Important considerations about the branding

Linux Mint has grown rapidly and as the founder and leader of this distribution, I’ll be honest, there are some things I’ve had to learn the hard way. I believe I made the right decisions in most cases but I can also look back at some of these decisions and see that I made mistakes. The technical side of things has actually been quite easy, being a developer and knowing what I want I never found it hard to implement something. I’ve also been lucky to find a great and helpful community from which a few highly skilled persons stepped up and came to help me develop the distribution. The hardest challenges were around the community itself, and the relationship with people actively trying to help or to develop initiatives related to Linux Mint. Among these challenges the branding in particular has always been an issue.

Before I go on about the branding I’d like to stress out the fact that everything we do is free, redistributable, shareable, modifyable and that anybody can fork or reuse or work for any use they see fit. That’s our idea of freedom and as said before, we hope you like it 🙂

The branding is an issue though. The first example was Ultumix, a distribution based on Linux Mint. Ultumix released an ISO of their distribution using the Mint splash screen and even described the ISO as “Linux Mint Ultumix Edition” on their website. Although it’s fine for them to modify our distribution and reuse it to create Ultumix, it creates a serious problem for us if they use our branding and confuse people as to whether or not we were the makers of that so-called edition. It’s a problem of responsibility and ownership. Our concern here, and I hope you’ll excuse my French, is that people might download this ISO thinking it’s one of our editions, dislike it and consequently have a negative opinion of us based on something we’re not responsible or even in control of.

That same problem happened also when the maintainer of one of our editions refused to follow our process and wanted to release the ISO before we could properly test it. It was fine for him to make that ISO and fine for him to release it publicly but as we consequently didn’t want to have anything to do with it, it was important for us that this ISO wasn’t using our name.

Lately our community grew in size and our distribution in popularity. A lot of websites about Linux Mint were created and we’re facing a new challenge. The presence of these websites is beneficial to all of us, for the website itself as it can generate some income from its own traffic or revenue through its own business activities (sales for instance), for users as it provides additional services and resources related to the distribution, and finally for the distribution itself as it rises awareness and creates more momentum in the community and on the Web in general. In general, any Linux Mint related initiative (whether it’s in the form of a web site, a derived distribution or something else) is beneficial to us, the only potential problem with it is branding. In the case of a website the concern is that visitors might think we’re the maintainers of a particular portal and if they’re unhappy with the service or the content on that portal they might get a bad opinion of the distribution itself. Again, the distinction needs to be clear so that responsability and ownership are clearly not mistakenly given to us for something we are not maintaining.

So how exactly do we let websites talk about us, dedicate themselves to us and at the same time enforce that distinction between who we are and what is around us. We need to clearly state how our branding can be used and this is something, by lack of experience, we’ve never really looked into until now.

So here goes (and this will be summarized on the website):

For derived distributions, localization, independent ISOs:

– Linux Mint Logo: Derived distributions need to make their own. If the goal of the distribution is to specialize Linux Mint without the will to create a brand of its own the logo can be a modification of the Linux Mint logo or the Linux Mint logo itself as long as something is put on top of it to clearly distinguish it from the official one. The Linux Mint logo cannot be used in the splash screens, boot menus or in the default wallpaper. The logo can be used within the menu and the mint tools and as part of alternative wallpapers.

– Linux Mint catchphrase (“from freedom came elegance”): The catchphrase cannot be used at all. It can however be translated in a different language (for localized independent Mint-related projects) or modified.

– “Linux Mint” name: The name can be referred to but it can’t be used as part of the project’s name.

– Mint tools: The mint tools can be modified or used without modifications. No restrictions apply to them.

– “Linux Mint Edition”: The derived project can under no circumstances describe itself as a “Linux Mint Edition”.

For websites:

– Linux Mint Logo and favicon: The Linux Mint logo cannot be used to identify the website. However it can be a modification of the Linux Mint logo or the Linux Mint logo itself as long as something is put on top of it to clearly distinguish it from the official one.

