Grabbing for the Python name, a hosting firm gets bitten

Over the Python Software Foundation's protests, POBox Hosting called its service 'Python Cloud' -- and saw a harsh reaction from the global open source developer community

Who wouldn't want the sleek, muscular, menacing name "Python"? A small British hosting company, POBox Hosting, certainly did -- and decided it had the right to apply the slithering appellation to its new cloud computing offering, Python Cloud. POBox felt justified because its trading arm, Veber, had inherited the domain python.co.uk from work done about a decade ago.

That didn't sit well with the Python Software Foundation, a community-backed nonprofit based in the United States, which found itself in an escalating dispute with POBox over use of the Python name. The foundation asked for help in establishing that the Python trademark had been routinely used in Europe -- and a legal dispute that might have been a regional sideshow in any other industry became an international incident when the global open source community came to the foundation's aid.

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Give us back our snake

According to POBox CEO Tim Poultney, a massive worldwide reaction ensued. The company received thousands of emails, some of which he deemed "threatening." POBox's servers crumbled under the load as developers all over the map visited its websites after hearing about the case on Slashdot, YCombinator, Reddit, and in press coverage. While Poultney characterized this as a DDoS attack, at this writing he has not substantiated the allegation. The company responded by shuttering its Internet site (python.co.uk currently returns a 404 error) and withdrawing from Facebook and Twitter.

Poultney expressed anger at being targeted and blamed the foundation for intentionally causing the attack with its blog posting. He explained he regarded POBox as the victim in all this, threatened by an unresponsive U.S. corporation trying to get his family business to give away a treasured brand name he had been using for 17 years.

That "trading for 17 years" claim deserved investigation, so I took a look on Archive.org. His company bought the python.co.uk domain in 1997, offering "Python Internet Services" that year and again briefly in 2004 (trading as "CheapNet" in between). After 2004, the domain redirected to pobox.co.uk, although Tim told me customers could request a "@python.co.uk" email address. While the company may once have had products with the name, its new cloud service, launched at the start of 2012, seems to have been a fresh endeavor.

The "big American corporation" claim bears investigation, too. While POBox Hosting is a small business, the Python Software Foundation -- though it represents the interests of millions of developers worldwide -- is even smaller. Chairman Van Lindberg told me, "The PSF is a very small nonprofit. We have one full-time staff administrator and a part-time accountant. All the rest of us are unpaid -- we have regular jobs that we do each day and we donate our time to the PSF."

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