October 19, 2005

Debian Common Core Alliance loses 'Debian' from its name

Author: David 'cdlu' Graham

Lacking permission from the Debian project to call itself Debian anything, the Debian Common Core Alliance has agreed to change its name to the recursive DCC Alliance, but, according to Debian, has so far refused to remove Debian's logo from its own logo or issue any formal press release about the change or why it took place.

Progeny, Linspire, Xandros, and at least six other Debian-based distribution companies announced last August at Linuxworld that they planned to create a common set of packages and software at the core of their distributions. They're still saying they're going to make a Debian Core, but the Debian Project says it doesn't have anything to do with the legally trademarked Debian distribution.

Former Debian Project Leader Ian Jackson posted a message to the Debian-Project mailing list on Monday explaining the situation and demanding action. Shortly thereafter Debian developer Don Armstrong followed with an update to the same list. Current Debian Project Leader (DPL) Branden Robinson had appointed Armstrong to resolve the issues with the DCC Alliance in August in the interests of avoiding any appearance of conflict of interest related to Robinson's current employment with a DCCA member.

In an interview on the topic, Robinson said, "No employee of a DCCA member company has asked me to take a certain position, nor have I felt in any way pressured to 'go easy' on DCCA due to my employment by a member company." In spite of this, he say he "was not consulted about the DCCA initiative before it was launched, though [DCCA leader and founder of Progeny] Ian Murdock and [Progeny CEO] Garth Dickey did both seek my counsel subsequently."

Robinson said that part of the advice he gave to Murdock and Dickey on how to handle a relationship with Debian was "that the DCCA do its level best to become a Debian subproject, as debian-edu and debian-sci are. It's my understanding that Michael Meskes of Credativ independently reached the same conclusion and has been working on that. And that's a good idea not just for trademark reasons. The DCCA should resolve the trademark issue with Debian apart from the question of becoming a subproject, but *being* a subproject helps to insure that there is a closer relationship so the DCCA member companies don't do things that take the Debian community by surprise.

"Debian's relationship with the DCC Alliance beyond the dispute over the use of the Debian trademark is not completely clear yet," Robinson said. "DCCA's relationship with Debian [is] still in the formative stages.... It can take a lot of time for these things to become clear, especially in this case, as I feel that DCCA itself has not yet finished forging its own identity.

"As far as trademark enforcement goes, I think DCCA is well aware that they are under the Debian Project's microscope. It's not my understanding that Debian has to send DCCA a cease-and-desist order every 48 hours to establish a cause of action on the trademark infringement front."

While Debian has so far convinced the DCCA to change its name, the logo remains, and the organisation's Web site still implies that the Alliance is directly related to Debian.

Whether the DCCA has the right to use the logo is itself a matter of debate. The Debian Open Use Logo License allows anyone to use the logo in reference to Debian, but the Debian project's insistence on the removal of the word "Debian" from the DCCA's name calls that right into question here. The matter of the logo is complicated by the fact that "we don't actually have that mark registered," according to Armstrong.

Negotiations between Debian and the DCC Alliance over the use of the logo are ongoing, as is discussion about the DCC Alliance's exact role within Debian.

David Graham is a member and officer of the board of directors of Software in the Public Interest, Inc., Debian's legal arm.

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