'Linux' trademark doesn't matter, says Stallman

The freedom to run and modify software is more important than what you call it, according to the GNU founder

Richard Stallman, chair of the Free Software Foundation, said on Thursday that the Linux trademark fracas in Australia has distracted attention away from the real issue — that of freedom to distribute and change software.

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald,  Stallman said: "Free software means you're free to run it, study it, change it, redistribute it, and distribute modified versions — the way cooks do with recipes. What names you're allowed to call a program is a side issue."

The Linux trademark became an issue last month after a lawyer acting on behalf of Linux creator Linus Torvalds wrote to 90 Australian companies asking that they sign a statutory declaration waiving exclusive rights to the trademark's use.

Stallman's words put him at odds with some members of the free software movement, who feel that the Linux name is worth protecting because it's so widely recognised. Steve D'Aprano, operations manager at open source vendor Cyberspace told ZDNet UK sister site ZDNet Australia, "If Linux were to fall out of trademark protection, there would be nothing to prevent unauthorised, shady and unscrupulous individuals and organisations from using the term for cheap knock-offs, cashing in on the name or other products which harm the reputation of Linux, and by association, ourselves." D'Aprano said that his company would sign the statutory declaration.

The companies would then be required to obtain a license from the Linux Mark Institute costing $300-$600 (£167-£333) for continued use of the term. Perth lawyer Jeremy Malcolm later revised these figures to between $200 and $5000 for a company to sublicense the Linux trademark.

This introduction of charges led some in the open source community to accuse Torvalds of cashing in on the success of Linux. Torvalds refuted this, saying the cost of the legal fees to chase potential sub-licensees outweighed the licensing revenue from them.

Stallman thinks the issue of naming the product is not so clear cut. "Most of the time, when people call something 'Linux', it's the GNU system with Linux as the kernel. Maybe this policy will encourage people to call it GNU," Stallman told the Sydney Morning Herald. "I prefer to say GNU/Linux' so as to give the kernel's developer a share of the credit."