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Debian GNU/Linux to Declare GNU GFDL non-Free? 466

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the read-those-licenses dept.
Syntaxis writes "There's some considerable argy-bargy in progress over whether or not GNU's own GFDL is a Free documentation license at all. At issue are "invariant sections" which cannot be removed from derivative works. Check out the thread culminating in the proposed motion to take action. The current consensus on Debian-legal does indeed appear to be that one of the FSF's own licenses is non-Free under the terms of the Debian Free Software Guidelines! Well, documentation for GPLed projects countermanding the very freedoms embodied in the GPL certainly seems insane to me."
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Debian GNU/Linux to Declare GNU GFDL non-Free?

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  • by sprprsnmn (619113) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @11:01AM (#5768648) Homepage Journal
    "This is the stuff of which nasty flamewars and misspelled Slashdot headlines are made"
  • Same with GPL (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ajuda (124386) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @11:03AM (#5768653)
    The GPL can't be modified, yet it is stuck into just about every free package in Debian. If it could be changed, then the software's license could be altered. Bill Gates whould just have to "embrace and extend" the GPL to gain whatever control he wished. We NEED non-free pieces to protect the FREEness of the software. Ironic no?

    Also the book "Steal this book" should be banned for false advertising.
    • Re:Same with GPL (Score:5, Informative)

      by Mendax Veritas (100454) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @11:13AM (#5768679) Homepage
      Either you're trolling, or you don't understand the issue. Of course you can't change the license; that would make no sense. The issue has to do with the fact that the GFDL allows portions of the licensed document to be marked "invariant", meaning you can't change those parts. This is logically equivalent to what you would have if the GPL allowed authors to mark parts of their source code as unmodifiable. It essentially means that the document is not entirely free, but only mostly free. The debate within Debian has been about whether "mostly free" is good enough.
      • This is really silly. What if I change the code (I'm "free" to change the code, right?) in a way that makes the "invariant" sections of the documentation wrong? I see this as a way for authors to say "Don't change this code, even though you can." In that case, why is the author using the GPL?
        • Re:Same with GPL (Score:4, Interesting)

          by iabervon (1971) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @01:43PM (#5769282) Homepage Journal
          In order to avoid this, invariant sections must not be about the subject matter of the documentation (e.g., in the mathematics text, they could not be about mathematics). As to why the GFDL provides extra protection for content which does not actually belong in the document, I have no idea. Somewhat ironically, the FSF has a diatribe which makes the same point you've made, which is an invariant section in the gdb manual.

          The FSF has an unfortunate habit of trying to make a soap box out of any piece of text they touch. In fact, the GPL itself states that programs under the GPL should, in addition to anything else they might do, display sections of the GPL (which, according to the license of the GPL itself, would mean that they would have to show the whole thing, since you can't modify the GPL), and it includes a substantial amount of text which is not actually part of the license and which the author of the software may not agree with.
      • by njdj (458173)
        the GFDL allows portions of the licensed document to be marked "invariant", meaning you can't change those parts. This is logically equivalent to what you would have if the GPL allowed authors to mark parts of their source code as unmodifiable

        No it is not equivalent - you have not read the GFDL. Only a "secondary section" can be an "invariant section". So what's a "secondary section"? It's a section that has got nothing to do with the purpose of the document. For example, if you write a document about Ema
    • Yes, it can be modified...


      "9. The Free Software Foundation may publish revised and/or new versions of the General Public License from time to time. Such new versions will be similar in spirit to the present version, but may differ in detail to address new problems or concerns."

      Suggested usage:

      "This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation;

  • I think Debian take all this licencing stuff far too seriously. They have some insane clause about the kind of software they can include in their distros. Personally, I think they should include anything that they are legally allowed to.
    • by Mendax Veritas (100454) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @11:09AM (#5768668) Homepage
      You obviously don't understand what the Debian project is all about. It isn't just a Linux distro; it is specifically a free software distro. They don't want anything that isn't free-as-in-liberty. That's why they have the licensing rules that they do.
      • It isn't just a Linux distro; it is specifically a free software distro. They don't want anything that isn't free-as-in-liberty.

        I've never had any illusions about that. However, it's a bit bizarre to see Debian fanboys posting about how great their OS is, and complaining about how Debian doesn't get as much commercial attention as, say, RedHat. Among several reasons why I don't use Debian is exactly this licensing issue - I don't really care about it nearly as much as they do, and I just want my compute
        • However, it's a bit bizarre to see Debian fanboys posting about how great their OS is, and complaining about how Debian doesn't get as much commercial attention as, say, RedHat.

          I've been using debian for years and never heard that.

          Then again, I'm not all that "community" oriented. I just like the distro, and the simple, straightforward feel of it. No BS, and it doesn't try to get in your face or "brand" you. It's pure software, and I don't mean that from an ideological perspective, more in the sense

        • by Panoramix (31263) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @01:11PM (#5769147) Homepage
          I'm sure [Debian is] technically quite excellent, but all I need is to get my code written and my research done. From my perspective, as long as I can burn a RedHat CD and install it on as many computers as I want, it's no less "free" than Debian, regardless of whether or not it includes Netscape 4.

