Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Why misuse of the Moodle trademark is a problem

Moodle is open source software. It's free for anyone to use in any way. It's licensed under the most permissive of software licenses: GNU GPL. However, the word "Moodle" is trademarked. The trademark terms are clearly explained here.

Basically, you can freely use Moodle and talk about what you've done on your Moodle sites, but if you're going to sell services related to Moodle (eg, running a business that provides Moodle support in some way), you've got to be careful. For one, you shouldn't explicitly call yourself a "Moodle consultant", "Moodle service provider", or something that overtly shows that you're selling Moodle services. UNLESS you are a Moodle Partner company or have received permission from Moodle headquarters. That's my understanding at least.

The Moodle company (or Moodle HQ) is funded mainly by Moodle Partners (and perhaps the Moodle User Association will make a sizable contribution in the future). If individuals and non-partner companies rampantly sell Moodle services, there's a threat to the business model that funds the development of Moodle.

I don't normally get this worked up about trademarks and licenses, but here we're talking about free software (free as in freedom, not just price) that's used around the world by people who don't have to pay a cent to the company that made the software and yet can use and customize it as they please. The free software we're talking about also concerns education: a basic human right, not something arcane. Moodle being free software for educators everywhere is precisely why people shouldn't get too commercial about using the Moodle trademark for business without being allowed to do so. Someone who doesn't respect the Moodle trademark might not care about the Moodle philosophy which is central to the effective use of Moodle.

Of course, many educators who use Moodle need support with their Moodle sites, which is why there are Moodle Partner companies, and at many organisations there are in-house Moodle experts who're paid to work on organisational Moodle sites.

If you're a freelancer or small business owner and you specialize in Moodle, you may be interested in my next post which has some tips on how to do business without violating the trademark terms.

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