– Linux Mint catchphrase (“from freedom came elegance”): The catchphrase cannot be used to identify the website. It can however be translated or modified.

– “Linux Mint” name: The portal’s name can contain “Linux Mint” as part of its own name but it cannot confuse visitors and make them think it’s maintained by the distribution. For instance “Linux Mint Shop” is not an acceptable name as it implies the shop is maintained by Linux Mint. If it does it needs to state both in English and in the website’s language, on the website’s main page, that it’s an independent website, that it’s distinct from linuxmint.com and that it’s not maintained by the distribution itself.

– Domain name: The domain name can contain “linuxmint” but if it does it needs to state both in English and in the website’s language, on the website’s main page, that it’s an independent website, that it’s distinct from linuxmint.com and that it’s not maintained by the distribution itself.

It’s not an interesting topic or one I like to think about but that point had to be addressed. I’ll soon formalize all this and in the meantime I’d love to get your feedback on this.

29 comments

  1. Clem,

    We have to sometimes do the unhappy tasks along with the good. I hate the times in my job when I have to turn to lawyers to sort things out. However, here are my comments and suggestions:

    1) You are right in needing to protect the brand. You have worked hard for it, people trust and depend on you. Therefore defend your name and work.

    2) I think it would be wise to get some professional advice (a lawyer) to ensure what you are proposing can be made enforceable. How can you make what you are saying stick? Find out how you or an organisation can “own” the brand.

    3) Alternatively, you may be on good terms with other distro developers who may have already been down this road. They may be willing to share their knowledge and expertise. If nothing else they can point you in the right direction.

    3) Thoughts on wording (a good copyright/patents lawyer should be able to help here):

    “it cannot confuse visitors and make them think it’s maintained by the distribution.” Perhaps reword something like: “it cannot confuse visitors and mislead them into thinking it is maintained by the distribution.”

    “If it does it needs to state both in English and in the website’s language, on the website’s main page, that it’s an independent website, that it’s distinct from linuxmint.com and that it’s not maintained by the distribution itself.” I would harden this a bit by requiring them not to hide the information in fine print.

    Therefore something like this: “If it does it needs to state clearly, obviously and conspicuously in both English and ……..”

    Best of luck with this. It is important for you to take the time to make sure you get this right: for yourself and for the community that puts their trust in your reputation.

    Regards
    John

  2. Please do what is needed to protect Linux Mint. It truely is an elegant distrubution, one that provides an a wounderful operating system complete with applications and very easy installation. Execellent work.

    Doug Schlauch
    Baltimore
    Age 66

  3. Clem,

    Thank You for taking these steps to protect Mint. Your actions will make it possible for more people to enjoy Mint for years to come. I am excited to see progression as it means even better things to come.

    Thanks for setting me free from Windoz

    Regards,

    Ben

  4. Clem.

    The first thing you should do is get the mint logo registered as your trademark ™. That way you can request people not to use it.
    Then you should register ‘Registered trademark’ (r) and ™ the use of “from freedom came elegance”.

    You should also try to move linux mint into a freehold or private limited company. You may even get away with being a non-profit organisation, French laws permitting.

    Registration trademark and of the two shouldn’t cost much at all. Most legal departments will give you information on where to go to get the required forms and the requirements over the phone.

    Good luck, hope you get it sorted.

  5. With the growth of Linux Mint, the branding issue is completely understandable and unavoidable. You’re right. Solidifying at least some aspects of branding will protect users from any confusion. You are being completely reasonable in allowing others to build upon your work, while ensuring its identity and individuality for your user base–current and future. Don’t worry Clem. You’ve got a good heart, and you’re doing the right thing.
    -Elena

  6. Clem its good for us all to take a look at our past performances so we can gauge how we can do better in the future. In your case I feel you have done everything as close to perfect as humanly possible. You, Boo, Husse, and many others have all done your best on developing, supporting, etc, this fine distro. Mint is an awesome OS project that we all appreciate so much and it would never have come into being without you. For that I and on behalf of all true Mint users thank you from our hearts with true gratitude!

