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Why do you need license from Canonical to create derivatives?

Last year during an interview Jonathan Riddell, the lead developer of Kubuntu, told us that Ubuntu teams were telling Linux Mint that they needed a license from Canonical in order to use compiled packages from Ubuntu.

Clement Lefebvre, the founder of Linux Mint, confirmed in his blog post, “I personally talked to the legal dept. at Canonical (for other reasons, they’re telling us we need a license to use their binary packages) and it is clear they are confused about LMDE and Mint. They don’t know what repositories we’re using and they don’t know what we’re doing.”

So the question arises, do Ubuntu derivatives need license from Canonical? Jonathan disagrees and says, “… no license is needed to make a derivative distribution of Kubuntu. All you need to do is remove obvious uses of the Kubuntu trademark. Any suggestion that somehow compiling the packages causes Canonical to own extra copyrights is nonsense. Any suggestion that there are unspecified trademarks that need a license is untrue. Any suggestion there is compilation copyright is irrelevant in most countries and untrue for derivatives almost by definition. Any suggestion that the version number needs a trademark licence is just clutching at straws.”

Canonical has been very vague about their trademark and copyright issues from the very beginning. Despite FSF’s suggestion to avoid words like Intellectual Property (IP), Canonical changed their licencing policy to ‘Intellectual Property rights policy”. According to Jonathan this policy was “much more vague about any licences needed for binary packages”.

Yesterday (Feb 13) Canonical’s Community Council released a statement on Canonical Package Licensing. The statement is aimed at Linux Mint and another ‘un-named’ derivative. However the statement doesn’t do anything to address vagueness around the licence one requires to create an Ubuntu derivative. What it does do is tell such derivatives to discuss with Community Council instead of going public. Since the Community Council din’t really address the issue, potential users have no clue whether and why do they need licence.

Even CentOS or Oracle Enterprise Linux don’t need any licence from Red Hat to create clones.

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Jonathan has an answer for such potential derivatives, “From every school in Brazil to every computer in Munich City Council to projects like Netrunner and Linux Mint KDE we are very pleased to have derivative distributions of Kubuntu and encourage them to be made if you can’t be part of the Ubuntu community for whatever reason.”

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.

5 Comments

  1. You don’t need a license to create a Red Hat or Fedora derivative, but you do need to de-brand it in various ways. We do try quite hard to make that process simple, though. Sounds like perhaps Canonical should publish a straightforward guide on what debranding they think is required, as other distros do?

  2. That seems like a joke. Instead of working on improvements on the
    GNU/Linux universe, Companies are spending money on “branding”. If we
    take a look at the number of “packages” or bricks of the GNU/Linux
    distro, any new spin would go for a “spin” in the literal sense before
    they would produce a distro. But, yes, canonical, create a million, why,
    go ahead and create a zillion page document on debranding. And devs of
    GNU/Linux mint, it is high time, you shifted your base to Debian
    GNU/Linux.

    Anyhow, Mint GNU/Linux also wants to create a brand.
    why not start from scratch? Maybe after a certain amount of time we may see a new
    operating system called, you know, just, Mint, like in the case of Just, Ubuntu.

    FLOSS is about standing on giants. If we want to go backe to neanderthal age
    where the wheel was not evern invented and then start once again to
    invent the wheel, then let it be. We will discuss more about licensing,
    profits, propreitory as applied to FLOSS.

    Long live FLOSS.

    • Debranding really is necessary. I’ll talk in a Fedora context as that’s what I’m familiar with, but we can’t have, for instance, people going around putting patented software into things and distributing them with the “Fedora” name attached; if Fedora says “that’s fine!’, we become legally liable for that infringement.

  3. Ubuntu might be open source, but it’s most definitely not open.

  4. If Ubuntu decides to put down their heavy foot on this issue, I’ll be ditching Kubuntu 13.10 and probably move to the Fedora / KDE spin. I doubt any of this matters much to the average Ubuntu user, but I’ll definitely be jumping ship.

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