San Francisco delivers bill for IBM's Linux ads

SAN FRANCISCO -- The city of San Francisco yesterday quashed some of the warm, fuzzy feelings associated with the Linux operating system when it reached a settlement with IBM that calls for the vendor to pay $120,000 to compensate the city for damages caused by a "guerrilla" marketing campaign centered on Linux.

In April, IBM began spray-painting Linux advertisements on the streets of San Francisco, New York, Boston and Chicago, hoping to raise interest in the operating system that battles software from Microsoft Corp. and other vendors. Although the logos -- a peace symbol, a heart shape and a tubby penguin -- stirred the public, they also angered city officials (see story).

"It is the worst message that can be sent to have a corporation sanction vandalism on city streets," said Gavin Newsome, supervisor for the city and county of San Francisco, who was closely involved with the case. "It is contrary to what we are trying to do, which is to add to the beauty of San Francisco and make a clean place to live."

IBM will pay $10,000 in cleanup costs, close to $10,000 in city attorney's fees and $100,000 to San Francisco's Clean Streets program for removing graffiti and trash. IBM has reached tentative deals with all the cities involved, with compensation varying widely in each case, according to a source familiar with the matter.

IBM had balked initially at talks with San Francisco and refused to tell city officials the names of the local advertising companies hired to paint the logos, Newsome said. The city, however, refused to back down and instituted new legislation to help it go after this type of vandalism more aggressively, Newsome said.

"We were sticking to our guns," Newsome said. "I had no interest in settling for anything less than $100,000."

The city tallied up 308 locations where Tux, the chubby penguin trademark of Linux, had appeared. Normally, a single case of graffiti results in a misdemeanor charge, carrying a $500 fine, Newsome said. If the city had given IBM the same punishment it usually reserves for rambunctious adolescents, the vendor would have had to pay $154,000 in fines and more in cleanup costs.

IBM declined to comment on the matter at this time.

Although San Francisco won its battle against IBM, Newsome fears that the city may have lost the war.

"To a degree, they may have succeeded," he said. "I know the value of word of mouth, and hearing IBM, IBM, IBM all the time as a result of this is quite advantageous."

The very youngsters IBM may have hoped to reach with the advertisements may also find the company's struggle against the city appealing, Newsome said, and the publicity generated by news coverage of the case may also have benefited the company.

In the end, however, IBM will have to pay. Newsome expects the mayor to sign off on the deal by mid-December.

Related stories:

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon