Trademarks, community and criticism

Recently some concerns were expressed by, a website focusing on Ubuntu privacy, about a routine trademark enforcement email that Canonical sent. We want to provide some context around this issue.

In Ubuntu we cherish an open and diverse discourse, and we welcome differing and challenging views and perspectives; it is the cornerstone of our community, as exemplified by our open Ubuntu Developer Summit, mailing lists, IRC channels and more. Our Code of Conduct and Trademark policy simply provide guardrails for those conversations to flourish.

Canonical owns the family of Ubuntu trademarks and we have a responsibility to protect those trademarks. In trademark law a mark owner is expected to protect the authenticity of a trademark otherwise they risk losing the mark.

Our trademark policy is unusually permissive. We have a global community of Ubuntu contributors, LoCo teams, translators, developers, advocates, and others who want to use these marks to within the spirit and governance of the project. Therefore, our policy has been crafted in such a way that we can protect the marks and what they stand for, but also ensure our community has the freedom to use them.

In the case of, we were concerned that the use of the trademark implied a connection with and endorsement from the Ubuntu project which didn’t exist. The site owner has already agreed to remove the Ubuntu logo and clarified that there is no connection; from our perspective the situation has been resolved, and we have no issue with the site or the criticism it includes.  In fact, far from an trying to silence critics, our trademark policy actually calls out parody and criticism and other uses as being allowed when the marks are used appropriately.  (Please make the parodies funny – we need a good laugh as much as anyone!)

We aim to communicate our policies and actions clearly and openly, and I welcome feedback on how to do that better.

UPDATE:  I should have mentioned that we do listen closely to constructive criticism and user’s requests about the Online Search function. And in response we already added a simple way for you to limit your search to local results only if you wish.  If you’re running the latest version of Ubuntu, check Settings -> Security & Privacy -> Search.


  1. Shane Curcuru

    Simple. Have a community manager representing your organization – and NOT a lawyer, paralegal, or other non-community participant – send the first friendly letter saying “Hey, we think this might be a problem, could you fix it?” without any legalese.

    Lawyers are *never* the place to start, unless the offender is a clear and *commercial* infringer of your marks. Getting letters from lawyers often makes the recipient ask their own lawyer for advice, and at that point a friendly and drama-free resolution likely goes out the window. Obviously, if at first you don’t succeed, feel free to call the lawyers.

    My views on this are in my OSCON presentation:

    Hmm, I need to update that to include more emphasis on “having lawyers send letters is rarely a good idea” bit.

    1. Steve's photo Steve George

      Hi Shane – thanks for the comment. This is a hard area to get right as the nature of trademarks is that they are legal, but obviously we run the policy in the context of our community. We try to be sensitive to each situation – and clearly we could have done better in this case.

  2. fouk

    Please remove that spyware, just remove that code. Let-s be Ubuntu. Ubuntu, please don’t destroy yourself.

  3. jure

    don’t bullshit about trademarks. Ubuntu is not yours. it’s made by community, and should be owned by community!

    1. Steve's photo Steve George

      The trademarks and the brand let us identify what is truly Ubuntu. So it’s important for our users, developers and Canonical. By protecting them we ensure our community can thrive – explaining that was part of my post. Thanks for your comment Jure.

  4. Xavid

    In this post, you entirely fail to mention that the original letter requested that change its domain name, nor that your trademark policy continues to state that any site using “ubuntu” in a domain name or URL (!) needs Canonical’s permission. This policy is absurd and , and neglecting to apologize for your original request, address this part of your policy in this post, or make any commitment to do better in the future, you are being misleading and exacerbating your injury to the Ubuntu community.

    1. Steve's photo Steve George

      Hi Xavid. I’m sorry you feel my post was misleading. I wanted to make sure I explained the intent of what we do. I believe our policy makes the right trade-offs. But, your right that asking for the brand not to be used and the disclaimer was enough – we shouldn’t have asked for the domain to be changed and that was a mistake. We’ll try to do better in future.

  5. Mizu

    It’s not *that* you asked, it’s about *how* you approached him and the language you chose.