          Which is perfectly fine, I'm sure, with most Debian developers and users. Use RedHat, by all means. It is good enough for personal use, maybe even as a server if you don't have to run tens of boxes (and maybe even for that, nowadays, I've heard good things about their network upgrade system, "RedHat Network" or what it's called).

          As for myself, I use Debian mostly because I like its quality and stability, its reliable maintenance infrastructure (having to maintain a lot of servers makes oneself very partial to that apt-get, dpkg-reconfigure thing), and the overall sense of order that I draw from their packaging process.

          Having said that, I would be more careful than you before dismissing the ethical underpinnings of the Debian organisation, or even stating them as a reason for not using Debian. That is the point in your reasoning that I'm having most trouble dealing with, akin to not taking free Unicef mugs and postcards because of all that human-rights agenda and stuff behind them.

          Once upon a time, I was a rabid Amiga enthusiast. I learned a lot of things on that cute little box. Particularly, I learned to work the Video Toaster and the included Lightwave 3D. I learned it so well that I started making a living off it, doing video processing for a small publicity agency and an industrial design department at my U. Then the Amiga died, and having all that skills (well, most of them) suddenly became as useful as being the world's greatest kazoo player: who gives a shit? I had to learn something new to stay in business, because the company that made the tools I used stopped making them (or, at least, I became unable to buy them, which amounts to basically the same thing).

          The same thing happened a couple more times with other commercial products (say Borland's C++ builder, Cisco's Netsys software, maybe Sun's Java in the not-too-distant future). So now I'm predictably more cautious when choosing what tools to spend time learning and using, for both work and play. Open source stuff doesn't die --not unless it really needs to die because it is replaceable with something undisputably better, and also free. And even so, nothing really dies until there remains absolutely no one still using it (I also can pull from memory several first-person examples, such as Dumpleton's OSE library, the GNU Pascal Compiler... hell, the wonderful Nethack).

          Back to Debian: I appreciate greatly that the dudes putting toghether this wonderful distro are so picky regarding the license of the software (or, in this case, documentation). It saves me the work of doing that myself. I know that, for everything I apt-get install, I can spend my time learning every detail without worriying about that knowledge becoming useless and obsolete anytime soon.

          So, wrapping it up: I'm also the kind of guy who looks for the tool that works. And I also place highest on my priorities to "get things done", rather than some abstract philosophical issues. But I deeply thank Debian for being so strict, even pedant, about legal issues. There is no other computer system that makes me feel as comfortable about spending any amount of time with, than a Debian system.

    • Debian's distribution mechanism does provide for packages from non-free and even non-debian sources, which should be sufficient for all practical applications. For the packages for which there is a desire and the legal permission to do so, debian maintains their own patches, packaging information, etc. to make the software work smoothly with the rest of debian; they use their guidelines to determine whether they can do this with a particular package or whether they have to use a less hands-on method of deal
    • I think Debian take all this licencing stuff far too seriously. They have some insane clause about the kind of software they can include in their distros. Personally, I think they should include anything that they are legally allowed to.

      If you don't like Debian politics, don't use Debian. There are plenty of other distributions. I use Debian because I do care about the political ideal that Debian represents - even if sometimes the side-effects of that political ideal frustrate me.

      But Debian are the gu

  • by vicviper (140480) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @11:06AM (#5768660)
    G. Branden Robinson "To be is to do" -- Plato
    Debian GNU/Linux "To do is to be" -- Aristotle "Do be do be do" -- Sinatra
  • Lack of pragmatism (Score:5, Informative)

    by Eloquence (144160) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @11:09AM (#5768667) Homepage
    People who choose the FDL usually know little about its specifics -- they just want their documentation to be available under a copyleft license. Thus, virtually all FDL documents are free of invariant sections. Instead of condemning the license outright, a pragmatic approach would therefore be to define a threshold of invariant content (say, 20%), after which a document is no longer considered free. The FDL is the standard license for free, open content (see also Wikipedia [], perhaps the largest open content project), and ostracizing it entirely will get us nowhere.

    Upon reading the post, however, what I see is a bean counter mentality that can really be dangerous to open source projects as a whole. I shudder at the thought of hundreds of package maintainers being contacted to deal with this "license issue", which is really a non-issue to anyone with some common sense. This time would better be spent working on real problems -- it's not like Debian has none of those ...

    • I've been a wikipedia user for 3/4's of a year now, and I know for a fact that they dont use the invariant sections.

      See: e_request_for_permission []
    • The one that basicly said "We 0wZ j00"? Well, they're not using every power that was given under that EULA. Just as the people using the GFDL mostly aren't using the invariant clause.

      You seem to assume that nobody would abuse the licencing at some point in the future. Personally I would rather see it taken care of up front rather than wait around for it to turn around and bite us. Whatever happened to GPL 1.0? Should we never have gone to 2.0? Should we stop working on 3.0 because 2.0 "isn't being abused a
    • by bcrowell (177657) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @01:39PM (#5769266) Homepage
      a non-issue to anyone with some common sense
      Yep! As the author of a couple [] of [] GFDL'd books, this whole thing makes me cringe.

      The idea of invariant sections is a very reasonable one. For instance, if I write a book with a dedication to Martin Luther King, I don't want someone else to come along and release a version where it appears that I've dedicated it to Adolf Hitler. Duh!

