I’ve Been Transmit’d

October 11th, 2007

Gus Mueller, when writing about his journey toward indiedom, introduced a useful mantra for those of us trying to succeed in this business: “What Would Panic Do?” When faced with a question you haven’t answered before, whether it be with how to design a new UI, or how to respond to customers, just ask yourself what our beloved friends in Portland would do, and try your best to imitate it.

Anybody who has followed Panic’s success over the years may also have noticed the sheer magnitude of image piracy they have suffered, in particular of the Transmit logo. So today I found it especially appropriate to ask myself “What Would Panic Do,” when I discovered that MarsEdit’s icon has been misappropriated and included in a Linux distribution called PCLinuxOS.


(Image courtesy of Kevin Rodgers, who brought the issue to my attention).

It’s funny, MarsEdit of course isn’t even a web browser. But I guess somebody decided a globe icon of any kind would do in a pinch. After I got done laughing, I realized I had to figure out what to do. No, I mean, really what do I do? I’ve heard stories about how if you don’t defend your intellectual property, you run the risk of losing it. So I figured I needed to do something, anything that was not “sit back and do nothing.”

I’m not sure what Panic would do, aside from the “make a gallery and laugh at all the violators” angle. But because I’m a generally likable and friendly guy, I decided to try to get in touch with these PCLinuxOS people. I wanted to figure out how this happened, and who could remedy the situation. I went to the site and discovered there was no easy way to do so discreetly. There were forums, but I thought this would be best handled as an email inquiry. The closest thing I found was a PO Box in Texas. Somehow I was hoping for something a little more immediate. This is the internet, after all!

Via their web site I found out that they congregate in a couple IRC channels, so I figured that would be a good place to start. As a Mac developer who never touches Linux (I’m not anti-Linux, I just have other things to do), I put on my best polite humility personality and joined the channel, basically saying “Look, I’m not sure where to start, but you’ve got my app icon in your product.” The reaction was almost immediately hostile and confrontational. Whereas a responsible group of developers would appreciate having such a violation brought to their attention, this group seemed more interested in instructing me as to the evils of not sharing, and bemoaning the hassle of yet another “patent” issue. To be fair, I don’t know whether this motley collection of IRC patrons actually represents the PCLinuxOS development group or not, but this kind of blind hostility to a tactful inquiry makes it obvious how some bad seeds do a lot to ruin the reputation of a community.

(Somebody from the channel has posted the first part of the transcript in the PCLinuxOS forums. To the great credit of the forum participants, there seems to be a general and somewhat immediate consensus that the problem needs to be remedied. I’m going to wait to see how this plays out, but hopefully the forum patrons, and the project’s developers, will adopt a less hostile approach than the IRC patrons did.)

Ironically, some of the same people who were hostile at first later became somewhat more helpful. Perhaps I killed them with kindness (or persistence). I couldn’t really pin a badge of complete honor or shame on anybody, since they tended to switch somewhat confusingly from helpful to antagonistic. One guy repeatedly suggested that I wasn’t doing my footwork, and that I shouldn’t be accusing them of something until I know it’s their fault. My response was basically I don’t know what the heck is going on, I just know my icon is in your product. Call me crazy, but what you put in your product is your responsibility!

Finally one very reasonable-acting guy just said he would let the main developer know, and it should be easy to sort out. That’s the kind of response I was expecting to get, about 30 minutes earlier. If PCLinuxOS is looking for a “PR Czar,” they should put “mikes1″ in charge. Step 1: Take responsibility. Step 2: Act responsibly. Pretty easy, really.

If you develop a product, even if it’s open source, make it easy for people to get in touch with you. And if you coordinate your support as a user around an open source project, don’t give your project a bad reputation by being a total jerk to anybody who drops in to gently inform you that your project is violating a copyright.

Hopefully dealing with this kind of situation won’t become a regular activity. I could really do with no more of that type of IRC chat. But if it does happen again, maybe I’ll be slightly more adept at handling it efficiently and without provoking hostility.

Update: The person in charge at PCLinuxOS has gotten in touch both via the comments below and by email, and I am very pleased by his apologetic and understanding tone. It sounds like things are going to be ironed out very quickly, which will be nice to see.

