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Fox Wars: Debian vs. Mozilla

Would you believe that two open-source powers are battling over the Firefox Fox logo? Well, believe it.

Mozilla Corp. is insisting that when a Linux distributor includes its own variation of the popular web-browser, Firefox, with its operating system, it must pass any customized code by Mozilla before using its Firefox name or Fox logo.

This is pretty straightforward. Mozilla owns the trademark on the name and logo, so they need to protect it. The company also needs to make sure that when someone clicks on “Firefox,” they’re running Mozilla-approved Firefox. After all, if something goes wrong with Firefox, Mozilla’s programmers want to know that something went wrong with their code rather than someone else’s patch.

Debian doesn’t see it this way. The Debian Linux developers believe that Debian’s Social Contract doesn’t allow them to use Mozilla’s copyrighted and trademarked Firefox image.

According to Eric Dorland, the Debian maintainer of Firefox, “We can’t use the logo because its copyright license is not free. Even if somehow we could do this, they want to vet every patch we apply before we release a package called Firefox containing it.”

Specifically, what Mozilla is asking for from Debian is something that Red Hat and Novell already do. Namely: “Submit patches that deviate from the source tarballs in order to continue to use the trademark.”

Mike Connor, a Mozilla engineer, explained to Dorland, “This is us attempting to tell you that what you are doing is not correct and needs to change. We also need to go over the rest of the patchset, but this is the most glaring issue that must be fixed.”

After considerable discussion, Debian has decided to drop the use of the Firefox name and logo in its upcoming Debian release, Etch. The Debian community has yet to decide on a new name. Doland has suggested “Iceweasel.”

The Debian community sees Mozilla as being unreasonable about its trademarks. I find that more than a little curious, since Debian has long been just as protective and possessive of its own Debian name and logo. For example, the DCC Alliance, which is made up of nothing but Debian companies and was led by the founder of Debian, was forced to drop Debian from its name because of the Debian community’s hostility.

The reasons? Just like the Mozilla Foundation, they were concerned with the possibility of people being confused between the two groups’ products, and they were afraid of losing their trademark.

Recently, I’ve been concerned that the Debian community was getting too involved in petty internal politics to survive. One prominent Debian supporter, C. J. Fearnley, assured me that Debian is really in fine shape.

Well, what can I say except that, as I read over the email exchanges between Mozilla and Debian, I found more to confirm my fears for Debian’s future than my hopes.

A version of this story first appeared in Linux-Watch.