      We don't live in a free-information utopia, and we don't even know what such a utopia would be like (although I'm pretty sure that in my utopia people won't be able to pull the King-to-Hitler switcheroo). So let's deal with reality. Maybe some of the people engaging in this silly debate should spend some time writing some documentation instead of arguing over licensing. This kind of over-zealous ideological navel-gazing is really pathetic.

      • by dark-nl (568618) <> on Sunday April 20, 2003 @03:14PM (#5769640)
        Imagine this scenario: someone takes your book which is dedicated to Martin Luther King, then adds a lot of useful stuff to it, and then attaches a rant explaining how Adolf Hitler is much cooler than King and the original author was a wuss for choosing the wrong person to dedicate the book to. And then makes that rant an Invariant Section.

        Now you can't use any of that new documentation in the next version of your book, unless you're willing to take the pro-Hitler rant as well. But the other person is free to take your new material, as long as he is willing to take any new Invariant Sections you add. This is the opposite of what copyleft is supposed to achieve.

        None of this would be an issue if the GFDL allowed removal of Invariant Sections.

  • There is a diffrence between documentation and software, a good documentation license need not
    be good for software, and vice versa.

    So I think the GNU documentation license is ok for
    documentation, and should be allowed for
    documentation, but NOT for software.
  • Clarification (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GammaTau (636807) <> on Sunday April 20, 2003 @11:20AM (#5768707) Homepage Journal

    Debian isn't about to remove all documentation licensed under GFDL, only the documentation that takes advantage of the invariant sections (or some other non-modifiable features of GFDL). Unfortunately this includes most of the GNU project documentation since the GNU project has marked the usual GNU propaganda blurbs invariant.

    What's strange is that according to GFDL the invariant sections must not be about the actual subject of the documentation. Instead must be "secondary sections", as described in the GFDL:

    A "Secondary Section" is a named appendix or a front-matter section of the Document that deals exclusively with the relationship of the publishers or authors of the Document to the Document's overall subject (or to related matters) and contains nothing that could fall directly within that overall subject. (Thus, if the Document is in part a textbook of mathematics, a Secondary Section may not explain any mathematics.) The relationship could be a matter of historical connection with the subject or with related matters, or of legal, commercial, philosophical, ethical or political position regarding them.

    The "Invariant Sections" are certain Secondary Sections whose titles are designated, as being those of Invariant Sections, in the notice that says that the Document is released under this License. If a section does not fit the above definition of Secondary then it is not allowed to be designated as Invariant. The Document may contain zero Invariant Sections. If the Document does not identify any Invariant Sections then there are none.

    Frankly, it seems to me that the GNU project would have added the invariant sections only force their political statements to be carried everywhere along the documentation. Many people have pondered that if they request the operating system to be called GNU/Linux, why don't they add a clause in their license to demand that. Well, maybe they have started moving towards that direction.

    • that the invariant sections can simply be a short history of the document or the like. For example, you might want to include a section that says "this document was written by so-and-so with the help of so-and-so; it went through revisions x, y, z; if you like this document, send pizza to this address, etc.". The invariant section cannot deal with the actual subject of the document (i.e. you cannot mark a chapter as invariant). This doesn't sound that bad to me.
    • Many people have pondered that if they request the operating system to be called GNU/Linux, why don't they add a clause in their license to demand that.

      Perhaps because it isn't their OS so they can't demand that it's called anything.

      "I demand that I may, or may not be, Magicthighs" "It's alright, you don't have to demand that." "Oh."


  • by sam_handelman (519767) <.skh2003. .at.> on Sunday April 20, 2003 @11:24AM (#5768724) Homepage Journal
    As I understood it, the license allowed for invariant sections so that you can include "Originally written by..." at the top and then prevent anyone from changing it; I've always intended to distribute laboratory manuals under this license, and I can think of some other things I might want to make invariant, primary data for instance. In source, you might conceivably use such a clause to require someone to include a Trojan (or, gasp, an unfree supplementary component!), but since it is a document we're talking about, I do not see the problem. If I decide to make false or misleading text invariant, why use my document (or fork of a document) at all?

    If I understand correctly, absolutely nothing prevents you from adding entire additional sections to the document - including, if necesarry, screaming tirades against sections you were forced to include.

    Let me put it another way - I release the documentation for my software under this license. What invariant text could I possibly add that is genuinely going to interfere with someone's free speech?
    • Actually, now that I've re-read the license, I see that it makes seperate provisos for most of the invariant sections I would expect to want to include; authors, acknowledgements and suchnot.

      Nonetheless, the primary data in a methods paper is something I would wish to require be included in an invariant form; if you are going to modify the method and claim an improvement, you should be required to include the primary data generated by my method which you have altered. I'm sure there are other examples of s
  • No problem (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 1nv4d3r (642775) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @11:29AM (#5768743)
    Sure, you can't modify the text of an invariant section, but with a little ingenuity you can completely change its meaning.

    For instance: after a glance at the license, it doesn't say you can't move the invariant sections. Think of the possibilities!

    Also, say paragraph 1.2 is an invariant section. Just add section 1.1:

    1.1 The content of section 1.2 is an obsolete project policy, reproduced here for historical purposes only.

    1.2 <invariant section...something about making source available or some such...dunno>
  • I just went to a talk given by RMS here in Austin at SxSW [] where RMS spoke on copyright.

