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Fear and loathing as TM card played for Red Hat Linux

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Red Hat has caused a storm in the Linux community by demanding that the trademarked name Red Hat Linux only be used for boxed and unmodified software from Red Hat. So companies supplying the GPL version of Red Hat can no longer describe it as such, and it's not immediately clear what they should call it instead. The issue was first raised by Linux reseller Robb Sands, who received an email from Amazon on Tuesday instructing him to remove his Red Hat Linux products from Amazon Auctions by 5pm yesterday. Amazon, coming on as a normal company with a normal legal department, said: "We are taking this action due to violations of the Red Hat trademarked name and logo." The normal legal department tone makes matters much worse, seeing its Linux where all is supposed to be cuddly, and seeing that Red Hat is already poised on the brink of being damned as a bunch of unscrupulous buck-chasers: "Amazon.com highly values the copyrights and trademarks of all buyers and sellers on our Auction site. We also strive to protect our customers from receiving illegal, illegitimate, or misleading items. So, Amazon.com has been working very closely with the software industry to identify and remove unauthorized copyright and trademark infringing software on our Auction site. "In this case, Linux can be downloaded, recopied, and resold, however, the use of the trademarked name, 'Red Hat,' or it's 'shadowman' logo may not be used to promote or sell any other software. Please note for a Linux program to be labelled 'Red Hat,' it must come with the original box, manuals and registration and the software must remain unmodified. "If you choose to relist the items, please do not refer to Red Hat Linux in any way as that would be a violation of both our Community Rules and the U.S. Trademark Act." That is no doubt a fair summation of what Red Hat must have told Amazon, and other operations dealing in Red Hat sales. Sands says he's been unable to get a firm statement from Red Hat itself, as company legal counsel David Shumannfang is currently on vacation, but it looks like the poor guy has a nasty s rap waiting for him when he gets back. One of the problems is that there is an argument in favour of Red Hat protecting its trademark, but that by doing so the company is raising questions about its own nature, and the nature of Linux. On the one hand, you could say (as one Slashdot poster does) that if your software isn't Red Hat, then you shouldn't call it Red Hat, you should use your own brand name (See Slashdot discussion thread). But on the other, Red Hat is one of the major Linux distributions, and includes the work of many programmers who don't get any money from Red Hat. Red Hat is obviously trying to establish itself as a (more likely the) industry standard Linux brand, but in doing so it's taking Red Hat Linux out of GPL territory and arguably taking the first steps to taking it in a proprietary direction. Quite possibly this is an accident. It does make sense for Red Hat to make it clear to customers that it's a specific package they're buying, and not a version that may or may not have been modified - that's a progression that has to be made if Linux is to broaden its appeal into more standard/commercial markets. The approach being taken is nevertheless tactless, not helped by the way Amazon puts it (although it's not Amazon's fault, the company's just stating the facts), and cuts the feet out from under a lot of small Linux vendors. Red Hat is obviously going to regret this, and may well find itself having to climb down. The matter already counts as a substantial PR own-goal, and can only get worse if Red Hat persists. How's it going to enforce it? Follow up the first Linux IPO with the first intra-Linux lawsuit? By the way, nearly a year ago we told you this sort of stuff was going to happen, and we got shouted at quite a bit. (See old analysis piece) ®

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