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TMing Linux – Red Hat CEO attacks ‘cheap knock-offs’

Young explains policy - but there's a slippery slope in there...

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Red Hat CEO Bob Young has dumped a bucket of cold water on yesterday's claims that the company us doing a Microsoft by taking Red Hat Linux proprietary. According to Young, the spat was triggered by Amazon, rather than by any move on Red Hat's part. Last week, he says, Amazon contacted Red Hat saying that it had been getting complaints from customers who'd bought Linux through its action site under the impression it was Linux from Red Hat. "Thesee products turned out to be CD-ROMs that consisted of free FTP downloads of Red Hat Linux, produced by independent vendors." Amazon's email saying that that only Red Hat Linux from Red Hat could be described as such was therefore written after "we explained our trademark policies to Amazon staff." But as Young puts it, the intention was to ensure users weren't being misled, rather than to do a Microsoft on Red Hat Linux. That said, the matter remains something of a philosophical puzzle. Says Young: "We request that independent vendors call their product something other than Red Hat, and not use our trademarks or logos. They may describe their product as containing Red Hat Linux, but the product itself must have another name." The reputable vendors already do this, but the current problem has arisen "because of the large number of new, sometimes less than reputable suppliers who are using retail outlets... to trick customers into believing they were getting Official Red Hat Linux from Red Hat Inc. at a bargain price when in fact they were getting a cheap knock-off product." So although it's feasible for a vendor to supply something identical to Official Red Hat Linux, it's not possible to call it this, unless it's supplied by Red Hat. Tricky? Well, Red Hat's defence here is that its trademark covers a specific software package (products containing Red Hat Linux might also contain stuff Red Hat has no quality control over), and also contains support. That said, there's still scope for trouble in this area. As Young says, "in effect, we do not own any proprietary software, but we do own our trademarks." What this means is that Red Hat (or indeed any other open source outfit) cannot restrict the availability of the software per se, but can use branding to build market momentum, and will - has to - use its trademarks to stop other companies benefiting from that momentum. There's clearly a slippery slope in here and its steepness depends on how much you see this kind of commercial approach as being in contradiction with the open source philosophy. ®

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