    1. Steve's photo Steve George

      Hi Mizu – I understand that – we’re always doing our best to ask for the right changes _and_ to ask in the right manner. The nature of these notices is that they are legal so there are constraints, but we’ll try and do better. Thanks for your comment.

  6. Guido Stepken

    To make things clear: Who or what is UBUNTU?

    From: . I get sick when reading this:

    You can download, install and receive updates to Ubuntu for free.
    You can modify Ubuntu for personal or internal commercial use.
    You can redistribute Ubuntu, but only where there has been no modification to it.
    You can use our copyright, patent and design materials in accordance with this IPRights Policy.
    You can be confident and can trust in the consistency of the Ubuntu experience.
    You can rely on the standard expected of Ubuntu.

    Thank u, Canonical. But the right to do so is given by GNU GPL and all contributors, not by Canonical or any other “generous” company. Canonical is nobody. Linux contributors, doing all the work, steadily improving, debugging, bringing in new ideas, are the real owners.

    One tricky bug, introduced by a single contributor, making UBUNTU instable, can completely destroy UBUNTUs reputation and business concept.

    My urgent advice: Forget about trademarking, lawyers, e.t.c., completely and forever!

    Thank u for understanding.

    1. Steve's photo Steve George

      Hi Guido – Thanks for your comment. I completely agree with you that the GPL and the other Free Software licenses are at the heart of Ubuntu. But, it is important that someone downloading Ubuntu, or going to a particular website can know that they are experiencing an ‘official’ part of the project. It’s about knowing what is really Ubuntu.

  7. diego

    Will you do the same with

    1. Steve's photo Steve George

      Hi Diego – we work with many sites and users of our trademarks around the world. Clearly in this case we could have done better, and we’ll try to do so in the future.

  8. Lorenzo J. Lucchini

    You say that from your perspective, the situation was resolved when they removed the logo; however, the published email sent by your lawyers clearly concerns both the logo and the domain name (as it contains the word “Ubuntu”).

    Additionally, if it’s permitted to use your trademark for “critics” and “other uses”, then I don’t understand why this website would not be permitted to use it and you would send them such a letter.

    This seems wholly political. As an Ubuntu Member, I find moves like this – and others that Canonical seem to have been making recently – extremely concerning and upsetting.

    1. Steve's photo Steve George

      Hi Lorenzo – The objective of my blog post was to clarify that the legal teams intent was not ‘political’ but around protecting the Ubuntu brand. I understand your concern – and we’ll do our best in future to improve. Thanks for your thought.

  9. hellekin

    So, what you’re saying is that your unusually permissive trademark policy allows users to choose not to be spied on by default by opting out of the surveillance. That’s better than NSA.

    What about the suggestion that Micah made to “require users to opt-in to you collecting information about what they’re searching for on their own computers and then displaying ads to them about it, rather than violating their privacy by default.”?

    If I may ask, what part of the deal with Amazon prevents your engineers from feeling good and aligned with their ethics, by following Micah’s advice, which would only require a one-liner to fix in the source code?

    1. Steve's photo Steve George

      Hi hellekin – We continue to listen to feedback from our users on all the features – both the ones people like and those they don’t. Although not what you’d like – we have made it easy to turn the feature off. My post is really about why we asked for trademark changes. Thanks for your comment, I appreciate it.

  10. fuCkorporations

    you’re asking the guy to “… remove Ubuntu word from his domain name… ”

    are you f*cking nuts?

    a “would you kindly remove the ubuntu logo from your page” would have been more than enough if you really have a problem with it being associated

    1. Steve's photo Steve George

      Hi – Thanks for your thought. I agree that the changes made so the site isn’t use the logo and has a disclaimer are enough. We deal with a large volume of these situations, but we’ll definitely try to do better in the future.

  11. Carlos

    “If you’re running the latest version of Ubuntu, check Settings -> Security & Privacy -> Search.”

    Better why you do not add two boxes in the Dash for checking or unchecking and in this way can enable or disable local or internet searches in any time. In this way, the options would be more visible and be more comfortable and easily accessible to the user, rather than having to go to Settings -> Security & Privacy -> Search.”

