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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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  • 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.
  • 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.

  • by sam_handelman (519767) <skh2003.columbia@edu> 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?
  • Oh, the Irony. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Montreal Geek (620791) <> on Sunday April 20, 2003 @11:27AM (#5768734) Homepage Journal
    Isn't funny that RSM keeps hammering the difference between free (as in beer) software versus free (as in speech ) software; claiming how important and critical the latter is...

    And yet the GFDL is the perfect illustration of that analogy; upside down! That documentation is very free (beer), but specificaly prohibits modification of the invariant sections which is limiting speech.

    Sorry, Richard, can't have the cake and eat it too. You figure it's evil for someone to publish code not wanting someone else to fiddle in it, but you figure that as long as you feel it's important to you, documentation can be so protected?

    -- MG

  • NO, sorry (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mindstrm (20013) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @11:30AM (#5768752)
    I'm not a GPL zealot by any means.. however..

    TO start with, both Microsoft's code, and, say, RMS, are protected by copyright laws. In that, sure, they are the same.

    Microsoft, however, makes you agree to a bunch of additional terms above and beyond the protections it would be provided under just copyright law. Stuff like "no reverse engineering" "No benchmarks" "not transferrable to another system" etcetera. You get the idea.

    RMS code, released under the GPL, does NOT require you to accept ANY license at all. The GPL is NOT a use license.
    You are free to do anything with the code that standard copyright laws allowed.
    IN ADDITION to that, you can choose to accept the terms of the GPL, which grants you additional rights ABOVE and BEYOND what copyright alone allows you to do. You are still free to contact the copyright holder and request other licensing as well.

    So it all really depends on what you mean by freedom. I agree, real freedom would be simply releasing it into the public domain, where anyone can do anything at all with it. The GPL is just pushing an agenda.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 20, 2003 @11:37AM (#5768778)
    I agree with the sentiment that the parent is completely wrong.

    "some insane clause"

    Yes, and the U.S. Constitution has some "insane caluse" about this whole freedom of speech business. Shouldn't we just allow the government to restrict whichever rights it takes to be most economically and socially productive?

    Wait, no, we value freedom for a reason.

    If you do not value these freedoms, then your input is not welcome.
  • 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) <<kd.lesaewecips> <ta> <nomis>> 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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 20, 2003 @11:43AM (#5768806)
    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 GPL license, and the GFLD license. Most of them are equivalent except for details of wording, but the license used for GFDL has a special problem: the ``obnoxious GFLD Invariant Sectioons clause''.

    Initially the obnoxious Invariant Sections clause was used only in the GNU Documentation. That did not cause any particular problem, because including one section in a technical docunent is not a great practical difficulty.

    If other developers who used GFDL-like licenses had copied the GFDL invariant sections clause verbatim--then they would not have made the problem any bigger.

    But, as you might expect, other developers did not copy the clause verbatim. They changed it, replacing ``GNU'' with their own sections or their own names. The result is a plethora of licenses, requiring a plethora of different sections.

    When people put many such documentation together in an operating system, the result is a serious problem. Imagine if a software system required 75 different sections, each one naming a different author or group of authors.

    This might seem like extrapolation ad absurdum, but it is actual fact. NetBSD comes with a long list of different sentences, required by the various licenses for parts of the system. In a 1997 version of NetBSD, I counted 75 of these sentences. I would not be surprised if the list has grown by now.

    To address this problem, in my ``spare time'' I talk with developers who have used GFDL-style licenses, asking them if they would please remove the invariant sections clause. Around 1996 I spoke with the developers of Wikipedia about this, and they decided to remove the advertising clause from all of their own code.

    Unfortunately, this does not eliminate the legacy of the Invariant Sections clause: similar clauses are still present in the licenses of many documents which are not part of GNU. These changes in licenses has no effect on the other packages which imitated the old GFDL license; only the developers who made them can change them.

    But if they followed Debian's lead before, maybe Debian's change in policy will convince some of them to change. It's worth asking.

    So if you have a favorite package which still uses the GFDL license with the Invariant Sections clause, please ask the maintainer to look at this post, and consider making the change.

    And if you want to release a document as copylefted free content, please don't use the Invariant Sections clause.

    You can also help spread awareness of the issue by not using the term ``GFDL-style'', and not saying ``the GFDL license'' which implies there is only one. You see, when people refer to all copyleft free doc licenses as ``GFDL-style licenses'', some new free software developer who wants to use a copyleft free doc license might take for granted that the place to get it is from GFDL. He or she might copy the license with the invariant sections clause, not by specific intention, just by chance.

    If you would like to cite one specific example of a copyleft license, and you have no particular preference, please pick an example which has no particular problem. For instance, if you talk about ``Creative Commons style licenses'', you will encourage people to copy the license from CC, which avoids the advertising clause for certain, rather than take a risk by randomly chosing the GFDL license.
  • Re:how? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lspd (566786) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @11:55AM (#5768853) Homepage Journal
    The GFDL's Preamble states: We have designed this License in order to use it for manuals for free software, because free software needs free documentation: a free program should come with manuals providing the same freedoms that the software does.