    I too feel Mint should be guarded and preserved to keep it in the right direction of its original implementation. Copying someone or some thing (Mint) is a sincere form of flattery but exact copying is not. Users should exercise some originality when branching off from any distro.

    I cant think of no one better than you to lead us and make these tough decisions! We will all support you so keep your confidence up high and know that we are backing you.

    Thanx again for a great distro!!!

    slider

  7. Funny you should post this as I was just thinking about a related issue.

    I have a question. If my company wants to rebrand Linux Mint, not for distribution just for internal corporate branding, how would we go about this? I’m happy installing an unaltered version of Mint but would like to have a deb we can install that replaces all the artwork. Is this possible?
    Kris.

  8. Kris: Yes. A deb could do pretty much everything since it can run commands as root and come packaged with its own additional files.

  9. Hi Clem!

    I read your post twice but I am not sure how we have to modify our website http://www.linuxmintusers.de to get your bless.
    It’s a bit confusing for me. We have a quite effective portal and all we want is to help the german speaking community with their problems with Linux Mint. Because of this reason we use the LM Logo. Why could this be a problem? Is it a problem that we spend all of our spare time to support Mint, to spread the word, to administrate the forum and to inform our users about all the news in their native language (yes we translate most of the news related to Mint)?
    My english is not very well and maybe I missunderstood your post. I really hope so…

  10. Kris: We’re talking about an installed system here though. If you wanted to rebrand the liveCD itself the deb wouldn’t suffice as you’d also have to rebrand the splash screens used by the CD, the isolinux menu and so on…

  11. Hello Clem,

    I fully agree with “everything” you have said. As pioneer/author/owner of Linux Mint, you have every right to draw your parameters, while it continues to be “free”. These are your “rules” and so be it. The next step would be, as mentioned in some comments; how to implement these rules. I am sure you have the experience and enough sources around you to gather information on how to do this. Whatever is done, let me say, Linux Mint has not disappointed me in the past 3 years that I have used it. I can also say, that at the rate thoughts/ideas have been progressing, only good has come out of them. I am therefore, behind your, Linux Mint; ideas, processes, (between the lines) intentions and projections. Thank you for all you have done for “free”!

    willysc1
    age: 67

  12. Mindhunter2202: Don’t get me wrong, I want to see websites like the one you made succeed and I want to see more of them. What you’re doing contributes to make our community bigger, more active and more dynamic. So I’m not in any way trying to lessen that positive effect. Let’s make this clear. We don’t intend to and we cannot provide the service community websites provide and I’m glad people like are doing that. For instance linuxmintusers.de contributes to give a presence to our distribution in Germany and might be the deciding factor for new German users to come and use our distribution. We need a thriving community and we need thriving communities around it. Don’t misinterpret my post. I’m tackling a branding issue which can have negative effects in the long term, I’m not in anyway trying to impeach initiatives like yours which are beneficial to Mint. I’ll be in contact with you so we can discuss the changes and I’ll help you implement them. There aren’t that many and it’ll mostly be around designing a logo of your own which can be based on Mint’s and adding a note on the main page to explain to users our respective roles. Don’t panic, we’ll do this together and we’ll end up with the same positive relationship but with a better definition of what we both provide.

