Symantec wants G4L to change its name

According to a story on Linux.com, Symantec's lawyers sent Michael D. Setzer II, the leader of the open-source project formerly known as Ghost for Linux (G4L), an email "requesting" that he change the name of the project (which has been called simply "G4L" for some time) to something else.  Although the only references to Ghost or Symantec on his website was saying that it had relationship to Symantec or its product, that apparently wasn't good enough for Symantec.  What do I think?  Read on.

G4L is mentioned both in my book Backup & Recovery and in a Wiki entry on Backup Central.  It's kind of the opposite of Symantec's Ghost, in that it runs only on Linux, but can make images of either Linux or Windows systems.  In the book and Wiki, I made it pretty obvious that this product was in no way related to Symantec:

G4L is an abbreviation for Ghost 4 Linux, but do not confuse it with another project by that name. G4L does not use Norton Ghost and uses the term ghost only in a generic sense, as it was used long before Norton created its brand. The other project that you will find if you search the Internet for the phrase “Ghost4Linux” uses a network boot of Linux to run a simulated DOS environment that can run some versions of Norton Ghost. That is not how G4L works; it is its own complete utility

Copyright law, however, says that if someone is likely to confuse your usage of the term to a product that has a similar context, then you're violating their trademark.  Consider two cases:

The music group "Living Color" requested the FOX TV Show "In Living Color" change its name and logo, as it was suggested it was a violation of their trademark.  While the logo was changed after the fourth episode (apparently it was quite similar to the band's logo), the name remained and the lawsuit continued.  Although I can't find any online references to it, I remember when the new hit that they had lost the lawsuit because the judge said that no one is likely to confuse a TV show with a band.  The name stayed.  I personally loved the show, but thought it jumped the shark when the Waynans left.

BP (a UK company) sued the Irish petrol company Kelly for what they considered a violation of their trademark by their use of the color green in their logo.  BP had trademarked their particular color of green (which you can do.  Think Tiffany Blue), and said that people were likely to confuse Kelly stations for BP stations, and thus BP would lose out on revenue.  Although initially losing that battle, BP eventually won in apellate court, and Kelly was forced to change their color.  That's right, someone sued an Irish company for using the color green and won.

The point is that it's about context.  Despite my (and their) disclaimers, someone searching for Ghost for Linux might end up on the wrong page and start downloading a free product when they could be buying a commercial version.  What's that, you say?  Symantec doesn't have a Linux version of Ghost?  You can ghost a Linux machine with Symantec Ghost, but Ghost itself must run on a Windows box.  So you might see how they might want a Linux-based product using the same name.

So it seems like Symantec has a point.

But what about G4L?  They don't even want him to continue to call it G4L, since the G is a reference to Ghost. This is the same thing that happened with Sun and NIS being known as YP, for Yellow Pages.  They stopped saying that yp referred to Yellow Pages after a threat of a lawsuit from something called "the real Yellow Pages."  Although I can't see how anyone would confuse YP with The Yellow Pages, they are both directory services.  <sheesh>  Anyway, they stopped calling it Yellow Pages, but the "yp" stuck, as in "ypbind," "yppush," etc.  I think they successfully argued that there was no point in the next step.  That's what happens when you have lawyers.

Michael, on the other hand, doesn't have lawyers and can't afford a lawsuit even if he were to win.   So he may not have any choice but to change the name.  While I could argue both ways, I think that the name G4L (without being able to say what the G stands for) actually hurts the project.  You want a name that people can use and refer to and that makes sense.  Therefore, I think they should come up with a completely new name and call it that.  (I'll throw one out: "Limage," for Linux Imager.) Then we make sure that we put 301 redirects from any of the old links pointing to the old site. That'll fix Google's cache eventually.  Google (and a few blog entries like this one) will make sure that anyone searching on Ghost for Linux will still eventually find "Limage," or whatever they call it, so the project should continue and it shouldn't be hurt too much as a result. 

But it's not like Symantec's going to actually gain anything here.  So it's kind of an exercise in futility, but I can't really blame Symantec for doing it.  It cost them an hour or two of their lawyer's time and all the rest of the work will be done by Michael and Sourceforge.

Of course, now even more people know about, uh, "that imaging product that works on Linux."  Feel free to visit the project's web page.

Also, if you've got an idea of what they should call it, feel free to leave a comment to this blog entry.  Let's not make it any name that references ghost in any way.  So no foreign versions or synonyms of the word ghost, OK?  We don't want a second email from the lawyers. 

----- Signature and Disclaimer -----

Written by W. Curtis Preston (@wcpreston). For those of you unfamiliar with my work, I've specialized in backup & recovery since 1993. I've written the O'Reilly books on backup and have worked with a number of native and commercial tools. I am now Chief Technical Architect at Druva, the leading provider of cloud-based data protection and data management tools for endpoints, infrastructure, and cloud applications. These posts reflect my own opinion and are not necessarily the opinion of my employer.

