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Red Hat Trademark Fiasco

Sep 03, 1999, 23:09 (16 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier)

[ The opinions expressed by authors on Linux Today are their own. They speak only for themselves and not for Linux Today. ]

By Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier

If you think this is going to be yet another piece blasting Red Hat for the recent trademark flap, you're sorely mistaken. Wednesday we received a couple of emails about the Amazon issue, and we said "hold tight until there's an official response from Red Hat."

Sadly, one of the vendors decided it was too important to wait and contacted any Linux media outlet that would listen. Several Linux media sites ran the story, we waited until Thursday. It's funny the difference a day makes. Sure enough, Bob Young's letter cleared up the matter. Red Hat hasn't moved from their earlier policy - It's OKAY to sell Red Hat's GPL'ed version, as long as you don't try to make it sound as if it is the boxed product directly from Red Hat themselves. Let me make this very clear: This has always been Red Hat's policy.

This hasn't changed one bit from the policy that Red Hat had before they went public. The only reason for the flap was that people had been complaining to Amazon when they found that the products they got weren't the official Red Hat Linux boxed product, when they thought that was what they were getting. Maybe those people weren't very observant, or maybe there was false advertising. Who knows? At any rate, the only thing that has changed was that Red Hat had to make a public statement about their trademark. As long as people on Amazon practice truth in advertising, they have nothing to lose. Except maybe a few sales to people wanting the Official Red Hat boxed set.

Now the headlines read "Red Hat Defends Turf," "Trademarked Distribution: The Dream Under Threat?" etcetera, ad nauseum. The press loves a conflict; it's what makes a story "news," along with human interest, timeliness, proximity and a few other things that generally get glossed over in favor of conflict. Mostly for the computing industry press, it's conflict. If there isn't really conflict, the press tries to invent some. (Note that almost every story in the mainstream press about Linux almost invariably uses the Microsoft vs Linux theme. Granted, there's a bit of truth to that, but it's not the whole story.)

Is Red Hat trying to use their trademark unfairly? Not really. They still allow anyone to download the Red Hat distro and burn it to CDs and sell 'em. You can even say that the CDs have Red Hat Linux on them, just make clear that they're not from Red Hat. Call your CDs "Brand X Red Hat CDs" or "ACME Red Hat CDs" or any other variation on that theme and you're in the clear. You can advertise that the CDs contain Red Hat Linux. Just don't claim it's official, or that Red Hat supports it. That's not monstrous, it's prudent. They'd be opening themselves up to lawsuits from their shareholders if that wasn't their policy. As Mr. Young says, their trademark really is all they have.

Another story I saw implied that Red Hat was somehow doing something wrong in not providing support for these CDs. Red Hat couldn't possibly afford to support something they receive no income from, and what rational person would expect them to?

The press needs to be more responsible

The press has bungled this story, big time. The Society of Professional Journalists have a code of ethics with four basic principles:

  1. Seek Truth and Report it.
  2. Minimize Harm
  3. Act Independently
  4. Be Accountable

I don't think that the press has really been reporting the truth, here. Red Hat's policy isn't new, but every story makes out like it has only been this way since Red Hat went public. If anyone had been interested in minimizing harm, the story would have sat until Thursday when all of the facts are in. As for being accountable...we'll see how many "journalists" step forward and admit that they were wrong.

The Linux Community demands a stable OS and free code. Those are high standards. Isn't it about time that the Linux press had high standards as well?