Ubuntu Fonts License is not a free software license

Bug #1167425 reported by Ejectmail on 2013-04-10
This bug affects 6 people
Affects Status Importance Assigned to Milestone
Ubuntu Font Licence

Bug Description

This started as replies to the DFSG bug, but I thought it might be a better idea to keep the two issues separate and file a separate bug.

The Ubuntu Fonts License is not a free software license (as in freedom). Although the Free Software Foundation hasn't said a word on it, I've conducted an analysis into it, and I don't like what I've found.

The four essential freedoms appear to be mostly satisfied. After all, it does " allow the licensed fonts to be used, studied, modified and redistributed freely". There is, however, an unintended consequence of the definition of "propagate". I wonder why it specifically includes "except executing it on a computer or modifying a private copy". The license only grants permission to Propagate the Font Software, so essentially it explicitly does not grant permission to use the fonts or modify a private copy. At least the preamble gives implicit permission to do those things.

The problem is that it doesn't necessarily allow modifications to be redistributed freely.

Suppose Mozilla Firefox were under this license. Forks like Iceweasel would have to be named "Firefox derivative Debian" or something similar. But the Mozilla trademark policy doesn't allow this, because the trademark and Firefox have both been modified. In this case, Canonical's trademark guidelines prohibit use of the Ubuntu name in commercial distributions. You must have the freedom to charge any price you want for free software, but you can't charge money for this font if it has been trivially modified.

To put it more simply, the license grants no rights under trademark law, and yet it requires you to use the trademark if you make trivial changes. In virtually all other licenses, if the trademark policy doesn't work for you, you can just get rid of the trademark, but this license doesn't allow that.

For the freedoms of free software to be real, they must be permanent unless you do something wrong. If the copyright holder can revoke the license or take away one of your freedoms, then the license is non-free. In this case, one of your important freedoms (distributing trivial modifications at all) can be taken away at will with a trademark, and therefore the license is non-free.

Here's how I would amend the license:

- It would be good to explicitly state that individuals do not have to rename modified private copies. The OFL doesn't do this, and I'm scared to modify any of the OFL fonts I have because it's a hassle to rename them.

- About section 2a: Why would you want to distribute a font with no changes other than the name? You would only lose the fame that the original version's name brings. You are prohibiting something that nobody would want to do, so there's no reason to retain that clause.

- Now to solve the problem of the naming restrictions. I took a while to think this over, because I know those restrictions were requested by the designers. Even if you remove "This license does not grant any rights under trademark law", the license is still non-free, because a trademark could still take away those freedoms at any time. I might suggest both removing that clause and granting the licensee an unlimited license (both within the conditions of the license and under trademark law) to use the font name in the "Y derivative X" name. For example, this sentence could be appended to clause 2c(ii):

"Notwithstanding any other provision of this license, in the event that a modified version is not Substantially Changed, permission is hereby granted to use the name of the Original Version solely in the context of meeting the requirements of this section."

Or something else that makes it clear that they may use the Original Version's name for any purpose in this context. That's what it would take to make this license free.

There are only two reasons I don't use Ubuntu. One is the inclusion of proprietary firmware blobs in the kernel. The other is this non-free font.

Dave Crossland (davelab6) wrote :

Where is the Debian bug for this?

Ejectmail (ejectmail) wrote :

This license forces users who make trivial changes to use something they may not allowed to use, and that's simply ridiculous.

Ejectmail (ejectmail) wrote :

Can I PLEASE have some additional input on this? This is a very important problem with the license (you could take any of your users' freedoms away in an instant with a trademark or change in trademark policy.

Paul Sladen (sladen) wrote :

Hello Ejectmail, I thought I'd written a long-reply to this just before going away, but I now see that is bug #769874 (comment #22).

Ejectmail (ejectmail) wrote :

I'm asking for another reply to the further comments I made. I repeat that this license is *not* a libre license.

