Re: Gov't Loves Gov't

Charlie Stross (
Wed, 28 Jan 1998 09:26:21 +0000

On Tue, Jan 27, 1998 at 09:39:55AM -0800, Peter C. McCluskey wrote:
> (Guru George) writes:
> >What would happen if people went against the conditions of use (or
> >whatever it is you see that's pasted all over linux when you first come
> >across it)?
> Not much. The violater would get harrased a bit, and wouldn't derive
> much benefit from the violation.

It actually goes a bit further than this. In 1996, somebody or other
who nobody had ever heard of took out a trademark on Linux(TM), then wrote
to various companies (SSC and Yggdrasil spring to mind) who make their
living selling Linux books, distributions, or software demanding a pay-
off for use of the name.

With the approval of Linus Torvalds, and a pro bono attorney, SSC,
Yggdrasil, Red Hat, and most of the other companies making money out
of Linux started a lawsuit against the parasite, and tried to get
the trademark invalidated.

The outcome was that before the case came to court the opportunist
folded, and the trademark was assigned (by mutual consent) to Linus
Torvalds (who (a) invented Linux, and therefore deserves to hold it
if anyone does, and (b) who has no intention of using it to make

This is an interesting case insofar as it shows commercial entities
_defending_ a common good (free access to the name "Linux"). The Linux
industry, foetal though it might be at present, seems to have
accomodated itself to the "bazaar" model of software development just
when the rest of the computer industry is at the opposite extreme.
Moreover, those companies -- even the most aggressively corporate
ones, like Caldera -- are putting back freeware into the communal
pot (RedHat's RPM system, Caldera's COAS and PPP code). They're treating
their field as a positive-sum game, where cooperation results in greater
growth than defection and it therefore pays dividends to give software
away for free -- because, of course, the more Good Stuff there is in
the free Linux systems, the more people will use it, and the more
the businesses employing them will be inclined to pay for the commercial
support packages aimed at businesses.

-- Charlie