No EULA for Mozilla Firefox

By chromatic
September 17, 2008

As James reported earlier this week, Mozilla considered requiring Ubuntu to display a EULA when first launching Mozilla Firefox. Fortunately, it appears that Mozilla has decided not to display a EULA or EULA-like notification.

There appear to be two concerns behind these decisions. First is Mozilla's widely-discussed trademark policy. Mozilla project names and artwork are under Mozilla's trademark. The licensing policy for these trademarks are liberal (compared to many companies), but Mozilla's enforcement of these trademark policies conflict with the distribution and patching policies of many distributors.

In particular, Mozilla wants to avoid the situation where a poorly packaged Firefox derivative, for example, reflects badly upon Mozilla's code and the Firefox project. A malicious distributor could add bugs or malware and users would likely blame Mozilla.

That's an outside possibility; someone malicious enough to do such a thing likely won't care about trademark law. Yet there are other possibilities -- a so-called "enterprise quality" distribution may include an ancient version of Firefox beyond when Mozilla would like anyone to use the code, perhaps backporting security fixes badly. Perhaps it won't backport security fixes. Perhaps distribution-specific branding may conflict with the best choices of the upstream developers.

These concerns are not specific to Mozilla. Any upstream project which discovers that a distributor has created patches for bugs never reported upstream may have a similar reaction. Yet few other projects have trademarks and seek to enforce them in this fashion. Using the legal system to "encourage" other free software developers, distributors, packagers, and advocates to work well with upstream projects may strike many people as an overtly aggressive action of last resort, not first.

Mozilla's other concern seems to be that it's important to notify users about Mozilla's status as free software, as well as the implications of free software.

While that's a very noble goal, and one which Firefox is especially capable of having positive effects, I wonder if the mechanism of displaying a EULA or EULA-like dialog may work against that goal. Imagine if all free software expressed its freeness by way of splash screens or badges. Certainly all projects have the right to do so, but the practical effect may be counterproductive.

Have you known anyone to read the text of a EULA? For most software installed on the user's machine? For any software?

Again, Mozilla's approach seems to have been to choose one of the least effective mechanisms for achieving its results. I don't mean to single out Mozilla for pushing these issues, though the organization has made some missteps. The relationships between upstreams and distributors are often contentious, and the greater free software community should produce policies and community standards to encourage collaboration and information flow. Similarly, the community of free software advocates needs to continue to refine and promote its message of freedom in effective and understandable ways.

Fortunately Mozilla has listened to feedback and is revisiting its decisions.

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