Trademarks and free software can make a volatile mix. It is understandable
that a project would want to ensure that code shipping under its name is
"the real McCoy", but modifying the source and distributing the result is
a hallmark of free software. Trademark policy can place limits on what
changes—for bugs, features, or even policy
compliance—downstream projects can make and still use the trademarked
names. The tension between the two has led some, like Debian, to re-brand Mozilla
projects, so that they can ship the changes they want; some Fedora
developers would like to see that distribution follow suit.
A Thunderbird crashing bug, reported by
Felix Schwarz to the
fedora-devel mailing list, is the proximate cause for the current
controversy. Numerous Fedora users were running into the bug, and it had
been patched upstream for several weeks, but there had been no release of
Thunderbird for Fedora to fix the problem. Schwarz reported that the patch
fixed the crash for him and others, and asked that it be pushed out: "However it is still not fixed in Thunderbird F-12 CVS. Can you please
push the fix to CVS and push builds to testing/stable?"
Martin Stransky, one of the Fedora Mozilla
maintainers, noted that "we're patching mozilla packages only for really critical issues because
of mozilla trademarks", which caused concern that the trademarks
were causing Fedora to ship a buggy Thunderbird. While the patch was
available in the upstream repository, it hadn't been merged into the branch
for the next release. Stransky said that he had
requested that the next Thunderbird release include the fix in Mozilla's bugzilla
entry, but that wasn't sufficient for some.
It turns out that the bug had been reported back in early March, but wasn't
given a very high priority by the Thunderbird developers for two reasons:
they couldn't reproduce it and it was not showing up with any frequency in
their crash statistics. Meanwhile, since early April, it was crashing
fairly frequently for
Fedora users, leading to multiple bugs being filed, all of which were
eventually collapsed into one with
numerous commenters and "me too" posts.
But the idea that the trademark policy might prevent Fedora from shipping a
working Thunderbird led to calls for rebranding the mail client (and the Firefox web browser) with different icons and names, as
Debian has done. In fact, adopting the "Iceweasel" and "Icedove" names, if
Debian is amenable, was one of the suggestions. Ralf Corsepius put it this way:
Thanks for providing evidence of how trademarks are being applied to
void the benefits of "open source".
The obvious logical consequences of what you say would be
* either to remove the packages you are referring to from Fedora because
they are effectively unmaintainable.
* or to remove the trademarks and re-brand the packages.
Fedora engineering steering committee (FESCo) member Kevin Kofler seems to be spearheading the effort to get out from under
Mozilla's trademark policy. He agreed with
Corsepius in a series of posts, which laid out multiple reasons that Fedora
should consider renaming, including the Mozilla project's habit of bundling its own versions of
system libraries—something that goes against Fedora packaging policies. He
points to libpng as one example:
Another big issue is libpng: xulrunner is bundling a forked libpng for APNG
support (which isn't even available for anything else to build against, so
e.g. Konqueror can't support APNG). (APNG is a nonstandard extension to PNG
which Mozilla is arbitrarily pushing instead of the existing MNG format
which the PNG developers are supporting. [...]) Debian is patching it to use the system libpng (which removes APNG
support, so it's unlikely to pass trademark approval, ever), we aren't. This
is a blatant violation of our own packaging guidelines.
Several other examples were noted by Kofler, including Thunderbird bundling Gecko, rather than using
the system xulrunner, and xulrunner bundling libffi.
He also expressed frustration with the
integration of Mozilla projects into desktops, in particular KDE. Overall,
Kofler and others
are completely fed up. Bruno Wolff III doesn't see any advantages to using the trademarks:
I don't see how using Mozilla trademarks provides significant benefit
to Fedora. It seems to mostly benefit Mozilla. I don't see why we should
be breaking our rules to help them.
Other posters defended Mozilla, but the loudest voices were clearly those
who were unhappy with the status quo. Chris Tyler pointed out several reasons that Fedora should
continue using the Mozilla trademarks including the well-established
Mozilla's brands are very well-known: They have 350+ million users
across multiple platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux), far more than we have
in Fedora. The ability to use these apps in Fedora helps to assures new
users that switching costs will be low.