    Clausius (Pietro): My Italian isn’t that good. I understood everything you said but I can’t reply in the same language 🙂 You did understand what I wrote but it’s not a bad thing. I think you got passionate and it’s understandable and you misinterpreted my intentions. Among all websites related to Mint linuxmint-italia.org is actually one I use as an example of how I would like to see things done. For instance, I really appreciate the fact that you’ve taken the Mint logo and applied Italian colors to it… it’s perfect and it’s exactly what I’d like to encourage in other websites. The choice of the .org is a nice touch also as it gives the portal a community aspect. We’ll talk about it together and see what to change, or even if there is anything to change in this case. From the top of my head I don’t actually see anything wrong with the way you’ve done it. Don’t misinterpret me, this is only for the best and we’ll go through this with no negative impacts for any of us. You have my word, and as I said to Mindhunter2202 it is part of my strategy to see Mint accepted and adopted in as many countries as possible. This is only possible if communities arise in these countries and websites like yours are our best hope of achieving that. I want to see you succeed because it’s good for the distribution and for its community.. I don’t have much more to say really. Don’t be worried. The problem needs to be addressed. Community websites need to grow and by putting a clear definition on how we want to interact with them we’ll actually help them in the long run.

  13. Pietro: I followed the thread on your forums and I can see you’re worried. There’s no reason to be so I’d be glad to explain and give clarifications if anybody wants to discuss this. I’ll be connected to the IRC for another hour. Don’t hesitate to give me a shout over there or anytime you see me online.

  14. Hello Clem,
    Fully understanding the importance and implications of branding I would like to say this. As an average Mint user I feel more comfortable knowing the branding issues including trademarks plus rights are properly maintained and in good hands. Trusting that is allright, as an average user I can just relax and enjoy Mint.

  15. First let me start out by saying that I think Linux Mint is a fabulous distribution. I’ve only been a Linux user for about 8 months and I can see myself using this particular distribution for a while to come. I started off with Ubuntu and while I thought it was for the most part a great Windows-alternative, I felt it had one or two small deficiencies. Linux Mint, in my opinion, plugs those gaps very well indeed. I’ve briefly played around with a few other distros’ LiveCDs but usually decide that I’d rather stick with Mint.

    Now to the issue at hand. With Mint being so close to being a viable Windows alternative which still retains the power and flexibility that seasoned Linux users enjoy, I think Clem is taking a very sensible stance in wanting to ensure that all the hard work is not undone by a misguided libellous forum post or a lazily made respin distribution which still contains a heavy Linux Mint branding presence. A large part of the public perception of who’s responsible is in the branding. In a mild case, the reputation of Linux Mint could be damaged and a potential user dissuaded from making the daunting first leap from Windows into Linux. In an extreme case of libel or data corruption, there may be potentially damaging negative press coverage or a lawsuit against Clem and the Linux Mint developers personally. All this about a piece of negligence that neither Clem nor the official development team had absolutely no responsibility for, but may have been perceived to have had.

    At the same time I recognise that such a cautionary stance is very likely to be controversial, especially among such an alternative community such as Linux users. (At the present time, to use Linux is to make a positive statement against Microsoft and/or Windows. I long for the day when using Linux is considered mainstream. That day is not yet upon us.) As such, these protectionary measures are interpreted as “restrictions of freedom” and the tendency is to make a knee-jerk reaction and make extremely vicious and defiant threats, such as the German forum’s threat to close down with immediate effect.

    However, to react this way is to completely mis-interpret the intentions behind the branding initiative. I might be wrong (as I don’t personally know the guy) but Clem doesn’t strike me as the sort of chap whose intentions are to hoard all the benefits of Linux Mint for himself and to make money out of a bunch of suckers. Nor are they to impose punitive restrictions on what people are allowed to say. The intention behind these rules is clearly benign – it is simply so that there is no way that Clem can be held responsible for a libellous comment or negligent script over which he had no control.

    It is a shame that forum owners have taken such a negative, defensive position. Especially considering that Clem’s opening statement took great pains to extol the benefits of community websites such as the German and Italian forum websites. They play vital roles, and as such, should see this as an opportunity to brand themselves as fulfilling those specific roles. They should be proud of their independence! It is arguably in these sites’ best interests to establish their own individual spin on the Linux Mint branding, so as to establish exactly what their role is within the Linux Mint community. As Clem has already said, it seems that the Italian site has already done so to a large extent. The only proposed rule that it breaks (as far as I can see) is the one regarding a message in English and Italian stating that it is “an independent website, that it’s distinct from linuxmint.com and that it’s not maintained by the distribution itself”. Clem is not asking for much here.

