Red Hat clamps down on trademark use

New Zealand vendors of Linux distributions have received requests from Red Hat to remove from their websites all trademarks, including names and meta tags, referring to the US company.

However, the Red Hat distribution, which is under the GNU Public Licence (GPL), can still be copied. It just can’t be called “Red Hat Linux” or even any play on the name, such as “Sombrero Rojo” or “Green Hat Linux”.

Philip Charles of Copyleft in Dunedin, which sells a number of Linux distributions, says he and other vendors “have done a name change for [Red Hat Linux]”. In Charles’ case, it’s been renamed to “Ingoakore Linux”, Maori for “No Name Linux”.

Canterbury Linux seller Mahesh De Silva, thinks the move is a sign of Red Hat’s “evolution from the grass roots to the corporate desktop”.

“I feel it is doing more harm than good; it has every right to protect its trademarks and I have no problems modifying my website to suit.”

But he thinks Red Hat’s approach is heavy-handed.

“I fail to see how people can get confused with the download edition and boxed CD sets. We clearly inform our customers of what they are getting,” De Silva says.

In a posting to the New Zealand Linux users’ group mailing list, Charles says the trademark enforcement goes beyond the distribution name. Red Hat insists that resellers remove all of the company’s logos and trade marks from text and binary files included with the distribution, a difficult and time-consuming process for resellers. Red Hat Linux is commonly distributed in large CD disk images, which cannot be edited themselves.

Saying “naturally I don’t like it”, Charles suspects the tightened trademark usage rules are the “logical first step” for Red Hat to become a “buy-only” distribution. Red Hat’s motivation is to “shed the geek/hobbyist image” and to move “big time into the corporate world” thinks Charles, adding that in his opinion, “this would be a good thing long term”.

Charles says that he “would suggest people consider carefully the distributions they use and recommend to others.”

Peter Harrison of the New Zealand Open Source Society says Red Hat’s move “doesn’t look good”, although he can understand its need to protect its revenue streams. But he thinks the new rules are at least a violation of the spirit of the GPL.

“More analysis is needed,” Harrison adds, “but if Red Hat releases its Linux distribution under the GPL, including logos and trademarks, it can’t then ban copying of these.” In doing so, Harrison feels Red Hat “is violating the GPL”.

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