Among other things in the in general overly-vague FAQ that in half its questions focused on specific usage questions of the 3 pre-approved Google products/services that already have a place there, there was the following sticking point:
Source: https://openusage.org/faq/#what-is-the-difference-between-owning-source-code-ip-and-owning-a-trademark-who-owns-the-ip-of-the-projects (last sentence)To be able to provide the management and support services that are part of the Open Usage Commons, the trademarks that join the Commons will be owned by the Open Usage Commons.
The FAQ also explained who is involved, and that made me further question things:
Source: https://openusage.org/faq/#who-is-involved-in-the-open-usage-commonsThe Open Usage Commons consists of a Board of Directors. It will soon have a Legal Committee that advises the board and the projects, as well as advisory members – individuals selected by the projects to guide the trademark usage policies.
The board of directors is Allison Randal (Open source developer and researcher), Charles Isbell (Georgia Institute of Technology), Chris DiBona (Google), Cliff Lampe (University of Michigan), Miles Ward (SADA), and Jen Phillips (Google).
Feel free to check out any of these names, most will likely have a Wikipedia page or similar describing their involvement in management circles and the general area they work in. I find the collection of people most peculiar if the mission really is what the vagueries describe.
So, after finding all that out, I decided to send them an e-mail with a number of questions that were raised by their website and not answered, outlined below:
- As stated in your FAQ, any projects joining the Open Usage Commons will have to sign over property ownership of trademarks to you. This will effectively give you absolute control over the brand and trademark used by the project (effectively its identity). Why would any project owner want to do this?
- For many FOSS developers, creating and establishing their identity (and growing their audience as a result) is a slow, organic process that often takes years, so we don't see at all what benefit there would be to basically hand this over to a new organization that has nothing but a promise to found itself on. Can you clarify the benefits for Open Source projects that already have established their identity, brand and trademarks, whom are your target audience?
- What exactly are your ties with, and influence by, Google, with how you have 2 Google board members, Google obviously being an advisory member on trademark policies, and an early adopter/preferential position by having the first projects be part of the Open Usage Commons before it's even opened to any(!) other developers?
3a. All things being equal, to what level does Google's influence determine your direction and policies?
- Trademarks and branding are primarily a mark of quality assurance to users of Open Source, and the GNU Open Source philosophy wholly agrees with that by supporting that specific rules for the use and redistribution of branded software are perfectly okay, to protect this QA. By not being the project developers, you can, in our opinion, never guarantee the necessary quality assurance on software that carries certain branding, and as such are in no position to determine what is fair use of a trademark or who is in a position to properly use it.
How are you, as a commons organization, going to be able to assure free and fair use of trademarks and branding while not diminishing this QA verification and expectancy whenever specific brands and trademarks are used?
And some less important legal-tech questions:
- Trademarks are region-specific, yet your organization seems to be USA-centric. Are you going to provide world-wide coverage of trademark usage protection or will it be solely for the USA?
- What legal body do you answer to in case of disputes?
- Is there a way for project owners to withdraw from the Open Usage Commons after they have joined, and effectively regain full control over their IP?
Not even touching on any one of these points. I wrote back that it draws the org's trust level in question if these important yet general questions aren't answered, since it's a good question how they expect to ever build the amount of trust required for developers to give the org ownership of their brand, brand identity (and therefore their known names of software) and trademarks if claimed.Our website covers many of these quest and the rest will be clear over time. Visit back later to find out more.
The response was yet another one-liner, further flat-out refusing to address the voiced concerns in the questions:
So the non-answer being "it will be answered or it won't" and further clouding the important issues in questions not answered and vagueries without commitment.I'm sorry, it's nothing personal but all the questions you have will be answered in time on the website or they won't, regardless were not going to engage with you on these personally, it doesn't scale.
So, to summarize:
- Google's directors have 2 seats on the board. Actually, no, make that 3. Miles Ward was a Google employee for 5 years in management too (Director of Solutions) until April 2019. Don't think those ties are so easily cut.
- The org currently only has a board of directors, and refuses to answer questions that should already be known by setting up the organization and launching it. This refusal doesn't feel on the level, and does not instil the needed trust for anyone to sign over their intellectual property and software identity.
- Some of Google's projects are already established members ahead of everyone else, whom will have assigned "advisory members" for the trademark policies the org should maintain -- basically pre-approved VIPs which indicates quite clearly that this is a Google venture above all.
- The org wants to have full ownership of your brand and trademarks.
- The org can't reasonably be expected to be an arbiter on "free and fair use" of trademarks when those trademarks are tied directly to quality-of-work.
- There is no information on legal precedent, legal governing law, or how the org is funded and by whom.
How does that scale for you, Chris?