    For at least half of the talk, he spoke regarding the history of copyright and was absolutely boring at all hell (perhaps it's because I only have Lessig's Free Culture [] talk to compare to).

    For the second half of the talk, he began to outline how he thinks the copyright office should work (he admits this isn't a perfect system, but he thinks this is how it should be). Essentially, he narrowed down all intellectual works into three catagories:
    1. Functional
      These are works that serve some sort of functional use within society. This includes text books, manuals, and software. These works should be free as in speech.

    2. Biographical
      These are works that are compliations of a particular authors opinions. RMS thought these could go either way. Maybe they could have a limited period of monopolistic power (of course no longer than 2 years).

    3. Aesthetic
      These are works that only have aesthetic value (in other words, they are the shiny things of the world). Stallman stated that a copyright system should allow a 2-3 year monopoly on such works (this means the RIAA could still do all it does but that you'd be allow to trade songs that were 3+ years old).
    Now, I believe there are some major holes in this, but I brought up the point that software licenses surely are functional works within society and therefore the GPL license itself (the actual document that you include with your software) should be free as in speech (it currently disallows derivative works).

    Stallman had no answer for this and instead spent 15 minutes explaining to me why using the term "Intellectual Property" meant that I couldn't even begin to understand the issues at hand.

    I've always been a defender of Stallman but I lost an awful lot of respect for him that night. I fully support Debian in this matter.
  • by Simon Lyngshede (623138) <`simon' `at' `'> on Sunday April 20, 2003 @11:40AM (#5768793) Homepage
    If I read the GFDL correctly an Invariant Section simply concerns it self with secondary sections. Secondary sections being sections which contains information about authors, publishers and so on. They are not allowed to contain content regarding the overall subject.

    To me this seems fair. Invariant sections ensures that all people involved in the creation of this document is properly credited. When writing free documents all you have is the credit and the Debian people want to take that away from you. I must have misunderstood something, this can't be right. If it is then Debian just became the bad guys. When we're developing free software / doucuments / whatever the only thing we have is our name. We don't expect to get paid, but most of us would like the credit.

    I'm sure I misread the GFDL, if not I didn't I'm really disappointed with Debian.
    • The GFDL requires credits to be in the History section. The Invariant sections are over and above that. The FSF uses them for things like the GNU Manifesto and the emacs "Distribution" page (which is sure to become outdated at some point, so I really wonder why it's Invariant).

      If I ever maintain a GFDL document I'll probably use them to explain how Debian developers are the secret masters of the world, who have been guiding human evolution for millions of years so that one day we may finally be free of

  • It's about time... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hankaholic (32239) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @11:42AM (#5768798)
    As I see it, the greatest thing about the Debian project is the fact that they don't subscribe to the typical herd mentality so often seen in the open-source community.

    I've seen many, many Debian developers using "GNU/Linux" to describe the operating system, which does give credit where credit is due.

    However, the GNU project's goals often frighten me (inasmuch as I give a shit), and it's nice to see that someone in the community is willing to point out their mistakes.

    Many have pointed out that you could put the content of an entire work in an "invariant" section of a GFDL-licensed document. I believe there may be certain rules regarding the proportion of invariant sections to non-invariant sections, but defeating this is akin to defeating the Slashdot lameness filters: a definite time-waster, but not impossible.

    The GNU Project is shady. Make no mistake about it: The GPL restricts choice as much as an NDA would.

    I often wonder how many successful works the GNU Project could claim if it weren't for the restrictions inherent in the GPL. One oft-cited (but quite relevant) example is GCC: stagnation left many unsatisfied, so EGCS was started, blah, blah, blah. Basically GNU took (with permission) the work of those who had made EGCS a much better compiler, and renamed it GCC.

    To contribute to GCC, in fact, it is not enough that you GPL your code and give a license to the GNU Project. No, you have to ASSIGN COPYRIGHT of the code to GNU, basically saying that the code is no longer yours, and that you would no longer have the right to take code from an existing work (such as a commercial compiler which you wrote) and contribute it to GCC, because you would no longer own the original code due to copyright violation.

    Does this remind anyone of recording companies requiring artists to hand over their original works?

    Everything done in a GNU project benefits the FSF (at the very least, with added prestige) -- they can claim that they, and they alone, own the code. This includes the right to, if they chose, hire coders to develop the HURD into a useable OS kernel (refer to my sig here), and release it under a closed-source license. Or, to make major improvements to GCC and sell it commercially under a non-GPL license.

    If Walter Bright decided to allow the FSF to use major portions of his C++ compiler, which he sells commercially (and includes, I believe, much better support for C++ templates than GCC), he would have to assign copyright of his code to the FSF, therefore preventing him from using it in releases of his commercial compiler in the future.

    The FSF is brain-dead, folks, and kudos to Debian folks for having the cojones to point out one of the more obviously stupid flaws in a GNU license.

    (Many may note the fact that I focus a bit on compiler issues here. I have followed, to some extent, the GCC development lists, and from what I have seen, it can be a pain in the ass to contribute to GCC. Apple has many improvements to the compiler in their internal tree, and I often wonder if more of those improvements would have been rolled back into GCC by now if not for the hoops they have to jump through in order to get those changes submitted.

