If you haven’t had the chance to follow along with the recent NPM controversy, an open source developer decided to remove all 250 of his modules off of NPM after being contacted by a patent lawyer. Apparently, one of his modules was called, “Kik” and this was believed to be in conflict with the brand of a messaging app company of the same name.
By then, “unpublishing” all of his modules in protest, NPM returned broken builds and failed installations for developers worldwide.
As a result, I have decided, effective immediately, that we are removing Kik Messenger (which we just published) from Startup Timelines. Here’s some of the reasons behind my thinking:
All of us depend on open source software — the contributors behind these projects deserve our respect
So much of everything we do in our daily lives depends on open source — whether that’s connecting to a web server, learning from Stack Overflow, reading from a database, or, like in this case, when using a module that makes programmers’ lives easier. However, we continue to neglect the importance of these contributions and, most importantly, the people who make them.
At my own site, Startup Timelines, I created the whole project just to showcase the value of the Internet Archive after reading about the declining interest in archived content. We’re also aware of the many open source contributions we rely on to keep our site running. We’re fortunate to use Python + Flask on the site, and luckily, I do not even use NPM personally.
Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if some NPM build crashed even at Kik’s own headquarters today and I’m also sure their company could not have been possible without the overall advancements and the work of individual contributors towards open source software.
We need to seriously rethink patent + copyright law
What worries me about patents and copyright laws, is that they can be the opposite of technological advancement, the antithetical approach to our whole industry — slowing innovation down or bringing it to a halt.
You could say this is an issue between companies. You could say this is about NPM being a commercial service and Kik being a commercial service, but Kik is a tech insider and should have known about the original nature behind the module contribution.
If others can open source the patents for groundbreaking electric vehicle technology, why did they need to be so defensive even over their so-called misspelled brand name for a simple messaging application?
My own site is a celebration of technological innovation/advancement — it shows you how over 500+ startups evolved over time. You can see for yourself how far a company can go in just a few years. These companies already have so many obstacles in their way, so, I hate thinking about the legal obstacles that might get thrown at them early on or as they start to become successful.
The Kik module was not a startup company, but this is an example of the kind of legal culture we’re creating in the tech industry. Which is why I’m removing Kik from our site.
I expected better from a Canadian Technology Startup
This might sound idealistic, but I really hoped that the Canadian tech sector would be different in our approach, and perhaps, bypass the litigious culture of US tech companies altogether.
Kik has recently become one of Canada’s few to enter the so-called, “unicorn club” and I just don’t think this type of behaviour sets the right example for our sector in the future.
The Founder and CEO of Kik recently donated $1 Million towards a University of Waterloo Accelerator seed fund (which is awesome), however, lawyers of the company are doing this kind of behaviour privately which, I believe, does a lot to set our industry backwards.
What really bothers me — I had just released a collection on The Best Startups in Canada which featured Kik for the very first time on the site. However, at this point, I have also voluntarily decided to,”unpublish” its timeline. If you’d really like to see it, just view it on the Wayback Machine.
No founder has complained about having their company on Startup Timelines before (I believe because it shows each startup in a positive light for innovating), in fact, many have shown support for the content. But, since I never got Kik’s permission to use their brand and I don’t want to get contacted by their lawyers, I have decided to remove their logo and timeline from the site.
I’ll admit not being on the Startup Timelines project isn’t much of a loss to this billion dollar company, but this small protest (along with deleting the app off of my phone) hopefully sends some bad karma towards the brand which they are working so religiously to defend anyways.