry says:

Zárate: Well, it’s quite obvious that not everything is black and white in this, and there is no sense in being extremist. There’s a gray zone there, of course, but it’s also quite clear that there’s a difference between use and abuse of trademarks.

I understand that Mozilla will not want their name used in vain and try to protect it, that’s reasonable, but I think that Firefox will still be Firefox even if you apply a patch to remove an EULA. Using your trademark rights to prevent that is abuse and maybe even blackmail.

The system works as long as both parties, upstream and distributions, act in good faith. I don’t think Mozilla is using their trademark rights in this case to protect their image but to remove Freedom Three from distributions.

Antonio says:

Yo creo que la GPL 3 es suficiente, simplemente si se produce este tipo de sucesos la GPL nos da la solución Firefox->Iceweasel. El problema es que en este caso quizás Ubuntu no se atreviese a dar el paso, pero debe ser muy complicado cambiar el nombre y los iconos. Incluso se podría sacar para windows como toque de atención a Mozilla de que ese no es el camino…

Por otro lado, por ahora parece que han decidido retirar la EULA de Ubuntu (eso he leído en Barrapunto, creo)

Miry says:

Sí, al final parece que han llegado a un acuerdo, aunque no me da la impresión de que sea algo que solucione todos los problemas, y me temo que en el futuro, si Mozilla continúa con esa actitud, volverá a pasar de nuevo. Mike Hommey resume muy bien, en mi opinión, la situación actual después del acuerdo entre Ubuntu y MozCorp: http://glandium.org/blog/?p=207

Antonio says:

Sí coincido con lo que expresa Mike Hommey… y parece que sólo será una solución parcial, por lo que en Debian seguiremos con Iceweasel. Por cierto, lo siento por cambiar el idioma, pero no me he dado cuenta (normalmente intento comentar en el idioma del comentario).

Miry says:

Antonio: sin problema, yo misma escribo en un idioma u otro según me apetece.


mirian, blogeros, escuchen, acerca del GNU y la libertad del software libre:

me descarge hace poco el ultimo nexuit, GNU claro, mi sorpresa fue cuando no arrancaba con ningun modulo xorg gnu, solo con glfrx o nvidia, en el modulo intel arranco pero el rendimiento era.. umm.. sin comentarios…

es triste que se haga software GNU que requiera software no gnu! esto es interesante, y la culpa esta en la ignorancia de los programadores, que les gusta mucha comodidad (truco que siempre han empleado las empresas capitalistas como Mocosoft!)

Antonio says:


querrás decir que es libre o GPL, pero no veo que nexuiz este desarrollado por la GNU… En cualquier caso, hay mucho software libre para windows, ¿te opones al desarrollo del mismo?

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