Tyler also sees the trademark rules as reasonable to protect users from
distributions that unintentionally introduce vulnerabilities when patching
Firefox or Thunderbird. He is optimistic that things can be worked out:
Fedora has a great relationship with Mozilla. They're an amazing project
filled with people that Get It, and we can work out issues with them in
a cooperative way.
It is possible for Fedora to patch its version of Thunderbird or Firefox,
but it must get approval from Mozilla for each patch. the team that
maintains the Fedora packages for Mozilla projects only wants to go through
that process for "really critical issues" as Stransky noted.
Later in the
thread, he outlines which issues qualify:
zero-day vulnerabilities and crashes that affect everyone. Kofler is,
unsurprisingly, not happy with that Mozilla
They're the ONLY Free Software
upstream insane enough to require approval for EVERY SINGLE patch as a
condition to use their trademark. Imagine if Linus Torvalds did that for the
kernel Linux, or the GNOME and/or KDE developers for their desktop
environments. It would be impossible to maintain a distro under such
conditions! Why does Mozilla get that sort of preferential treatment?
Fedora also wants to control its trademarks, though, and
has its own trademark
guidelines which are substantially similar in spirit—at least—to
those of Mozilla. Adam Williamson described
it this way:
You can't modify Fedora under F/OSS principles and still call it Fedora,
just like you can't modify Firefox under F/OSS principles and still call
it Firefox. Both of us do this to protect the good name of the project.
We'd be in an extremely glass house-y situation if we tried to 'call
out' Mozilla over this. It'd be ridiculous.
Lead Mozilla package maintainer Christopher Aillon tried to clarify the situation somewhat. The
"impact of the bug was misjudged", he said, which is
frustrating users: "I think we have a responsibility to both
Fedora and Mozilla to include a fix for it". He intends to get a
fix into updates-testing for a few days to ensure there are no regressions
for other users. He also defends the process that the packaging team uses:
The main purpose to get patches accepted by upstream before inclusion in
Fedora is to make sure we are doing things the right way. For example,
some patches may inadvertently break standards compliance, have ill side
expense of others, etc.
[...] We do have an agreement with Mozilla and as such, we are permitted to
use the Firefox and Thunderbird trademarks. But even if we did not or
it were decided those marks were not important to us, I strongly feel
that we should continue do things the right way and get patches accepted
Furthermore, Aillon stated that the trademark policy wasn't really an issue
for this particular bug. In a comment on
the ticket filed by
Rahul Sundaram asking FESCo to look into the issue, Aillon said it was simply a
misjudgment by the packaging team about the importance of the bug. FESCo
the matter at its April 27 meeting, but decided not to change anything with
respect to the Mozilla packages.
There are a number of different issues swirling around this bug. It seems
likely that if the packagers had noticed how many users were being
affected, it would have been quickly patched and the larger issue might never
have come up—at least temporarily. But, the problem that
some—particularly strong free software advocates—have with
Mozilla's trademark policy is not likely to go away.
There are some
legitimate concerns regarding the ways in which the Fedora packaging
guidelines are being routed around for Mozilla packages. There are also
some odd, seemingly political, questions around the use of APNG, which will
require Fedora to either patch APNG into libpng or ignore the "no
bundled libraries" rule for Mozilla for the foreseeable future. It is, in
short, something of a mess, but not enough of one to send Fedora down the
There is hope that some of the other concerns that Kofler and others raised
will improve in time. Tyler points to the
recent addition of Fedora systems to the Mozilla test farm as a step in the
right direction. Previously, CentOS systems, with older versions of the
system libraries, were used. Testing on Fedora could well lead to better system
integration as well as bundling fewer libraries in the Mozilla packages.
There doesn't seem to be any movement toward weakening the Mozilla
trademark requirements, and that policy will always be anti-freedom to some.
There are lots of other projects with much looser trademark guidelines;
even some high-profile projects like Linux itself. Some may feel that
Mozilla is overreaching, but Fedora is in no
position to lecture Mozilla about trademark policies. Those who are
bothered by those policies will either need to avert their eyes or find another
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