Mon, 11 Jun 2007

Ownership issue...

Nils Faerber is throwing mudballs in his blog entry entitled Trademark issue.... First, we need to be clear here that trademarks are not the problem. Trademarks are intended to be the solution. The problem is that both LinuxToGo (in the person of Nils) and (in the person of George) think they have exclusive rights to the project named "GPE". Not the code, of course, because open source code can always be forked. This is a fight over the name. Nils puts forth his own case. I'll put forth the case here:

The case for ownership

Yes, Nils chose the name GPE, and yes, he contributed the first stubs of code to Yet he clearly handed the project over to in his introductory email. He even called it a "community project". He was eager to have it based at Why? Because he wanted to own it. Why else would he have behaved that way? He already had He could have hosted it there, except ... he wanted it to be owned by the community.

If he owned GPE, then he would simply have moved it without bothering to ask if anyone objected to moving it. Yet he did ask. That says that he thinks it's a community project. A project. And people objected to him moving it, but he moved it anyway. was never a hosting site ala Sourceforge, Savannah (nongnu), or Berlios. All of the projects there were started by members of the community to be owned by the community, more like Savannah (gnu). There are no projects there unrelated to Linux on handheld computers. Nils seems to believe that he can convince people (he has already convinced himself) that was just a hosting site, so moving a project was not forking. Unsurprisingly, the people at disagree and think he should fork and rename.

The Conundrum

The problem is that both parties believe that they own the name, and can put forth a reasonable argument by community norms. For better or worse, was the first to use the name in trade, which in the U.S. gives it the trademark. George is only seeking a trademark (which he plans to assign to, Inc.) to enforce a claim on the project that he believes, by community norms, is legitimate. For his part, Nils is trying to sway public opinion against George by making his actions seem illegitimate, as if Nils owned the project without dispute, and as if George was trying to steal it.

In other words, neither party can resolve their claims by community norms and both are seeking other means of enforcing their claim to GPE.

So what are we, as a community, to do? Who owns the project named 'GPE'? It's not clear, by the rules we've always followed. We need to make new rules.

There's a hint, in trademark law. If two parties are using the same name in conflict (e.g. Snyder's of Hanover, and Snyder's of Berlin, both of whom make pretzels in Pennsylvania), then both must take steps to ensure that they are not confused with the other. We may choose to accept or reject that hint. If we choose to accept it, then I propose settlement terms as follows:

A GPE Settlement


Be it resolved that:

Obviously this settlement goes nowhere unless both Nils and George agree to it. But having it written out is better than the mudballs that Nils and LinuxToGo associates are throwing at George.

UPDATE 6/16: Nil refuses to even consider the settlement as the least bad solution. He doesn't think the community has any ownership stake. He doesn't think he's done George any wrong. He continues to maintain that he didn't fork GPE. Nil believes that he would prevail in a trademark infringement suit and sees no reason to settle. Nil refuses even to spel my name correctly. Consequently, I have put his email address back on my "do not mail" list. Call it petty if you want, but I insist upon a minimum of respect.

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