Mozilla, Trademarks and Debian
Recently there have been a number of discussion group postings, etc., about disagreements between Mozilla and Debian over the issue of the Firefox trademark and how it can be used. I wanted to address the issues that people have raised, and explain why we've taken the approach we have.
First, let’s state the topic clearly. The question is: how much can Debian, or anyone else, change Firefox and still call it Firefox? The question is not how much Debian or anyone else can change the application – Debian and others can modify, delete and add features as they choose. The question is whether that different program can be distributed as “Firefox.”
Our approach to answering this question is based on several factors. One is empowering community and distribution activities. Another is having the Firefox name and logos be reliable indicators of what the program is and does for you, regardless of where you obtained it. Another is being able to stop bad actors who use the Firefox name for their own malicious purposes.
Our balance has been to allow a small set of changes to Firefox, particularly in the areas of packaging and default settings. For example, Linux distributions in particular have a set of requirements in order for them to properly integrate software like Firefox into their distributions and therefore need to make a fair number of changes to the underlying source code. In practice, we generally approve those changes to Firefox that are minimally required to support the operating environment and that do not change the user experience, security and/or Web compatibility profile. We have been actively working to ensure that all licensed and authorized derivations bearing the Firefox name and logo maintain these characteristics. We presently have working relationships with most of the major Linux distributions, including Red Hat, Novell, and Ubuntu.
We do not allow the use of the Firefox names and logos with different product features, functions, or with different security patches. We do this so that everyone – both the people using Firefox and the community creating, updating and supporting Firefox – know what people get when they install “Firefox.” We also do this so that the ongoing development and testing process work for all Firefox distributions; this is not possible if different distributions have significantly different code. We also blanace community interests through a wide range of ways to express support for Firefox.
We share a lot in common with in how Debian currently manages their own reputation through trademark law, and we recognize the Debian concern that neither party's current approach is completely compatible with the Debian Free Software Guidelines.
So we regret that it appears Debian won't be shipping something called "Firefox"; however given the particular circumstances around Firefox (as noted above) we don't believe that abandoning our current policy is an option for us. At the same time we're always open to suggestions as to how we might improve our current practices in ways that are still consistent with our overall goals.
The full text of Mozilla's trademark and licensing policy is posted at http://www.mozilla.org/licensing/
My comments to clarify some common misunderstandings. (10/11/06)