Canonical and FSF Come to Terms over Ubuntu Licensing

Canonical, the company that markets Ubuntu Linux, has historically promulgated intellectual property licensing terms — particularly trademark licensing terms — that were unpopular in the open source world.  But of course, no trademark right could prohibit the redistribution or modification of GPL licensed software, because GPL does not allow any such restrictions to be placed on the exercise of the license.   Canonical’s efforts to control downstream use of its product was also not well received.

Canonical has now issued a new policy that FSF has approved.  The new policy contains a precedence clause as follows: “For the avoidance of doubt, where any other license grants rights, this policy does not modify or reduce those rights under those licenses.” 

Those who work in the trenches to accurately mesh open source and proprietary licensing, in a world where both co-exist, are familiar with the need for such provisions.  The “no further restrictions” clauses of GPL and LGPL mean they have to trump conflicting terms. Without such a precedence clause, for example, Ubuntu’s policy requiring the licensee to accept the policy, and transfer goodwill, might constitute restrictions on the exercise of GPL rights — not to mention the requirements that “You can only use Canonical’s copyright materials in accordance with the copyright licences therein and this IP Rights Policy.” and “You cannot use Canonical’s patented materials without our permission.”