    I've seen people make feature suggestions on the list which the Apple guys say they've already done and tested internally. The response is often, "We've done this, but we weren't sure if anyone else would find it useful. We'll look into getting permission to release it." It seems obvious that getting permission to hand over copyright would make that process a little harder.

    Why do I focus on compiler issues so much? Various reasons... quality of generated code on Intel vs. other architectures, KDE slowness due to C++ linkages, blah blah blah. The compiler is key to getting code to run quickly on modern CPUs, as anyone pushing a non-Intel architecture would do well to remember.)

    Don't trust the FSF. Appreciate their work, but don't hand over your firstborn. They can do whatever they want, including rewrite the GPL to state that any GPL'd code may be sold commercially by the FSF without providing source code.

    FSF says free the source. I say free the developer.
    • by Frater 219 (1455) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @12:10PM (#5768919) Journal
      As I see it, the greatest thing about the Debian project is the fact that they don't subscribe to the typical herd mentality so often seen in the open-source community.

      What Debian has is a set of clear guarantees that it promises to maintain to the community: the Debian Social Contract []. Because of this, it cannot be beholden to political alliances, such as allegiance to one desktop project (vide Red Hat's closeness to GNOME) or even to its own ideological ancestor, the FSF. It has to operate by its principles, not by the opinions of whoever happens to be its leader at the moment.

      One of the principles of classical liberal politics is to be ruled by laws rather than by men. In monarchies and oligarchies, the organizing principle of society is the leadership of a special individual or group: the king, the aristocracy, the ruling party, or what-have-you. Allegiance is to this leader, and alliances with other polities are founded on amity among leaders: hence the marriages of political alliance in medieval Europe. In liberal societies, the organizing principle is not the leader principle, but rather the basic law, or constitution.

      In this regard, the FSF is in many ways illiberal: yet Debian, in so many ways the FSF's descendant, is thoroughly liberal. Debian is organized by rules, rather than by adherence to a leader.

      The GNU Project is shady. Make no mistake about it: The GPL restricts choice as much as an NDA would.

      This, however, is going too far []. (For one, I think you mean EULA rather than NDA. NDAs aren't even related to copyright licensure; they're just contracts.)

      Both EULAs and the GPL are founded upon the base of copyright, but from that base they build in opposite directions. EULAs attempt to expand the powers of the owner, to control the ways in which you may use the covered software as well as the ways in which you may copy it. (Recall: copyright is not use-right; it is the right to control the making and distribution of copies, not the use of legally-obtained copies.)

      The GPL, however, is a partial release of the powers of copyright. It does not at all restrict the use of software; and it grants a limited right to copy. Whereas EULAs go beyond copyright, the GPL refuses to exercise even the full power of copyright.

      To contribute to GCC, in fact, it is not enough that you GPL your code and give a license to the GNU Project. No, you have to ASSIGN COPYRIGHT of the code to GNU

      You are, of course, free to create your own compiler based on GCC, and retain your copyright. (Since this would be a derivative work, you would have to release it under GPL, but you would not have to assign your copyright to GNU or anyone else.) However, if you want the GCC project to accept your patches and incorporate them into their code base, that's a different matter.

      This is not a matter of copyright, or you freedom to write software that is based on GCC. It is a matter of the GCC project's management. You are just as free to write software based on GCC as you are to write software based on the Linux kernel (also GPLed) -- but you cannot force the GCC developers to roll your patches into their code base any more than you could force Linus to accept a crufty patch to Linux.

      • No, actually I meant NDA.

        I can potentially write something under an NDA which can be released under whatever license I want.

        Refer to many graphics drivers included in XFree86. Often information obtained under an NDA can be used to develop a freely available work.

        This is in contrast to taking bits from a GPL'd project and using them in another work. Under the spirit of the GPL, you would only be permitted to do so if your own work were GPL'd.

        Also, you failed to address my point regarding copyright assign
        • I can potentially write something under an NDA which can be released under whatever license I want.

          No you can't. If you sign an NDA you're agreeing not to disclose certain things. That's why it's called a Non-Disclosure Agreement. Publishing source code with discloses anything covered by an NDA would be a violation of that agreement.

          The only way you can publish something is if it is not covered by the NDA or if you are released from the agreement. Neither one of those is publishing something under
          • Quite simply, you're wrong.

            Case in point: the driver published in SOURCE FORM by NVidia builds upon information which they are unwilling to release to the public.

            They release source code which uses information which would be available only under NDA. It's not a matter of publishing the information contained in the NDA, it's a matter of making use of it.
        • by _|()|\| (159991)
          I see no reason [copyright assignment would be required] unless the FSF wanted the option to release GCC under a license other than their own GPL.