    1. Steve's photo Steve George

      Hi Carlos. We have been listening to feedback about the Dash as we explore ways to make it even better – and we’ll continue to do so. Thanks for your comment and idea.

  12. icrbow

    A really simple way would be install-time opt-in checkbox with a privacy policy. Maybe even checked by default if you need users so desperately. But before installing the stuff.

    I love Ubuntu and trust Canonical on that matter and will enable that online search. But, for the love of God, do not handle the situation with ignorance. Please throw the f…ng opt-in switch in 14.04 and enjoy the glory and a torrent of new and returning users.

    1. Steve's photo Steve George

      Hi icrbrow – Thanks for your comment. The product teams listen to all the feedback and we have made changes in response to it. I hope that at least my post explained how we try to balance our trademark policy and protection – and that this is completely separate from encouraging an open community.

  13. Jens

    > we do listen closely to constructive criticism
    > and user’s requests about the Online Search function.
    > And in response we already added a simple way for
    > you to limit your search to local results

    It’s good that you listen to criticism, but just listening doesn’t suffice. You have to understand it, and the update in your post shows that you either don’t, or maybe don’t want to. Aside from the fact that a search function like this exists at all, which I think was a very bad idea, the crucial point is that it is enabled by default. It’s absolutely unacceptable that you transfer my *local* search words over the internet without asking for my permission *beforehand* and stating exactly and in detail and in understandable words what kind of data is transfered in which way and which dangers of misuse exist. It’s no excuse to claim that the data is sent encrypted and anonymised because encryptions are hacked from time to time, and software has security holes. And as for anonymity: there are enough examples out there where so-called anonymous data could be used to create behaviour patterns and characteristics of people, sometimes even back to individuals.

    The keyword here is: opt-in. If you really take data protection seriously, an opt-in to this search function is the only way to go. It’s simply none of your business what I do on my local computer. It’s *my* data, not yours. *Ask* me if you want them.

    More generally: Canonical’s idea of blurring the boundaries between the net and the local computer with this search function is a very very bad one. There’s a reason this barrier exists (and should exist), the same way that in real life your home is your private space, with locks in doors and curtains to close.

    1. Steve's photo Steve George

      Hi Jens. Thanks for your thought. I understand your point and the product development teams continually listen to feedback from our users. That’s why we have made changes to make it easy to switch the feature off. Of course I understand that you’d like to see further change. The purpose of my post was to clarify that we want an open community were all opinions are welcome. And, that the need to protect the brand and trademarks is not aimed at limiting that – clearly we can do better in how we do that.

  14. Jonathan Carter

    Well, let’s be real for a second here. If you actually considered the feedback from Ubuntu users, you’d know that any thing less than making it opt-in instead of opt-out doesn’t really fix the issue at all. Adding an opt-out button somewhere in the settings just isn’t good enough. But I understand that Canonical has to put profits first before the interest of its users, I just wish it could do so more tastefully.

    1. Steve's photo Steve George

      Hi Jonathan – We do our best to listen to feedback, and I think the changes we’ve made to the feature reflect that. Obviously, you’d like it to work differently. I hope that my post explained that our work to protect the trademarks is not aimed at reducing the range of opinions in our community. Thanks for your comment.

  15. seahawk1986

    Apparently nobody at Canonical is willing to understand the full implications of the constructive criticism regarding the online search function. Why even bother users with adware (I can’t think of another term for the unity dash behavior listing programs from the software center) and the online search “feature” in the first place? Just provide a simple way to opt-in for those who do really want it (and let the user know about and everything is fine.

    1. Steve's photo Steve George

      Hi Seahawk1986 – I understand your comment and that you’d like the feature to be changed. The development teams do listen to feedback and I’ve added an edit to the post to mention some changes that were made to reflect that. I also see you’d like it to work completely differently. My post was focusing on why we asked for some trademark changes to the site, to clarify that this was not to limit criticism but so that our legal team can continue to protect the Ubuntu trademarks. Thanks for your comment, I appreciate it.