7 thoughts on “Symantec wants G4L to change its name

  1. grammar says:

    I agree that this isn’t a fight worth fighting. It’s on shaky ground at best; yes, “G4L” doesn’t say “ghost”, but it’s clear that the L means Linux, so what’s the G mean? The “common word” defense didn’t even work for Apple (as soon as they touched music, they had to go resettle out of court).

    I like your “Linux Imager”, but I think keeping the final R (Limager) has a better ring to it. What I dislike about it, however, is the implicative dependence on Linux. I’m not terribly familiar with the product, but the chances are decent that it could be pretty easily ported to other Unix-like operating systems with healthy development communities (the three BSDs–only really need to do work targeting NetBSD and the other two come free, Solaris, Mac OS X, so forth). Doing the work to take images of those other OSes is harder than being able to host the imaging on them, but even just the hosting half has a certain intrinsic value for marketing embedded products (many of which already avoid a GPLed base OS but make use of–and provide source for–GPLed software running on them).

    I think a few better “oh, piss off” changes exist, but clearly violate your language / synonym caveat… they’d hold up in court, but, like you said, lawyers cost somebody money, even if they come from the EFF or the ACLU (in which cases, you know, they cost *me* money).

    Maybe Michael should switch his product’s name to TI4L, on the principle that Acronis probably doesn’t have enough liquid assets to engage in frivolous litigation? (And that True Image doesn’t do anything with Linux, come to think of it…)

    If I fork Bacula and call it “Backup the Proletariat”, abbreviated as BP, do I get to sue Symantec?

    (Tongue planted firmly in cheek, of course, for at least the last couple paragraphs. And yes, I know they’re phasing out the bp prefix anyway.)

  2. msetzerii says:

    By the way, there is a project called G4U, that is based on netbsd. It uses command scripts and can run from floppies. The g4l is pretty standard script, but uses dialog got get a gui, and uses lzop, gzip, or bzip for compression, and ncftp for transferring the files. Script could be easily ported to other OS’s, but would probable need some minor tweaks for different format of df command, another data. I have been building updated kernels to support newer hardware. Also, the images can be saved on many ftp servers, and don’t need to be using Linux.

    Thanks for the comments.

  3. ddierickx says:

    I don’t get those mega-corps. These are open source projects we are talking about, that want to provide a functionality of a commercial product on a platform they have NO INTENTION of ever releasing a version for.

    The ‘G’ stands for ghost, which acknowledges that the product is so well known that is has become a ‘word’, a term which everybody understands.

    Anyway, i suggest they change their name, because it is not worth the hassle. but! they should pick something that refers to (a) ghost(s), like:

    Casper 4 Linux (C4L)
    Buster 4 Linux (B4L) -> it’s better then Ghost, it’s GhostBuster! (who you gonna call?)
    Spooky 4 Linux (S4L)
    etc…

  4. hmarks says:

    Under Trademark law if you don’t send out those letters you loose the trademark. Your contention that the product is so well known that it’s a “Word” is what Symantec MUST protect themselves against.

    Cellophane and Asprin were trademarks. Now they’re not. Bayer lost millions in value when Rite-Aid could sell Asprin.

    If Network General let some open source vendor sell “sniffer for unix” 2 years later a commercial vendor could sell SuperSniffer that ran on Windows and use the fact that the open source guy was allowed to use the trademark openly as a defense.

  5. msetzerii says:

    I agree with that, but you mention the term of 2 years. G4L has been on Sourceforge for 3 years 7 months, and was around before that but I don’t know the exact time that the first version occurred it was at version 0.14 when I became aware of it. G4U has been around even longer. So, don’t know if that 2 years is a real time or one you used as an example. I don’t even have a problem with removing all the direct references to Ghost, Norton, and Symantec, and have done so from the web site, and even removed it from the info page in the program where it clearly stated that this is not related to Norton Ghost program, and gave the URL for Symantec.

    "Also, g4l has NOTHING to do with the famous "Norton GHOST" (c) and ™ by Symantec! visit http://www.symantec.com to get their product."
    Accept these conditions? YES to proceed, NO to quit.

    If the user selects no, the program ends.

    In general, I have found that most of the users that have contacted me, have already tried Norton Ghost, and it didn’t work for them, or the cost of legally using it to image all the machines they needed was impossible for them to handle.

    Was just checking there latest version, and it says it supports linux, but when one looks closer, it appears to only support native ext2/ext3, which means it still doesn’t support LVM or other linux file systems.

    Again, thanks for taking the time to post a message.

    An update. It was Freshmeat that was 3 years and 7 months, Sourceforge creation was about 7 months later. Looked at G4U site, and it goes back to February 2001 for the first public release. Some search show g4u as being ghosting for Unix, but others show it as ghost for Unix.

  6. hga says:

    hmarks: While in principle you’re right, I’d like to see some examples of substantial real world harm. Asprin is too muddy an example, seeing as how the trademark was seized in post-WWI revenge.

    Not that I don’t believe there are such examples, I just can’t think of any this morning….

  7. pwhelan0610 says:

    Two companies ago OpenVision was asked to change the names on NetBackup and HSM to Axxion because HP thought it was to close to OpenView, which they did. So now it is their turn to request like consideration. Just my £.02 worth.

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