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Canonical Sends takedown notice to EFF staffer who criticizes Privacy of Ubuntu

Canonical has sent Micah. F.Lee, a staff technologist at EFF, a take-down notice for a website he started to educate people about fixing the privacy invasive feature Canonical has built in Ubuntu.

Lee started a website called fixubuntu.com, which he describes as “a place to quickly and easily learn how to disable the privacy-invasive features that are enabled by default in Ubuntu.”

He received an email from Canonical which asked him to practically shutdown the site as it uses the name Ubuntu in the domain and also showcases Ubuntu logo.

Excerpt from the letter sent to Lee:

We are really pleased to know your interest in writing about Ubuntu. But whilst we can appreciate the passion Ubuntu inspires, we also have to be diligent to ensure that Ubuntu’s trademarks are used correctly.

To keep the balance between the integrity of our trademarks and the ability to to use and promote Ubuntu, we’ve tried to define a reasonable Intellectual Property Policy. You can read the full policy at http://www.canonical.com/intellectual-property-policy. As you can see from our policy, to use the Ubuntu trademarks and and Ubuntu word in a domain name would require approval from Canonical.

Unfortunately, in this instance we cannot give you permission to use Ubuntu trademarks on your website and in your domain name as they may lead to confusion or the misunderstanding that your website is associated with Canonical or Ubuntu.

So, whilst we are very happy for you to write about Ubuntu, we request you to remove Ubuntu word from you domain name and Ubuntu logo from your website. We would highly appreciate if you could confirm you have done so by replying this email to us.

Thank you for your cooperation and we look forward to hearing from you.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us.

Lee argues:

The first thing I would like to say is my use of the Ubuntu logo and the word “ubuntu” in my domain name falls under nominative use. Although I’m perfectly within my rights to continue using both, I’ve decided to remove the Ubuntu logo from the website, but add a disclaimer—because it seems like a nice thing to do.

We have seen companies like Apple doing such things but this is the first time a company active in Open Source has gone to such an extent to shut down critics.

Lee wrote:

Sending a (very polite, which I appreciate) takedown request isn’t very much in the spirit of open source. If you’d like to improve fixubuntu.com in a more productive way, then I suggest you submit a patch. The code for fixubuntu.com is licensed under the GNU Affero General Public License, and the code is hosted on Github. Pull requests are welcome.

Neither Mr. Lee, nor any other member of the public, must seek your permission before engaging in such constitutionally protected expression.

Lee responded with a letter from EFF attorney:



Staff Attorney Daniel Nazer says in the letter:

“While we appreciate the polite tone of your letter, we must inform you that your request is not supported by trademark law and interferes with protected speech,” the letter says. “The website criticizes Canonical Limited for certain features of Ubuntu that Mr. Lee believes undermine user privacy and teaches users how to fix these problems. It is well-settled that the First Amendment fully protects the use of trademarked terms and logos in non-commercial websites that criticize and comment upon corporations and products. Mr. Lee’s site is a clear example of such protected speech. Neither Mr. Lee, nor any other member of the public, must seek your permission before engaging in such constitutionally protected expression.”

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It’s yet another wrong move from Canonical which will distance it further from its long time allies and the larger free software community.

Swapnil Bhartiya

A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005.


  1. Maybe this comes under the ‘how to’ destroy a open source product?

    • No. It comes under how to “self destruct” a FLOSS project.

    • If it means destroying the Open Source project called Ubuntu, then that’s OK… Besides, Ubuntu left Open Source quite a while ago, so no harm done!

  2. Disclaimer: I am a long time Ubuntu user, though I recently (since Unity has been forced upon us) emigrated to Kubuntu. I think it is time for Canonical to start acting responsibly. Stop trying to monetize every click. Stop harming the trust and confidence in the open source community and Linux as a whole with these kinds of practices that does nothing but fill Canonical’s coffers as the expense of users’ privacy.

    Canonical should stop selling us out.

  3. “He received an email from Canonical’s legal team which asked him to practically shutdown the site as it uses the name Ubuntu in the domain and also showcases Ubuntu logo.”

    Holy fuck, ya that’s almost the case. What a a piece a fluff! Why not use the title “Canonical kills kittens” to help your cause even further. Might give you a few more page views as well.

    • Douchebag @mylesfister:disqus focus on the content and not minor errors. Moron see EFF’s response. Look like another uBuntu blinded, brainless fan.

      • Agreed… Mine as well go back to using Windows :-D.

        I left the Ubuntu camp ALONG time ago… OpenSuse is now on all our machines. Ubuntu is DEAD… HAHA, Valve is not even using them anymore :)

  4. What about just recommending “Don’t use Ubuntu” instead of showing hackish fixes?
    …oh, and: F*** you, Canonical!

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