Also, while we’re talking so much about MarsEdit’s icon and where its rightful place is, it’s worth taking a minute to appreciate again how great a job Bryan Bell did designing it. I’m sure he would be just as displeased as I was to discover it as part of a Linux desktop theme.

24 Responses to “I’ve Been Transmit’d”

  1. Aaron Harnly Says:

    Poking through the distro to see if I can work out where it came from…

  2. Bob Warwick Says:

    Under U.S. copyright law, I think it’s only trademarks that need to be actively defended so that they don’t fall into common useage rather than copyrights or patents. Your icon looks to fall under copyright. I don’t think you have to be too concerned about losing rights to it, though notifying infringing parties is probably a good idea.

    I’m not a lawyer. I’m not even a US citizen or resident.

    The only outright stupidity I see in that chat is the guy who goes off about patents. Different types of IP get confused frequently, but if you’re going to have an opinion on them, you should at least know which is which.

  3. Robert Marini Says:

    I soo love that they claim it’s the icon used in nearly every other distro ever made. Funny considering I just booted up five of them in Fusion and couldn’t find it. And can you prove that they’re the same? Is that even a real question?

  4. Ryan Price Says:

    I’m not anti-Linux, I just have other things to do

    Best Linux disclaimer I’ve seen—I’ll no doubt be quoting you on that.

  5. Aaron Harnly Says:

    The distros are downloading pretty slowly for me, so it’ll be awhile before I can look at it up close. But the icon is present in screenshots in a review from May of this year (is that the original from which your cropped version came from?).

    Furthermore, I’ll take some convincing to be sure that this isn’t Apple’s home icon:

  6. mdmunoz Says:

    Linux distros are predictably paranoid of anything smelling like intellectual property (and Ballmer even whipped up a fresh batch of FUD about Red Hat recently), but this doesn’t seem like a professional reaction at all. I doubt Debian Linux asked Mozilla to prove their copyright to the Firefox icon.

    I think the fact that’s it’s irc has a lot to do with it: the old internet formula of audience plus relative anonymity. Hopefully they can spare some drama and inappropriate rants on patents next time by posting an email address.

  7. Aaron Harnly Says:

    Umm, images appear in the preview but not in the post. Naughty preview!
    Image here:
    http://www.seopher.com/images/pclinuxos/2007/final/menu.png

  8. Hawkman Says:

    Reminds me of Jeff Bigler’s tact filters piece – well, half that and half John Gabriel’s NSFW theory. I hope you get this sorted without too much more hassle; if only people sourced their images more carefully!

  9. Gregory Says:

    Generally, IRC is full of attitude, and the same people that give guff on IRC will usually entertain more serious discussion in other forums.

    Best of luck (which, hopefully, you won’t need) in getting this resolved. Been a MarsEdit user/fan for a while. :)

  10. Keith Alperin Says:

    I wonder how many people besides me ask themselves “What Would Daniel Do” 8 -)

  11. Lester Says:

    It looks like, from the link Aaron provided to that review, PCLinuxOS is also using the iChat icon for Chat.

  12. Tyler Says:

    Nope, the chat icon lacks the camera symbol. ;-) Also the house icon of their home folder is _totally_ different from the house icon in the Finder.

    Strange that they don’t have an email adress. Or a mailing list. You would expect that unter “about us” or “development team”. But I wouldn’t read much into the IRC chat. They were only clueless not malicious.

  13. Jon W. Says:

    That’s so random. Even if it was from upstream, I’d expect them to investigate trademark dilution and copyright infringement. Just keep in mind that most of these people are volunteers.

    Sorry you got such a bad reaction initially, but mdmunoz and Gregory are right: IRC is like USENET, but moreso. If you want to keep it off of the forums, there is a more developer-oriented mailing list.

    According to DistroWatch.com, PCLinuxOS is an RPM-based distro., so it shouldn’t be too hard to track down which package includes the image with a command like the following:

    $ rpm -qf /usr/share/icons/foo.png
    foo-theme-0.1.0

    That package should have a packager listed, which you can see with the -qi option:

    $ rpm -qi foo-theme
    Name : foo-theme
    Version : 0.1.0

    Packager : ???

  14. Tom von Schwerdtner Says:

    IRC is the slum of the internet.