    I have to admit, though, that the mis-interpretation is understandable, especially considering the nature of the first and fourth response to this article. By calling for lawyers to get involved to ensure that the “laws are enforceable” it is hardly surprising that some people have reacted with indignation. If the official Linux Mint team and the owners of independent community sites can come together to fully understand each others intentions, then a simple “gentleman’s agreement” should suffice. Lawyers need not get involved. Jumping to legal advice is just as unnecessary as threatening to close down your website. Let’s get a sense of proportion here.

    Linux Mint is a terrific distribution and deserves to make a very good name for itself. It needs its community, and especially the support of its non-English speaking community, for it to gain the worldwide success that it deserves. However, I think we can all agree that it is not possible for Clem to accept personal responsibility for every single forum post written by every user in every language. Such a branding initiative is not an attack on community forums, as some have perceived it to be. Nor is it a protracted legal process, as others have suggested. It is but a simple measure taken to guard against the possibility of a silly action taken by a single user (of which there are a growing number) undermining the entire Linux Mint distribution.

  16. Hello Clem,
    Thanks for all the work you do! Thank you for ELYSSA Mint, an exceptional distribution: elegant and powerful.

    I interpreted incorrectly your Post. I’m sorry. I hope that with the suggestions that have given Octy, we at linuxmint-italia.org can be in order with your own provisions.

    We have in mind only to contribute to the spread of Mint. We have other purposes (economic or political). We believe contribute to the growth of Mint despite our poor knowledge of information technology (I am a naturalist :)) and we hope that with our Portal (Forum, chat, gallery) we can reach our goal.

    Sincerely and good work.

    Clausius
    (Peter Martin
    Admin Linuxmint-italia.org)

  17. I agree that trademark protection is valuable and reasonable to preserve your product’s identity and reputation. One concern I have is that, since you are not charging for your very fine product, you might have trouble proving economic damages. I don’t know if the courts recognize any other kind.
    You may be reduced to using some form of community pressure to get people to stop confusing the public. In fact, if a trademark is only as good as the amount of money you can afford to protect it, community pressure may be the way to go.

    I installed Mint 5 soon after it came out on a dual boot drive. I am moving slowly into Linux, and really appreciate your fine and easy to use work. Beautifully done, and thank you.

  18. A few comments to follow on on this topic:

    – I talked to Octy from the Italian community. The Italian portal didn’t concern me at all in the first place and, just for the sake to be fair and ask it the same I’ll ask others, I asked for the top logo to be “italianized” and the info page to add a sentence in Italian saying the portal is independent from and not maintained by the Linux Mint distribution.

    – These sites benefit from our distribution and our distribution benefits from them. We help each others by our mere presence and the respective services we provide, so obviously we need to be in good terms. We keep a list of community sites on linuxmint.com and we subscribe to their RSS feeds on the planet. I know we own some copyrights but it doesn’t come to that, or to lawyers or to courts… it comes to common sense and to social relationships. If we can’t agree with the people with whom we have common interests then we simply don’t interact with them anymore. It’s as simple as that.

    – Pietro. Many thanks and I’m sorry you worried over this. It’s my mistake as well as I could have contacted you and other maintainers before posting this publicly.

    – I’ll formalize all this and publish it on the website. I also intend to make it easy for people to access the logo and derive it or to download banners and other branding items.

    – I’ll contact all the maintainers eventually. There’s no urgency about this but if you maintain one of these websites and you’re worried about which changes to make, don’t hesitate to contact me.

  19. Dear Clem,

    Linux Mint is the finest Linux distro ever created.

    Open Source means that others can make use of Linux Mint resources, just as Linux Mint makes use of Ubuntu.

    It does not mean that they have a right to misleadingly label something that is not Linux Mint as Linux Mint.

    That is not “freedom” in either sense of the word. That is deceit. That is fraud.

