UPDATE: Much has been made about Google‘s Android mobile operating system stack as an open-source platform with an asterisk.
Sure, it’s been open-sourced for programmers to use, but the devices that run it, starting with the lone T-Mobile G1 smart phone, have their own restrictions.
It seems Android isn’t the only open-source product from Google that comes with some limits to the search engine’s largesse. Chrome may very well be an open-source Web browser based on WebKit, but Google is letting some folks know early on not to get in Chrome’s — er, excuse me — grill.
The case I’m referring to is that of ChromePlugins.org, an unofficial site for fostering the development of Chrome plug-ins, addons, extensions and other features to improve the browser, which launched Sept. 2 with a bang.
On Sept. 24, site proprietor Troy Carly blogged that he had received an e-mail from Google Senior Trademark Counsel Terri Chen telling him he couldn’t use the snapshot of the Google Chrome comic, the Google Chrome icon and the Google Chrome logo. Here is what the Carly did that got Google barking at him.
Carly’s issue? Chrome is licensed under Creative Commons, so he and bunches of other open-source folkies are barking back that his use of the Chrome stuff constitutes, well, fair use. Carly wrote:
“Seems pretty absurd to me having an Open Source project, and thousands of people wanting to promote and development for the platform to make it more functional and in turn gain a higher market share then tell them you cannot display any of the graphical elements on your site. It’s a bit like having a Jennifer Lopez fan site, and not being able to show pictures of Jenifer Lopez.“
Carly added for me via e-mail Oct. 7: “It’s pretty upsetting receiving a DMCA from Google when I have invested a lot of my time and money in to the site, especially when ChromePlugins.org is clearly non-commercial and I in no way want to profit from the site or Google’s mark.”
Taking what Carly said into consideration, he has a valid point. It seems evil to open-source something and place these types of restrictions around it, but the Creative Commons license does in fact afford Google and others certain protections.
If you look at the comments section that follows Carly’s post, some folks find fault with the his use, noting that he modified the Chrome comic snapshot, violating the CC license.
Google responded to my query asking for clarity with some good points. A Google spokesperson told me the comic book is licensed under a Creative Commons “no derivative works, no commercial use” license, which would permit using parts of the comic book without changes.
Clearly, the author made changes, but, as Carly rightly noted, so have plenty of other folks. Is Google haunting these other sites to get them to make changes, or merely scaring the little guy? I wonder … I’ve asked the Google spokesperson and will update if I can.
However, Google also told me:
“Chromeplugins was using language and our mark in a confusing way, which suggested that the site belonged to Google, and we asked the owner to make certain changes to clarify that this was not a Google site.“
Fair enough. If you look at the snapshot and the original iteration of the Chromeplugins site, Carly’s use of the icon and logo could be confusing. That’s a no-no.
Yet the allowed use of the Chrome and Chromium logos is even muddier. It seems Google itself isn’t sure what it wants to allow and prevent.
The spokesperson told me: “Google is currently formulating guidelines for using the Google Chrome and Chromium logos to clarify when and how users, developers and enthusiasts can use the logos. We expect the guidelines to be made public within the next couple of weeks.”
I would be very careful if I were Google not to be too stringent with the trademark. If people are trying to pass themselves off as Google property that’s one thing, but let’s not send letters to every person using a Chrome logo.
And if it’s true that Google isn’t sending cease and desist letters to bigger sites out of favoritism, that is a big PR risk.
It will be interesting to see how Google, which has a decade-long track record of fine standing with the open-source community, handles the issue.