Red Hat effort to shut down deemed harassment

IBM's Linux distro giant unable to wrestle domain name from owner

IBM's Red Hat cannot prevent Daniel Pocock and his Software Freedom Institute SA from using the domain name, according to a ruling on Monday.

Red Hat, which sponsors the development of the Fedora Linux distribution, challenged the inclusion of the trademarked term "Fedora" in the website URL, and demanded it be given the .org domain name. But under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) established by DNS oversight body ICANN, a FORUM mediator found Red Hat's objections wanting, and refused to order a transfer of the domain.

"There are no advertisements on the respondent's website," the decision states. "There is no evidence that respondent is a competitor of complainant, nor is there any evidence that respondent has operated the website for any commercial purpose. The panel rejects complainant's submission, unsupported by evidence, that respondent's conduct is likely to have been undertaken for commercial gain."

The decision goes on to state that Red Hat failed to establish that the website was created in bad faith, and to affirm its legitimacy. It further finds that Red Hat's complaint constituted harassment.

"In light of these circumstances the panel finds that complainant brought this proceeding despite having clear knowledge of respondent’s rights or legitimate interests in the domain name and that the proceeding was brought primarily to harass the domain-name holder," the mediator concluded.

Pocock has been involved in other disputes with the Linux community. In 2019, he told The Register, Planet Fedora began censoring his blog as a result of what he characterized as "smears" regarding a Code of Conduct issue. In 2020, he lobbied to have it reinstated, which he says happened later that year.

As Pocock makes clear on his website, he's not a fan of how Codes of Conduct get policed.

"The free software community has been overrun by kangaroo courts proclaiming Codes of Conduct in recent times," wrote Pocock in a blog post celebrating the UDRP decision. "Somebody asks why a girlfriend received funds from the diversity budget and the people concerned quickly claim they are victims of harassment.

"Not only did the UDRP panel find that the domain name is not being used in bad faith, the panel went beyond this and made a finding that the UDRP claim was an instance of harassment against a volunteer.

"This is not the ruling of a kangaroo court interpreting a Code of Conduct, this is an independent finding from an impartial tribunal."

Red Hat declined to comment.

In a phone interview with The Register, Pocock traced Red Hat's efforts to strip him of his domain, created in March, 2021, back to the open-source community's dispute over Richard Stallman. He said after an online poll showed more support for Stallman than criticism, the Planet Fedora website stopped showing the blog posts of individual contributors to the Fedora project.

"The real motivation when I started the site is what are people writing about this thing with Stallman," he said.

In response, Pocock said he scraped the contributor posts from Planet Fedora to include on the website.

"I thought this was an interesting contribution to open source," Pocock said.

"On a positive and constructive note, I feel this ruling empowers every volunteer to choose domain names that accurately reflect their work, even if the name contains a trademark," Pocock added in an email. "This is not a victory for me, it is a victory for volunteering in general." ®

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