          A company like TrollTech requires copyright assignment so that it can release under a different license. The Free Software Foundation requires assignment so that it can pursue copyright infringement. If infringement occurs for a program the FSF doesn't own, then it has no standing to bring action. Such issues may not concern you, but the enforcability of copylef

        • by foolip (588195)

          What I think you're failing to see is that there is a very good reason that you must assign copyright to the FSF when you contribute to some of the GNU projects. Should there ever be a legal situation where someone violates the GPL of say GCC by distributing a modified version under a non-free license, the FSF would probably want to take legal action. To do so, it's important that they have the copyright on it all, or all parties who have contributed would have to join in. From the GNU website (http://www.g

    • by idiotnot (302133)
      To contribute to GCC, in fact, it is not enough that you GPL your code and give a license to the GNU Project. No, you have to ASSIGN COPYRIGHT of the code to GNU, basically saying that the code is no longer yours, and that you would no longer have the right to take code from an existing work (such as a commercial compiler which you wrote) and contribute it to GCC, because you would no longer own the original code due to copyright violation.

      Does this remind anyone of recording companies requiring artists to
      • I've never used Walter's compiler, but, I don't think this is the case. If Bright's compiler is GPL'd, they could use his code and not have him assign the copyright. I understand why they've chosen to stay copyright-pure with the core components of the GNU system. They don't have to, but it just makes things easier if the process servers come knocking at the door with a large lawsuit.

        Walter's compiler isn't GPL'd -- it's commercial, closed-source. The point is that if Walter _wanted_ to contribute some c

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The two major categories of free software license are copyleft and non-copyleft. Copyleft licenses such as the GNU GPL insist that modified versions of the program must be free software as well. Non-copyleft licenses do not insist on this. We recommend copyleft, because it protects freedom for all users, but non-copylefted software can still be free software, and useful to the free software community.

    There are many variants of simple copyleft free software licenses, including the GPL license, the Lesser GP
  • Read this. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Here [] is the definition of an invariant section. It is VERY discusting what the debian people wan't to do.

    Basicly the debian developers want the right to steal your GFLD'd documents and strip you out of the credits/biblography so they can claim THEY wrote it.
    • Re:Read this. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by The Vorlon (15731)

      Basicly the debian developers want the right to steal your GFLD'd documents and strip you out of the credits/biblography so they can claim THEY wrote it.

      And this was modded to 'interesting'? Morons.

      First, Wikipedia is not a canonical source for the definition of an Invariant Section, as the term is used in the GFDL. If you want to know how the term is legally defined in the context of the license, get off your ass and go read the license.

      Second, even a cursory examination of any one of the licenses t

  • Who cares what a distro does? I don't even use Debian, how is this affecting me. Why should I care?(I'm really asking a question, not trolling)
  • by 3seas (184403)
    This is just another attempt to undermine licenses that are protective of honesty and freedom.

    Now who'd want to do this? Do you need more than one guess?

    invariant sections that are secondary and optional only provide a means of protecting against MS rewritting who created the Free Software Foundation and such....

    If you do not like a license then pick another or create your own and then deal with the choices others make about it.

    In short, let Debian create their own version and RMS to point out the holes
  • by amcguinn (549297) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @12:00PM (#5768874) Homepage Journal

    The GPL was written for code, and it is very good for code.

    If you've ever read interviews with RMS where he has been asked about copyright on things like music and books, he's usually very cagey. He tends to end up saying that there are interesting possibilities and difficult questions, but he's concerned with software, which is his area of expertise.

    Software documentation is sort of software, and sort of literature. Writers of literature tend to be concerned about the integrity of their works more than writers of software, who usually expect their work to be enhanced and improved over the years, whether by themselves or by other people.

    The GFDL is an attempt to manage the compromise between the freedom of software users to distribute derived works, and the need for literature writers to preserve the integrity of their works.

    This compromise, of course is incompatible with the strict DFSG-type rights regarding software, and when a package contains code and documentation, the same requirements are applied to Debian by both.

    I feel the answer is for Debian to relax the DFSG as they apply to non-program code. That's not simple to do, however. This is a fairly new problem, as it only comes from trying to make complete working distributions with professional quality documentation under GPL-like conditions, and it's going to take probably a few years to totally work it out.

    I don't think anyone involved in this is insane.

  • by CSieber (548526) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @12:02PM (#5768881) Homepage

    The problem, as summarized and debated in the linked thread (which you should all GO READ) is that you cannot take even a small part out of a GFDL document without including all the invariant sections, even if doing so would be pointless and irrelevant. Imagine, for example, writing an article in which you wanted to quote large portions of a GNU manual--so much so that it fell outside the category of "fair use." You couldn't do so under GFDL without including the political views of the GNU Project espoused at the beginning of every GNU manual. (I.e. "Free Software Needs Free Documentation.") It is this that makes the GFDL non-free by the terms of the Debian Free Software Guidelines. If invariant sections or front/back matter were removable it would go "a long way" to making it DFSG-free.

    On the other hand, nothing in the core free software philosophy says that using copyright to protect political views and other things is in-and-of-itself bad. Remember, the reason that the crusade for free software was begun is this: Instant copying via computers means that it is now more beneficial to society to exercise their inherent right to copy, than it is to restrict that right to promote innovation through monopoly. What a mouthful. :)

    Nothing about the Free Software philosophy says that every single thing ever written should be freely redistributable. If I write a political essay you better believe that I'm copyrighting it so no one else can change it. I don't have a problem with them distributing it gratis or for a fee, but they sure better not change my words around. That is what copyright is good for, and what the "Invariant Sections" in the GFDL is designed to allow.

