“Koha” has been nabbed by an American outfit – but what role was played by Maori advisers in Wellington?

Alf is ready to go out to bat this morning for the small New Zealand library that is fighting to keep its trademark free software from the clutches of an American corporation.

Let there be no misunderstanding here: he has no problem with American corporations, except for their banks, which are a rum lot.

He does have a problem with American corporations that – as seems to be the case here – try to claim ownership of something developed by the Horowhenua Library Trust.

But he wonders how the hell our Ministry of Economic Development came to be involved in this shabby affair and the role of its Maori advisers (the ministry is bound to have some, because everybody has Maori advisers nowadays).

Let’s go back a bit.

The Horowhenua Library Trust designed something called the Koha system 12 years ago to manage catalogues and lending information.

We are being told this was the first free open source software of its kind and has been sponsored by libraries and volunteers around the world.

However, the trust says an American company named LibLime has hijacked the system and wants to use it for its own private client base.

The company has also been granted provisional rights to the name Koha by the Ministry of Economic Development.

“We did something really good and we gave it away to the world and it’s been a glorious thing globally for 12 years,” the trust’s head of libraries, Joann Ransom, told Radio New Zealand.

“And now this American corporate wants to take it.”

The trust has sent out a plea for help.

It now has three months to object to the decision, but this would be a struggle for a small semi rural library with no cash spare in its operational budget.

A fund has been set up to collect donations for the legal challenge.

This plea for help tells the story.

Horowhenua Library Trust is the birth place of Koha and the longest serving member of the Koha community. Back in 1999 when we were working on Koha, the idea that 12 years later we would be having to write an email like this never crossed our minds. It is with tremendous sadness that we must write this plea for help to you, the other members of the Koha community.

The situation we find ourselves in, is that after over a year of battling against it, PTFS/Liblime have managed to have their application for a Trademark on Koha in New Zealand accepted. We now have 3 months to object, but to do so involves lawyers and money. We are a small semi rural Library in New Zealand and have no cash spare in our operational budget to afford this, but we do feel it is something we must fight.

For the library that invented Koha to now have to have a legal battle to prevent a US company trademarking the word in NZ seems bizarre, but it is at this point that we find ourselves.

So, we ask you, the users and developers of Koha, from the birth place of Koha, please if you can help in anyway, let us know.

PS: A fund has been set up to collect donations for mounting a legal challenge.

A bloke called Michael J. Parry has expressed his anger about this at TangataWhenua.Com.

He says a few years ago Liblime attempted to hijack Koha and turn it into their proprietary product.

They have also sort to claim ownership of the name Koha.

Sadly it looks like they are going to be successful. Now we have the ridiculous situation that they will deny the very people who originally developed Koha the right to use that name.

What is even more stupid is that the Maori Advisory Board to the Trademarks people has approved this. Yep, they are happy to give a Te Reo term to a US company as a trademark.


It was approved by a Maori advisory board?

Alf suspects there is more to the story than meets the eye.

We need to know more about LibLime-PTFS, which describes itself as the global leader in providing support for the Koha open source ILS.

Rather than sell software licenses for static, hard-to-customize software products, the PTFS LibLime Division educates libraries about the benefits of open source, enabling them to make choices about how best to provide their communities and staff with better technology services. The PTFS LibLime Division then facilitates deployment of Koha in libraries by providing outstanding consulting, development, implementation, and support/hosting for libraries of all types and sizes. PTFS is also the developer of the world’s leading content management software, ArchivalWare, and specializes in meeting library personnel staffing requirements, digitization, and metadata keying services

Alf gleaned that information from an item that says the Valentine Independent School District (ISD), of Valentine Texas, has chosen LibLime Koha.

Valentine ISD has selected LibLime as their vendor of choice to implement and support LibLime Koha, as their next generation, open development, Integrated Library System (ILS). The School District explored a variety of free and openly available ILS solutions and after extensive research, decided upon the LibLime Koha flavor, as it is the most feature rich and well-supported open development ILS available.

Back in the Horowhenua – just across the Tararuas from where Alf is sitting right now – Ransom said she was astounded an international company could trademark a Maori word.

But out there in the big wide world, people can try to trademark any word they like.

Our own DB Breweries has trademarked “radler”, a German word.

The people at Pizza Hut grabbed an Italian word; Oui magazine has taken a French word…

In Australia – of all places – they make Kiwi shoe polish. Or they used to.

So why should Maori words be treated differently than any other words, in this respect?

But on the matter of the American company ripping off software given to the world for free – that smells.

So does the role of whoever was involved in whatever happened at the Ministry for Economic Development.

One Response to “Koha” has been nabbed by an American outfit – but what role was played by Maori advisers in Wellington?

  1. Doug Calhoun says:

    As Neil Young so nicely put it, “There’s more to the picture than meets the eye”. And that is very much the case in the Koha open source software story.

    The background is that there are two factions involved in making money from Koha software – and they have had a falling out. The nature of the disagreement between the factions is found in the comments at the end of the posting at this link:


    The American company, LibLime sells its services and upgrades in relation to Koha software with the rider that the original software is not owned by anyone. The LibLime story is found at:


    What the Horowhenua Library Trust have not stated is that they own the European community trade mark registration for Koha. The link is:


    The NZ software company that developed the first version of Koha software, Katipo, provides services in developing and supporting Koha software that appear to be very much like those provided by LibLime. A description is found at:


    Another NZ company, Catalyst, also provides service in relation to Koha software. They are described at:


    The brand “Koha” has been associated with the software for the last 12 years, but because the software is open source, the brand should be too. LibLime state that they are holding it in trust or all users and have offered to transfer it to a foundation willing to do the same. So what is the fuss about?

    The open source model of software businesses has its backers, but what those backers don’t like to acknowledge is that if there is a falling out within the community of users, as the clearly has been here, things can get messy. Horowhenua Library Trust have painted only one side of a very murky story and have pushed Alf’s Kiwi buttons – but they have missed out a few important details.

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