    So do not feel guilty about taking tough measures to defend Linux Mint.

    You have our support!

    Bevin

  20. Clem.

    Let’s look back about a year and a half -Version 2.0 (?) I still have it somewhere.
    I installed this version of Linux Mint and low and behold – when booting the OS what should appear – the Ubuntu splashscreen/logo. I’m sure other Ubuntu logos etc. appeared throughout that version and maybe beyond.
    What you are now saying is don’t do as I do…….
    You and your team do good work, I won’t try and take that away from you. But how disappointing it is to read your above comments.

  21. Gary: True, and when I was 5 I didn’t know much about computers. The further you’ll go back in time, the lesser I’ll know basically. Now we can discuss what we know now or we can use ignorance as an excuse. We learn every day and we improve not only our technology but the way we work. The more we work on Mint the more aware we become of the challenges we’re facing and the challenges we’ll be facing in the future. When 2.0 was released I wasn’t fully aware of the branding issue with Ubuntu. When 2.1 was released, I was. When 4.0 was released I started to be aware of the branding issues with Mint itself. Now, I’m fully aware of them and I’m telling right here and right now what I’ve come to decide related to that. It’s up to you whether you want to take it on-board or not. Back in the days I can’t even tell you if Ubuntu already had that branding strategy in place (because they did what we’re doing now), if I just wasn’t aware of it or not. What I can tell you though, is that even a year ago, if I was given the opportunity to read about that I would have acted on it and I wouldn’t have released Barbara until it was properly branded.

  22. There are still a few cases of Ubuntu branding in Mint (don’t remember what right now)
    If you see that please post in the General questions section. Hopefully I or someone else in the team sees it and passes it on so it can be removed
    It’s only there “by accident”

  23. Clem,

    for I know the freedom went always after fights. Your distro is the best I’ve tried. I currently run four based on Debian and your’s very nice. I hope everybody concerned with that branding deal will agree to change what is necessary for the freedom.

    Bon courage de la part d’un français heureux d’utiliser la Menthe Linux

  24. This is just a quick note of thanks from a user who happens to be a trademark lawyer 🙂

    As a few posters and Clem have basically implied the idea behind a trademark is to prevent users from being confused about the source of a product or service. If someone else creates a buggy distro and calls it “Mint” people won’t know what to download, who to donate to etc and will wrongly blame the real Mint programmers. No one is saying that someone can’t take Mint’s code and add on their own code – they just have to give it their own name and comply with the open source licensing terms etc.

    For your info, you do not need to be charging money in order to have a valid trademark. For example,lots of charities have registered their trademarks and successfully enforced their rights. And yes one of the remedies you can obtain is “equitable” i.e. you can obtain an injunction to force someone to stop using your mark, take the infringing pages down from their website etc, even if your money damages would be little or nothing. Of course the sad reality is that you would end up spending scarce funds which you probably wouldn’t be able to recover. (I’m guessing from the OSes spelling that it’s based in the States.)

    As a practical matter you may be better off relying on “common law” trademark rights or registering your trademark but relying on community/peer pressure and education to prevent other programmers from tarnishing your mark.

    Anyway, thank you for an excellent distro for those of us who don’t have time to manually install drivers and edit config files. I love this OS!

  25. don’t be afraid of that branding issue with other distributions. most people don’t get caught because this is a well informed community.
    keep the good work, keep mint simple and never forget to put beauty in mint! that “elegance” in my black/green wallpaper, i mean 🙂
    see ya

  26. I apologize for not seeing this post sooner, I will work on a new logo for the linuxmint-art.org asap, and get that over to Frank so he can make the changes, I will also ask him to add the line that you request. I’ll send you a pm on the forums regarding this as well.

  27. MCLovin: I answered to you in private. Linuxmint-art.org is something we feature as one of our own websites and it was born out of our own initiative, even if it’s not actually maintained by us. I don’t have an issue with it branding itself as an official Mint site since this is more or less what we asked for.

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