Ejectmail (ejectmail) wrote :

At the very least, I would appreciate knowing when this "interim license" will be changed to ensure user freedoms don't balance precariously on the edge of a trademark policy.

Heimen Stoffels (vistaus) wrote :

I can confirm this.

Changed in ubuntu-font-licence:
status: New → Confirmed
Ejectmail (ejectmail) wrote :

Canonical, you are including proprietary software in Ubuntu's kernel and expressly promoting it in some of your distribution channels. With this, you are telling your users that you care more about convenience than their freedom. How can you even claim to be "open source" in this way? Now, when someone tells you you are subjecting your users to a license that could take their freedom away at any moment, you do NOTHING for months on end. The Ubuntu typeface is a beautiful font, but freedom comes before beauty.

Ejectmail (ejectmail) wrote :

This bug has been in "Confirmed" status for more than a year. I request some action on it.

Paul Sladen (sladen) wrote :

Ejectmail: what would you like doing in the short-term? Perhaps you can outline the precise use-case that is causing a problem at this point in time.

Ejectmail (ejectmail) wrote :

Any use at all. I refuse to use any software that is not under a free software license.

I even emailed the FSF to obtain confirmation, but have not received a reply.

I ask that you make the most important change to the license that I described on the first comment, that that makes sure this license is free by not forcing you to use trademarked material if you make trivial changes, and possibly other changes.

Mohammed Sadiq (sadiq) wrote :

Pinging since no activity for more than an year.

While font.ubuntu.com/about says this: you are expressly encouraged to experiment, modify, share and improve,
why does ubuntu (canonical) don't license the font that are really safe for users (like GNU GPL + font exception).

Is there any motive for ubuntu (canonical) behind this action? I don't consider this to be truly free unless its present in the main repository of Debian GNU/Linux.

Dave Crossland (davelab6) wrote :

> While font.ubuntu.com/about says this: you are expressly encouraged to experiment, modify, share and improve, why does ubuntu (canonical) don't license the font that are really safe for users (like GNU GPL + font exception).

I don't think that GPL+FE is a safer license; it is treated as a new license by many legal teams, and would contribute to the license proliferation problem.

The OFL is recognised as a free license by the FSF and is widely accepted by many legal teams.

Dave Crossland (davelab6) wrote :

Is there a specific reason you recommend GPL+FE?

Mohammed Sadiq (sadiq) wrote :

Its popular, strongly copyleft, and ensures user's freedom to the best level.

being strongly copyleft, the modifications are always available to the community. I don't think there is any other strongly copyleft license as good as GNU GPL.

Dave Crossland (davelab6) wrote :

Okay, sure. Are you familiar with the SIL Open Font License and why it was written?

Mohammed Sadiq (sadiq) wrote :

> The OFL is recognised as a free license by the FSF and is widely accepted by many legal teams.

Are ubuntu fonts licensed under the terms of OFL? http://font.ubuntu.com/licence/ says that "it's loosely based on OFL." So, even if OFL is considered free by FSF, how can one say the derivative of OFL license to be free just because OFL is?

Mohammed Sadiq (sadiq) wrote :

> Okay, sure. Are you familiar with the SIL Open Font License and why it was written?

Sorry, no. I have not looked much into Font licenses. My interest are mostly within GNU Family of Licenses. I love ubuntu fonts, except that its not in Debian GNU/Linux. I replaced my ubuntu mono fonts with inconsolata. Trying to further remove (and recommend against) ubuntu fonts (unless there is some good change).

Dave Crossland (davelab6) wrote :

No, the Ubuntu fonts are under the UFL (Ubuntu Font License.) I have to leave my computer now, but I encourage you to read the OFL FAQ and understand why it was made, and why the UFL was made in turn :)

Could these fonts be relicensed under the DFSG-friendly OFL, instead of the non-free UFL, and be done with it.

In the meantime, I guess I have no choice but recommend upstreams to not use this font family. Like for spyder-terminal: https://github.com/spyder-ide/spyder-terminal/issues/120

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