Free Software Foundation, the irony phone is ringing

Freedom, Ma Bell, and the FSF

The Free Software Foundation has launched a public certification effort for hardware that "will do as much as possible to respect your freedom and your privacy, and will ensure that you have control over your device."

But oddly, the logo they chose for the new Respect Your Freedom certification program seems to bear a striking resemblance to a logo used by one of the largest monopolist corporations in the U.S.: the American Telephone and Telegraph Company.

Take a look for yourself, and see what I mean. I realize that I may be showing my age here, given that the break up of Ma Bell happened in 1984 and the use of this particular logo pre-dated that by quite a bit. But the similarities are striking.

Which makes me wonder: was this a deliberate attempt at irony?

I mean, the Ma Bell of the past didn't exactly exude hardware freedom. Before the company and its seven regional "Baby Bells" were split in the Eighties, phone customers didn't even own their own phones. They leased the equipment from AT&T.

I'm talking those big, black rotary dial phones with the cords that were, in a pinch, solid enough to render +10 damage on any home intruder within range. You could get them in different colors if you asked very nicely. Or maybe even a Princess phone. Ooo…

This kind of behavior runs completely counter to the goals of the Respect Your Freedom certification program, which is designed to give hardware manufacturers the RYF badge if their equipment meets certain standards, such as not including digital rights management (DRM) restrictions, as well as the inclusion of source code and hardware designs under a free license.

This is the second certification program the Free Software Foundation has launched in recent months. This summer saw the start of the DRM-Free logo program for software that doesn't contain DRM tools.

Given the graphic similarities between the two FSF logos, it is not inconceivable that the similarities of the new RTF logo and that of AT&T's was accidental. After all, the use of a bell as a symbol for freedom is a common meme in the U.S.

Unfortunately, this could go beyond just being humorous. If the current incarnation of AT&T gets a bee in its bonnet about the similarities, intentional or otherwise, the FSF could have some lawyers calling soon. You would think AT&T would be cool about this sort of thing, but trademark holders can be vicious in their attempts to protect their precious. Just try putting "Mc" in your product or company name sometime and watch the hijinks ensue.

If the FSF has an opinion on this, they're not saying. Attempts to connect with someone there for comment have gone unanswered. I suppose I shall have to sit by the phone and wait.

One ringy-dingy…

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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