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Rust Foundation so sorry for scaring the C out of you with trademark crackdown talk

Should have wrapped proposed rules on name and logo use in unsafe {} ?

The Rust Foundation on Monday apologized for confusion caused by the organization's proposed trademark policy changes.

The foundation, which provides financial and legal support for the memory-safe programming language, had proposed fresh rules on the use of the word Rust and its logo, which included the recommendation that people not use 'Rust' in their Rust crate names, eg: vulture-rs would be preferred over vulture-rust. These draft changes triggered a backlash.

"During the consultation period, it became clear that many people in the Rust community had questions, concerns, and confusion surrounding the policy draft and the groups involved in overseeing it," the Rust Foundation said in statement Monday.

"While we have only just begun the process of carefully reviewing your feedback, we understand that the process of drafting the Rust Trademark Policy should have been more transparent and we apologize for that."

The process of drafting the Rust Trademark Policy should have been more transparent and we apologize for that

Community outrage last week reached a fork in the road: aggrieved members of the Rust community forked the language under the name Crab to protest the anticipated clampdown on infringing uses of the organization's Rust and Cargo trademarks.

"The Crab community fork is driven by our love for a language named after a type of fungus," the maintainers of the divergent code wrote, referring to Rust, in an introductory post last week. "We simply want to use it while retaining the ability to create content and promote its name, logo, and other assets however we please, without the limitations imposed by a trademark policy."

In a phone interview, Ashley Williams, a former member of the Rust core team and the original executive director and founder of the Rust Foundation, told The Register she sees the fork more as a negotiating tactic than an attempt to create a viable alternative Rust language project.

"I don't think any of the folks who are part of it are language designers," said Williams. "They didn't even do a full find-and-replace on the word 'rust' the repo. But the community doesn't have a lot of recourse in situations like this besides making kind of ridiculous gestures [to say] 'hey, we want you to engage with us differently.'"

On April 6, the Rust Foundation posted a draft of a new trademark policy and gave members of the Rust community until April 16 to comment, privately via a Google form rather than via comments posted to public forums.

Asked why input was solicited in this manner, Rust Foundation communications director Gracie Gregory told The Register, "As for our decision to use a feedback form, the Rust Foundation opted to collect feedback in this manner to add as much organization to the process as possible.

"The decision was informed by the small size of the Foundation team and the many different stakeholders involved in the process of drafting a new policy (including the Rust Project Directors, the Trademark Working Group, and our legal counsel). In short, we wanted to be able to collect as much feedback as possible while setting ourselves up for a thorough review process."

In any event, the proposed policy revision prompted widespread criticism for broadening the limitations on using terms related to Rust and the programming language's Cargo package management system.

Concerns of this sort came up in the Rust community several years ago when Mozilla oversaw the language and its trademarks. The Free Software Foundation disagreed with the prior policy.

The Rust Foundation tried to defuse this latest drama with a statement last week. "[O]ur goal is to make a policy that is as permissive as it can be without substantially giving up our right to define what Rust is and is not in the future," said Rust core team members Ryan Levick, Jane Losare-Lusby, Tyler Mandry, Mark Rousskov, Josh Stone, and Josh Triplett. "Not all open source projects have retained that right."

The Rust stewards acknowledged their draft was not perfect and said they are "committed to fixing any mistakes identified and considering the feedback we get."

They also noted they had seen "significant harassment and abuse directed at the foundation staff," and said they'd enforce the Rust project's Code of Conduct to safeguard those people, a statement some have taken as an attempt to foreclose criticism.

Over the weekend, Rust creator Graydon Hoare voiced support for the community's objections in a Reddit discussion thread, in response to a post by programmer Andrew Gallant, a former member of the Rust moderation team, who argued the new policy was not all that different from the old one.

There are zillions of packages, projects, repos, websites and groups using the names and logo

"Open them up side by side – old and new – and look at what they each say about, specifically, package names, project names, repos or websites using the word 'rust', or modified versions of the logo used for small groups or projects," wrote Hoare.

"These are specifically the things people are upset about, because they all changed from 'acceptable' to 'prohibited' when 'clarifying' the policy. And those are specifically things that everyone in the community does, and has done, for years. There are zillions of packages, projects, repos, websites and groups using the names and logo this way, as the old policy said they could. The new policy tells them all to stop."

In an email, Bruce Perens told The Register open source projects and trademark disputes go back a long time.

"Debian chose as its official logo a swirl of 'Magic Smoke' drawn with a stock path that came with Adobe Illustrator, which was thus not unique and could never be enforced," said Perens. "Mozilla trademarked artwork restrictively enough that the community produced an unofficial name for Firefox and more than one Linux distribution carried it as 'IceWeasel.'

"The problem with the Rust trademark policy, which it still has today, is that it goes far awry of fair use which is legally permitted. Books on Rust will always have its name in their title, commercial products will be advertised as being written in Rust, being compatible with Rust, or compiling Rust. But the policy attempts to deny permission for these things.

"A proper trademark policy prevents others from representing that their product is Rust or is endorsed by the trademark holder of Rust. That's really as much as you can ever enforce, so there's no sense in a policy that asks for more."

Williams also observed that open source and trademark law have a complicated relationship.

"Most people who participate in open source these days are not educated on the topic in any way, shape, or form," she explained.

"And so I do think a fair amount of the controversy here was just failing to provide educational context for people, which is something the Rust culture generally does – it doesn't just assume that people understand things. And so I think that was a big mistake on their part to release [the draft policy] without hand-holding – I know that sounds pejorative, but I mean it in the most positive way."

Williams added that there's been significant upheaval in Rust's governance over the past year, which has led to the absence of insiders with experience dealing with the Rust community.

"When you have governance upheavals, you often end up with vacuums," she explained.

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"And I think a couple of very passionate people participated in the trademark working group and they didn't involve a lot of people who have even basic experience interacting with the community. So really classic community behaviors ended up getting prohibited in that [draft] policy. And that's really why everybody got upset. The policy ultimately said, 'a thing that you do all the time as a way of contributing to the Rust community is now against our policy.'"

The Rust Foundation in its contrite missive on Monday said it will consider the community's input as it formulates further drafts.

"The consultation phase of the policy drafting process was intended to give Rust community members the opportunity to review the first draft of the Trademark Policy and express their questions, concerns, and comments," the foundation said.

"This process has helped us understand that the initial draft clearly needs improvement. In the next phase, we will provide more progress updates and work to address the concerns that were raised. While our review of your feedback has just begun, it is already clear that there are many valid critiques of the initial draft. We will address those critiques in the next version of the policy." ®

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