Shuttleworth urges calm in Firefox/Ubuntu flap

Grumpy Ubuntu users are snarling about Mozilla including a largely open-source irrelevant EULA (End-user license agreement) with the latest version of the Firefox Web browser. Indeed, one user went so far as to file an Ubuntu bug report about the EULA.

The bug report read, in part, "STARTING UP A CERTAIN 3.0.2 VERSION OF FIREFOX BROWSER MAKES AVAILABLE TO YOU A VERY CAPITAL END USER LICENSE AGREEMENT. THIS AGREEMENT IS OBNOXIOUS and largely irrelevant to Ubuntu users." This immediately sparked up a flame war in Ubuntu circles.

Some users are demanding that Mozilla drop the EULA. Others are saying that Ubuntu should switch to another standard browser like GNOME's Epiphany. Others think Ubuntu should follow Debian Linux's lead and, while continuing to use Firefox's code, use IceWeasel, which is the Firefox program without Mozilla's trademarks or logos.

IceWeasel came from a similar fight. In its case, the Debian developers decided that Mozilla's restrictions on the use of the Firefox logo were too obnoxious to live with, so they come up with IceWeasel their own, logo-less, Web browser. I think the whole IceWeasel affair was dumb. It's a trademarked logo! Of course, you can't modify it. Who would want to!?

Now, some Ubuntu users seem to be on the same path. Yes, the Mozilla EULA is essentially pointless. Who cares? It's not like it's the original Chrome EULA, which included a section that gave Google "a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through" Chrome. Now, That was a bad EULA, and Google quickly dumped that obnoxious section.

Mark Shuttleworth, CEO of Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, is urging users to stay calm while they work out the issue with Mozilla. In an Ubuntu bug mailing list, Shuttleworth started by explaining what the Mozilla EULA was doing there in the first place, "Mozilla Corp asked that this be added in order for us to continue to call the browser Firefox. Since Firefox is their trademark, which we intend to respect, we have the choice of working with Mozilla to meet their requirements, or switching to an unbranded browser. It's strongly our preference, and that of most of our users, to have Firefox as the browser in Ubuntu."

Shuttleworth continued, "I think it's perfectly reasonable for Mozilla to have requirements and guidelines for the use of their trademark -- we have the same for Ubuntu, and many other free software projects do the same. I would in fact consider it a best practice to have a good brand on a free software project, which means having trademark guidelines."

That doesn't mean, however, that Shuttleworth agrees with Mozilla's stance. "I would not consider an EULA as a best practice. It's unfortunate that Mozilla feels this is absolutely necessary, but they do, and none of us are in a position to be experts about the legal constraints which Mozilla feels apply to them. We had extensive conversations with Mozilla in order to find the best possible way of meeting their requirements while preserving the flow of use of the system for our users," wrote Shuttleworth.

He concluded, "Please feel free to make constructive suggestions as to how we can meet Mozilla's requirements while improving the user experience. It's not constructive to say 'WTF?' nor is it constructive to rant and rave in all caps. Your software freedoms are built on legal grounds, as are Mozilla's rights in the Firefox trademark. To act as though your rights are being infringed misses the point of free software by a mile."

Meanwhile, far away from all the mailing list shouting, Mitchell Baker, the Mozilla Foundation's chairperson, has said that the Ubuntu protesters are right in her blog. "Yes, the content of the license agreement is wrong. The correct content is clear that the code is governed by FLOSS (Free/Libre/Open Source Software) licenses, not the typical end user license agreement language that is in the current version. We created a license that points to the FLOSS licenses, but we've made a giant error in not getting this to Ubuntu, other distributors, and posted publicly for review. We'll correct this ASAP," wrote Baker.

Baker continued, "This leaves the question of whether it ever makes sense to show people the terms that relate to the software and services available to them. I saw some comments asking why one ever needs any terms. Again, if we had the correct content I think this would be less of an issue because then we would be telling people about FLOSS licenses. We (meaning Mozilla) have shot ourselves in the foot here given the old, wrong content."

This last point is, to my mind, over-apologetic. Just because some Ubuntu users seem to be under the delusion that open-source software shouldn't have a EULA, doesn't mean that that's really the case. All programs should have some kind of IP (intellectual property) rights license, and if anything that's even truer of open-source programs where the question of which license is appropriate is often a critical one.

Be that as it may, Mozilla has now issued a new draft EULA for Linux users. This EULA essentially works hand-in-glove with Firefox's open-source license, the MPL (Mozilla Public License)and doesn't require an explicit click through.

While it looks like it could use some fine-tuning to my non-lawyer eyes, I thought it was very close to a EULA that no one could object to. Well, I'm wrong.

The people who have responded so far to the draft EULA really dislike it. One wrote, "The MPL is a clean license. Forcing the user to click on / close the window of / or other actions breaks the trust of the user and FOSS community. My vote is dump Firefox since it is restrictive." Another opined, "I think the most obvious objection is the title: "MOZILLA FIREFOX LICENSE AGREEMENT". Do we really want to be placing *any* restrictions on people who just download Firefox and run it on their computer?"

Oh please. There are times I want to take a clue-stick and start whacking some open-source users over the head.

It's a EULA for Mozilla Firefox. What else could they call it?

And, as for the EULA being restrictive, have any of the people whining about this EULA actually ever read the major open-source licenses such as the GPL (Gnu General Public License) version 2, which governs Linux, or its updated big-brother GPLv3? Now, there, you'll find some restrictions!

I could live with the revised Mozilla Firefox license as is, and I hope, Shuttleworth, after having Canonical's lawyers go over it with a fine-comb, agrees and just puts the new Firefox, EULA and all, in Ubuntu. As for those who can't live with the revised Firefox EULA: Get over it.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

It’s time to break the ChatGPT habit
Shop Tech Products at Amazon