    For example, say I write a math text. In the introduction, I state my views on the current state of mathematics education and my proposed solutions, some of which are embodied in the book. I certainly don't want anyone changing that and passing it off as my authorship. To make my book properly fit the "Free" philosophy, I should allow 2 things:

    1. The mathematical content of my book be freely redistributable and modifiable by anyone. GFDL does this.
    2. Allow people to remove my "invariant sections" and whatever else if they so desire, but not to modify them. GFDL does not do this.
    3. Furthermore, I should be able to do the following and maintain harmony with the "free" philosophy:

    4. Prevent people from modifying my political statements or personal views which I included with the text. The DFSG does not allow this.

    It is clear that while the GFDL is not up to par with the "Free" philosophy, the DFSG prohibits authors from exercising their right to protect their personal views and speech from modification. This right--to protect your personal views and expression (which source code is not, by the way)--is just as important to free speech as the freedoms outlined in the GPL.

    In summary, both the GFDL and the DFSG have problems maintaining harmony with the "Free" philosophy as it should be applied to documentation. I think the GFDL has a fundamental problem with not allowing "Invariant Sections" to be ommitted, and the DFSG has a problem by not allowing an author to preserve personal views. The second problem likely comes from applying a software definition (the DFSG) to documentation. Source code is not the same thing as other writings, and the DFSG does not currently make a distinction.

    Hopefully both parties here will realize what changes need to be made--and make them.

    Take care,
    Christian Sieber

    • It is clear that while the GFDL is not up to par with the "Free" philosophy, the DFSG prohibits authors from exercising their right to protect their personal views and speech from modification. This right--to protect your personal views and expression (which source code is not, by the way)--is just as important to free speech as the freedoms outlined in the GPL.

      What constitutes a personal view? Obviously, whether I like Bush or not is a personal view but what about the fact that I prefer LL(k) parsing to
  • This may be an appropriate time to write something that has brewing within the recesses of my mind for years... The GPL is about the Freedom From things. Freedom from having someone use the programs in something that is not "free'.

    The BSD license is about the Freedom TO do something. Take this code & have a nice day.

    "Freedom from" is not freedom, it is protection. It is a good thing[TM]. It really is. Our environment dictates such actions sometimes, but really, to call it free software is as accur
  • by SWroclawski (95770) <serge.wroclawski@org> on Sunday April 20, 2003 @12:11PM (#5768923) Homepage
    Some of GNU documentation that was, for a long time included in Debian had the copyright notice allowing distribution but no moficiation. Such is the case with essays by Richard Stallman, for example.

    Other documents, even some technical documents, had the same copyright status.

    Documents aren't code. The FDL allows a written work (especially a functional work) to be treated like code, but adds invariant sections for a number or reasons. Everything from a dedicatiom, explanation or even a bit of "art" can be used with the FDL.

    It may indeed be true that the FDL does not comply with Debian Social Contract guidelines, but those guidelines applied to software and not documentation AFAIK.

    Perhaps an ammendment should be made to the Debian Social Contract to make this distinction?

    - Serge Wroclawski
    • Speaking for myself, I never minded having some non-modifiable essays in the documentation. What I don't like about the Invariant Sections is that in addition to being non-modifiable, they're non-removable. They're permanently attached to whatver document they happen to be in. That makes the rest of the document non-free, and that's what I care about.

      If the GFDL's Invariant Sections could be removed, then they would be fine with me. I don't feel any urge to modify them.

  • by azzy (86427) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @01:22PM (#5769192) Journal
    When I finished my MSc last year, I had to publish my thesis, and sourcecode. The university instructued us that the thesis had to claim them as the copyright owners, as they had a claim over our code and report. The lecturers were aware that we would maybe want to contest this, and noted that we'd probably have a fair point as we had never signed away our IP rights.. yet in order to be accepted our reports MUST contain the copyright info as stated, unless a alternative was agreed. I got my course director to accept the FDL as a license on my work in which I claimed the copyright, and I published my source code as an invariant section. As no other license/copyright info appeared on my sourcecode either printed or on disk, I essentially made them unable to claim ownership of it and make modifications.

    Now I don't have any objections to the GPL or freedom over sourcecode in principle, I just didn't want them to claim ownership and rights over it.

    So I was thankful that the invariant clause of the FDL allowed me to restrict the published sourcecode.

    My take on this may be wrong, IANAL, but seemed to be the case, hence why I did it.
  • by bcrowell (177657) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @02:18PM (#5769440) Homepage
    To: <Paul Programmer>
    We're happy to inform you that your FooWare package will be included in the next release of the Debian distribution. A lot of users seem to love the software, and they also have very nice things to say about the high-quality documenation you wrote for it!

    To: <Paul Programmer>
    Sorry to bother you, but a recent audit shows that the GFDL-licensed documentation for FooWare contains an invariant section reading Dedicated to the memory of my mother. This is a problem, because your thoughtless act takes away the freedom of other people to change this part of the documentation, As of the next release, the Debian distribution will no longer include any GFDL-licensed documents that contain invariant sections. Please change your licenseing.

    From: <Paul Programmer>
    No, sorry, I refuse to change the licensing of the manual.