  15. Texstar Says:

    Someone sent us a bunch of icon sets from kde-look.org for some menu icons. We were not aware this icon belonged to anyone. It has been removed from our system in an update going out tonight. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

  16. anon Says:

    You need to go to http://kde-look.org and defend your app icon there…that’s where the offender really is.

  17. Jonathan Bailey Says:

    First off, I’m sorry to hear about what happened. I’ve had my run ins with the Linux community before and those in the industry are very wary of copyright issues in general. I’m certain that the hostility had nothing to do with your claim, just a general distrust and dislike for IP issues in general.

    Still, that doesn’t excuse the hostility or the behavior. Your PR guidelines always apply and even if they don’t like IP, they need to be wary of IP issues.

    In regards to the law, trademark can be deluted and, in the U.S., you can have a trademark even if you haven’t registered one so, yes, defending it is a must. Copyright, however, can not become similarly diluted. Still, I think the icon is more valuable as a trademark than its copyright is.

    Anyway, it sounds as if the situation will be resolved, just a lot of bad hoops to go through. I’m sorry you had to deal with all of that. Let me know if I can help in the future.

  18. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Thanks a lot for the support, everybody. It sort of happened in a whirlwind, and I wasn’t sure what I should do, even after trying to make contact and see where the project stood with it.

    Texstar, who commented above, is apparently the person or one of the people in charge of the distro, so I am confident they will help to sort it out. Thanks a lot Texstar for chiming in here.

    Daniel

  19. Andrew Aitken Says:

    It sucks when your logos turn up somewhere else on the internet – I’ve had it happen to me. Luckily it got changed before the project got big, so my logo is still associated with me.

    I’m sure you were just caught up in the heat of the moment, but from that IRC log I would get a little defensive if someone came around and opened the conversation with the first lines you did. At least it’s sorted now, with not TOO much effort :)

    There is some comedy gold in there:

    “BTW how can you PROVE that its the same icon?”
    “by “looking” at it … is a good start”

  20. Aidan Says:

    FYI, it doesn’t seem to be part of the KDE distro, as intimated in the IRC log by BluePlanet.

    http://websvn.kde.org/trunk/KDE/kdebase/workspace/menu/pics/

  21. pjm Says:

    Looks like they tapped Ecto for the “Web Editors” icon as well. I detect a theme…

  22. Nehemiah Says:

    with pjm here, I find it funny and rude for them to suggest that that icon is “Common in any sence, sence commonly there is no icon for “web browsers” cause thats normaly lumped with internet. Besides, the icon most ripped off seems to be the apple internet icon, the “globe” with the lights swerling around it. For example I would from just this Ubuntu install im using now that konqueror seems to have said globe implanted in its icon but thats not the same icon that’s hosted on the website . see here

  23. wade Says:

    I hope things work out for you. Love the software (planning on buying Black Ink soon too. Just tried it out and I think I’m in love). Again, best of luck.

  24. Bradley Says:

    Not to get terribly sidetracked, but hostile behavior is more than commonplace in various Open Source circles on IRC. One project I work with has gotten a bad name for similar reasons, even though many (most) of the developers are kind and considerate. On the other hand, not to plug, but we at jQuery (#jquery and #jquery-dev on freenode) have a great community, and sort of an unspoken “no asshat” rule. So I know it’s possible for people to be civil; it needs to be a core value from the ground-up.

    From my experience it seems that the lack of constraints around free software can unfortunately encourage bad behavior. Think about it: the developers generally owe you nothing, since they give away their product. The error is in thinking that common courtesy is a part of that.

    I digress.

    Daniel, sorry to hear about the incident, but I am glad it is being rectified. I can empathize a little: Recently when checking up on an old, old customer I found that they had haphazardly rearranged elements of a logotype I created for them years ago. It had become a free-for-all, adjusted in various ways without the slightest respect consistency on a number of different websites and other materials.

    Of course it is their right to do such things, but I felt sad inside knowing that they had destroyed something that once held meaning; something I had given careful consideration and care, they in turn chose to not (geez, there’s even a usage specification…).

    It’s not theft, but it feels similar. No one likes to see their work used in an unintended, undignified manner. Forgive the long comment…

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