Red Hat Trademark Fiasco

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

By Joe “Zonker”

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

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

  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?