    From <Edna Enduser>
    To: <Paul Programmer>
    Wow, I'm really blown away by the wonderful quality of your FooWare package. The only thing is, it really needs some documentation. Could you please think about writing some? I use the Debian distribution, and a lot of the other software in it has good documentation. Maybe you should emulate those other programmers. You know, the best software in the world doesn't help us users unless it has good documentation.

  • by jschrod (172610) <jschrod.acm@org> on Sunday April 20, 2003 @02:33PM (#5769493) Homepage
    The Debian license zealots at work, again. At least, they start to get consistent.

    First, they started to throw out LaTeX, because the LPPL has a clause that says "you are allowed to take our code and change it, but then you must rename the package, since in LaTeX documents package names are part of the API and consistency is needed for document exchange." The invariance clause of the GFDL is very similar in nature, both accept that documents have other aspects than software packages.

    Now, they must only understand that they have to throw out TeX as well. After all, the same restriction is on TeX the program (the code is factually frozen and may only be changed under an other name), Metafont, and the associated CM fonts. But suddenly, the license zealonts find lots of obscure reasons why these programs and fonts are supposed to be in the public domain.

    Debian, be more consistent: Throw out LaTeX, throw out GNU project documents, and throw out TeX -- one of the first free software packages that was created as a collaborative effort! Go, forward!

    • by reynaert (264437) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @09:39PM (#5771057)

      If you'd look in the debian-legal archives, you'd see that the debian people had quite a lot discussions with the latex people. They've now come to an agreement and are drafting a license that would be acceptable to both parties.

      They are now going to do the same thing with the fsf: right now they're working on a text and a faq that explain their problems with the gfdl, and then they'll try to convince the fsf to create a new version that fixes those problems./p

      • Since I am part of the "LaTeX people", I know about the discussions by heart. And I can tell you, it's more than wearing. Alone to get the Debian people to state explicitely and officially what they think is the "non-free" aspect of LPPL, needed several months.

        And that after we had already months of discussions with RMS to draft LPPL in the first place. You can see it in the LaTeX bug database, ticket 1600.

  • by KevinDumpsCore (127671) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @05:23PM (#5770090) Homepage

    I'm an active documentation volunteer so this is very important to me. I have to admit that I have always found the GFDL confusing and arbitary (like its limit of how many words you can add to a front- or back-cover text). As a non-lawyer, I found the Open Publication License to be more straight-forward.

    Here is the Open Publication License: []

    Its only drawback are the non-free options: option A requires permission for derivative works and option B limits commercial publication. However, this can be overcome by specifying "using the Open Publication License without Options A or B".

  • Talk about Zealotry (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot AT hackish DOT org> on Sunday April 20, 2003 @06:41PM (#5770375)
    So what we have here is Debian claiming that the FSF is not radical enough in its promotion of Free Software? That seems a bit ridiculous; even the FSF realizes that allowing the author of documentation the right to include some invariant section (such as an attribution) is necessary to get people to write free documentation at all. I never thought I'd see an argument where RMS would be on the side opposing the zealots.
  • by Kjella (173770) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @09:18PM (#5770971) Homepage
    This looks to me like a variation of the problem with the original BSD licence. You can keep adding invariate clauses that can't be removed. For instance, GNU including their political blurb, then a maintainer adding another invariant about how that is not *his* philosophy, and that his work shouldn't be taken as an approval of GNUs philosophy and so on. (BTW, to those talking about credit. You can not take credit for anyone elses work anyway, just as I can't assign copyright to me even if I get a piece of GPL-licenced code)

  • by cant_get_a_good_nick (172131) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @10:17PM (#5771179)
    RMS doesn't like the BSD license because of the "obnoxious" advertising clause - that having a bunch of BSD style licenses in the same source would bloat the code because every contributor would need their copyright. But he wants the GNU nametag attached to Linux when by the same logic that RMS wants there to be a GNU on Linux, other projects with a large amount of code should be able to add their name and get something like GNU/X11/IBM/Apache/Linux.

    Just a thought, while waiting for the -1 Offtopic and -1 Flamebaits...
  • by leereyno (32197) on Monday April 21, 2003 @01:24AM (#5771776) Homepage Journal
    My political, ideological, and religious beliefs when it come to computers are technology are this. I don't really have any and view with deep suspicion and general contempt anyone who does. People who get religious or extremely political about computers should get a life.

    I have opinions and conclusions that are technical in nature and are derived from technical issues. Licensing is not a technical issue, whether it be the licensing on software or the licensing on the documentation that accompanies it. My take on it is that it should be whatever the creator of the software or documentation wants it to be. What people who have not worked to create the code or docs think is about as relevant as the UN. In other words, anyone not willing to roll up their sleeves and hack the code or the docs can sit down and shut up about who gets to use it under what conditions.

    If the licensing on something makes it onerous to use, I won't use it. The same thing goes for documentation. I won't sit and bitch about it, or declare jihad on the infidels who dare to challenge the the gospel truth of the GPL, BSD, etc. because I quite simply DON'T GIVE A DAMN.

    If it is a technical issue, I'm all ears. If it is a political issue I don't want to hear about it because if experience has taught me anything its that people who are overly political are generally full of shit regardless of the slant their politics take. Admittedly that makes me full of shit myself, but not when it comes to computers.


Those who can, do; those who can't, simulate.