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 Wednesday, March 21, 2007
RedHat, Inc: The Next Microsoft?

Think that RedHat is still the open source capital of the Internet, all happy-happy-joy-joy with its supporters and liberal-minded in its goals? Take a look at this and tell me if your mind isn't changed a little:

Enclosed is a copy of the form letter they sent out to many companies that offer Hibernate consulting and training. 

Dear Sir or Madam: 

Red Hat, Inc. has become aware that your company is offering Hibernate training courses. Red Hat does not allow the use of its trademarks without a written agreement. 

Red Hat is the owner of numerous trademarks, including but not limited to, its Hibernate mark, U.S. Federal Registration Number 3135582. RedHat has made extensive use of its Hibernate marks in interstate and international commerce in connection with the advertising, promotion, and sale of its goods and services. Due widespread use, advertising and extensive marketing, the RedHat marks have become famous. 

Red Hat requests that you immediately cease offering Hibernate branded training, as well as any other training that may contain Red Hat marks 
or marks that are confusingly similar. Although you may offer object 
oriented relational database mapping training, you may not use the Hibernate name to promote and advertise your products and services. 

We trust you will understand Red Hat's interest in protecting its valuable intellectual property and ensuring that consumers are not misled as to the source and sponsorship of goods and services sold and/or distributed under the RED HAT marks. We trust this matter can be resolved promptly and amicably and appreciate your attention to this matter. 

We look forward to your reply and request a response no later than {WITHHELD}. 

Sincerely, 

Meredith K. Robertson 
Legal Specialist 
Red Hat, Inc. 

Folks, RedHat has officially moved into the "Big Corporate Entity Seeking Profit At Any Expense" category. So much for the Open-Source-Can-Really-Make-Money-Too-We-Swear poster child, if you ask me...


UPDATE: Apparently, people at eWeek and Yahoo! News posted articles referencing this entry, so let me post some responses to the comments sent in.

First, I don't think this issue is about copyright law whatsoever or IP issues; it's a deeper, more fundamental issue than that. We can certainly argue whether "Hibernate" is a trademarked name or a generic name (such as the discussion over "Kleenex" or the act of copying a paper known as "Xeroxing" it), but that's not the interesting point here either--the point is that RedHat somehow feels that the use of the term "Hibernate" in Bill Dudney's training curriculum is somehow going to imply that Bill has received special blessing from RedHat to do so. Does that mean, then, that I need special blesing from Sun in order to offer "Java" training, or special blessing from Microsoft to offer ".NET" training? If that's the case, then there are a lot of training companies who'd better pull their training courses off the shelf and rethink offering training at all, because there's some serious copyright violations going on out there.

Besides, I thought OSS was a reaction against copyright law.

There's the deeper issue, too, of RedHat's heavy-handedness in this: why is it that companies continually feel that the best way to start these discussions is with cease-and-desist letters? It's pathetic when a corporation like Sun does this (as I went through with my small riff with them over "javageeks.com"), but even more so when an open-source company--who for years has proudly proclaimed their allegiance to "the community" and paraded it around as a compelling reason over commercial "evil corporation" solutions like Solaris or Windows or HP-UX--takes the same path.

I like the OSS stack, and when I write something that's worth putting into play, I will do so. (Arguably, I've already done so--the Java attributes facility I wrote years ago before JSR 175 and JDK 5 shipped was finished by Mark Pollack and used in several OSS projecs, but I call that more Mark's work than my own.) But it's time that we start making the critical realization that an industry cannot rest on the backs of volunteer work. And I, for one, do not want this industry to surrender its commercial aspects; I cannot pay for my house with "community spirit", and frankly, I don't want to give up doing what I love (writing software, and teaching others how to do the same) just because of an idea proposed by a guy who now makes his living from delivering keynotes and ranting about the evils of closed-source. I submit that Stallman would sing a different tune were he in fact still a working programmer with a mortgage and a family to feed.

If RedHat continues with this, they will simply demonstrate that they are, in fact, no better than any of the other "evil corporations", that they are in fact first and foremost concerned with turning a profit. And maybe that's not a bad thing in the long run. I'm certain the employees at RedHat are no more evil than anybody who works at Microsoft or Sun or Oracle. I'm certain RedHat is just as concerned with their image and their standing in the community as those other companies. I'm also certain that, at the end of the day, the people who work at RedHat want to make money doing what they love, just as I and thousands--if not millions--of other programmers do. Why do we think it's wrong for them to do so?

RedHat, you are under no obligation to retract your C-and-D letters. You are perfectly justified in defending your copyright and trademark. But it definitely puts a crimp on the socialistic tendencies that come out of the mouths of the most virulent OSS evangelist for you to do so, and almost puts the whole open-source argument into a strange discussion where now we're just arguing over the quality of the code and the costs... which is maybe where the argument should have been from the beginning, not over "free as in speech" or "free as in beer".