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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:
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:
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:
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 brands:
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:
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 policy either:
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:
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:
[...] 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 upstream first.
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 discussed 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 Debian path.
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 distribution.
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