Trademark in the Pi-hole community

TL;DR There is a discussion going on (not so much anymore) in the issue tracker of a Python module I wrote about the usage of Pi-hole and pihole. The package name and the repository name were according to Pi-hole LLC, which is represented by Jacob Salmela, misleading and confusing including violations of the trademark. To make the community aware of what’s happening in the Pi-hole ecosystem I’m publishing it here too. The reason is that it affects the whole community and we, the community that is supporting Pi-hole in many different ways, need some clarification about the issues at hand and keep an eye on that everybody is treated the same.

To make it short: Pi-hole LLC is starting to enforce their trademark against community members, users and contributors.

It started with this issue but was also recently mentioned in the survey.

These pages contain the details about the Trademark and the usage:

Both pages don’t contain a release date or a version. So it’s hard tell when they went live or were changed. There is no announcement or something that can easily be found and it looks like that Pi-hole LLC is/was trying to establish the content in silence. In a recent blog post from January 2018 with the title “Pi-hole Is Open Source: Consume, Contribute, Or Both?” was the topic not mentioned. There are contributions in the past month which were not aware of it. The trademark was granted in 2017 and described for “Software as a service (SAAS) services featuring software for the purpose of providing ad-blocking during internet usage”. My guess is that those guys simply know the law and say that their tools is not “for the purpose of providing ad-blocking during internet usage” but to work with that SaaS or software in question.

The Trademark guidelines contains, of course, “make fair use” like most of the holder of a trademark in the Open Source world do and will match most contributions. Pi-hole LLC takes this from others for granted for their own purposes. But it seems that is doesn’t go both ways any longer.

The usage of the workdmark now became a major concern which needs to be addressed by Pi-hole LLC better soon than later. The trademark holder can do what every he wants. The community will most likely always be at the short end of the stick. Especially as the “Developing apps for pi hole” page is moddy at best and leaves plenty of room for interpretation.

This leads to the following points which are of interessest of developer and contributors:

How should thrid party apps use the wordmark in code comments?
How should third party apps use the wordmark in docstrings, Javadoc, etc?
How should third party apps use the wordmark in their documentation or description?
Is using for in front of the wordmark mandatory everywhere including module, package or other names? Also, in free text?
How should third party apps use the wordmark as a possible variation for the module name, the package name or any other name? Is Pi-hole LLC publishing a list with all those variations?
Will Pi-hole LLC going to sort out possible violations with their guidelines against other standards?

Currently it would result in something/for-pi-hole to pull a Docker container, go-for-pihole or importing the Python module with import something_for_pi_hole. I will not elaborate on this again because I did it already in a response in the my issue tracker.

You may ask yourself now: Why does this concern me? It should concern you because a part of your donation is not going in the development of Pi-hole but in chasing trademark violation in the community (of course, will Pi-hole LLC deny this and say their only concern are companies which want to make profit). To be clear, I’m talking about the community that you support, that you are donating to to keep it running, that you are part of, that you develop tools and bindings for, that you consume from (e.g., the providers of the black lists) or/and that you help to grow, perhaps for years. And, you or someone you know could be next on the “target list”.

Think about this scenario: Over the years you make a dozen of Pi-hole installations including provided endless hours of support for your friends, family members and colleagues. Your nephew or your niece is a smart kid and create the Open Source app “Pi-hole Button” to enable or disable Pi-hole. There was no such tool available from Pi-hole LLC to make the life of her/his dad easier because as a journalist, unfiltered access to the internet is required to perform inquiries and using a smartphone is much more comfortable than log in the web interface. You spread the word and everybody you know and 10’000 other are using the app nowadays. So far so good.

Now, there is the trademark. The app needs to be renamed to “Button for Pi-hole”. Can be done, no big deal. Well, actually it is. Your nephew or your niece needs to change, test and release the documentation, the descriptions, the summaries, class names, method names, comments, perhaps going again through a review process and more. The reputation could be lost and a migration path needs to be established. At some point people will start calling you because the app didn’t work anymore and they can’t update it automatically because the name was changed. You have to provide unnecessary support and couldn’t spent your spare time playing with your kids.

Fabian, please stop to tell us fictional stories. To be clear, there is already a first victim: “Pi-hole Droid” which is hosted at https://github.com/friimaind/pi-hole-droid and listed https://github.com/pi-hole/pi-hole#pi-hole-projects which gives clearly the impression that it was and still is endorsed by Pi-hole.

This app is no longer available at the Google Play store due to complains. I will not go into details because I don’t know the facts. Here is the thread if you are interested and how it’s handled by Pi-hole LLC.

Just a side note about the reputation. The first hit on Google for a Pi-hole Docker container which is done by a community member shows a Pull count of 7’443’370 (please make the assumptions about the actual amount of users and the donations they make on your own). Would you want to give that up? I guess no, same as Pi-hole doesn’t want to give something like this up. Again, you spend hours to create it and maintain it for the greater good and the reputation is the only thing you have and get back. All your users would need to update their workflow, would need to change their scripts and it would render every blogpost or resource on the internet useless as the command to set up the container will no longer work.

In the almost 20 years I’m working on Open Source I saw all sort of responses to contributions. From a simple “thank you”, “good job, you will get a sticker”, “Dinner is on us”, even “Hahaha, you are funny btw, but please use your actual brand name because our users are able to get the details” to “[The words you use when your kids are sleeping to says that you dislike the other person]”. This time was the first it started with “There are several infringements on our trademarks with this repo and installation methods.” Well, first thought: WTF is an “infringements on installation methods”? No, it was not the PSF writing. The installation method is perfectly fine, matches, as the module name, the standard and the description says what is about. Hmm, what about the “several”. Must be bad. Let’s go through the list. Oh, I need to collect and to evaluate it by myself…

I was very cooperative and addressed then as far as they makes sense because copyrights and all those things, incl. trademarks, are imported for Open Source. Offered to move the repo to the Pi-hole organization on GitHub, give them control over it and change the license to make the usage for you, the community and everybody else as smooth as possible. The current status is that I’m stuck. Thus, I need the support of all other community members to get the ball rolling again and get the clarification which is needed to ensure the future of the Pi-hole community.

Another side note for those who lost track of history. It’s not the first time I see this and you probaly too if you are around for a while. Guess what? Usually it didn’t end well. It’s the community that make a project what it is. Small helper tools, a little script here, a little commit there or the response to a question.

Doing weird things with package names and module can become a pain in the back for years for ten of tousend of people…how is one installing Apache on CentOS? No, sorry, it’s not yum install apache but yum install httpd. Very intuitiv and you don’t need conditions for different distributions if you want to deploy it.

Thanks for reading.

 

The same content was also posted in the Pi-hole forum.

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