    But the reality seems to be that Freedom [] to the FSF only really matters when it comes to software. A quick look at the FSF's audio section [] shows that their interpretation of Freedom doesn't extend very far in other areas. Would software released under a license that allows "verbatim copying and distribution" be considered FSF free?

    Debian takes a broader view [] that everything in the distro should be "Free". It may sound a bit anal to expect that manuals, audio and graphics should be covered by the same rights to modification, but the sad fact is that it's not just an academic point. Quake2 may be GPL software, but the graphics, music, etc are not covered by the GPL. Since Debian groups software into Free and Non-Free sections, it's important that the distinction is pointed out...regardless of whether it's Quake 2 or GCC.
  • Just plain wrong. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by theLOUDroom (556455) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @12:00PM (#5768870)
    Stick to public domain. GPL is no more free than Microsoft, just each end an extreme. Microsoft, no source, no tampering, no nothing. GPL, Always source, no matter what. Sure it works for some, I have a few projects I own that are GPL, incidentally because I originally unknowingly GPL'd them, and a few now that are public domain. I prefer public domain, there is little to no worries at all on it. I'm even more free in the choice because I could one day take works I put into public domain and use them in a closed source application, such as for consulting work. People will benefit from the source I had originally made, and I benefit in the fact I can use the work in closed environments.

    The problem here isn't the GPL. You just don't understand it right.

    If you put a project under the GPL, you can still use your own code in a closed project. Since you own the copyright, you can release the code under multiple copyrights. Releasing it under the GPL is actually better because it means no one else can use your code in a closed product.

    Stick to public domain. GPL is no more free than Microsoft, just each end an extreme.

    This really makes me wonder if you're trolling. This statement is just silly. With MS software you have the rights granted to you by copyright law, but they are restriced by a license. With GPL'ed software you get the rights granted to you by copyright law, plus additional rights are granted to you is you agree to the GPL. The GPL does not attempt to remove any of the rights granted by copyright, it actually gives you more. MS licences try to remove rights granted to you by copyright while not giving you any more.(BTW, this makes the GPL perhaps the most legally binding of software licences.) This is like saying that $1,000,000,000 is no better than $.01 because they're different ends of an extreme. It's nonsense. It's like saying facism is no different than democracy because they're both forms of government.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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
  • The GPL is currently overly-restrictive because of copyright laws. In Stallman's perfect world, I don't imagine there would be a great need for the GPL. In our world there is.
  • by scharkalvin (72228) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @12:33PM (#5768999) Homepage
    Debian is nothing but gnu/Stallman's army of Gnu/trolls. Why do you think they're the only major distro that actually puts gnu/ in front of Linux? All other distros call it by it's real name, LINUX!

    As if there isn't any GNU in Redhat, Gentoo, or any other distro. NOT TRUE! Linux is ONLY the kernel, and would be USELESS by itself.

    Debian IS unique. Debian "stable", while "20 (internet) minutes into the past" (to miss quote Max Headroom), is usually quite stable. If you can't stand life on the bleeding edge, this is the only distro for you. (If you can figure out how to install it). Debian DOES take the "free" (as in 'libre') aspect quite to heart (maybe too much), but they DO have links to mirrors of 'contrib' and 'non-free' for those that take a more 'liberal' view. Just because Debian is the Distro that RMS uses doesn't mean that Debian is a toady of RMS (I don't think he is a registered Debian developer with voting privilages).

    I am NOT flaming Gentoo here, but you better be able to take care of yourself if you use it because you WILL be on the bleeding edge. I pick my distros based on technical reasons, which is why I use Debian. I just try to tune out the political crap.

  • by idiotnot (302133) <> on Sunday April 20, 2003 @01:10PM (#5769141) Homepage Journal
    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?

    Actually, it's more akin to a bass player who writes his own bass line to the song. The music publishing company, and primary writer retain copyright on the song, with the bassist possibly getting a co-billing. If the bassist got that co-billing as a writer, he would be able to use that same line in another work, possibly (assuming the publisher didn't have a problem).

    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.

    Two things here. 1. The hurd developers, for the most part, do assign their copyrights over to the FSF, unlike say, Linux devlopers. How many times have you seen Donald Becker's name pop up somewhere? :-) I don't have a problem with either way, really, so long as the code is GPL'd.

    2. As far as re-releasing things under a new license, I don't think that'd be possible as it stands now. Although the FSF owns many of the copyrights in those programs you mention, they don't own all of them, and probably would be unable to collect them. In the case of the Hurd, many of the daemons that borrow from the Linux kernel would have to be rewritten to exclude code taken under the GPL (if you use GPL code you have to release as GPL).

    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.

    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.
  • 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 20, 2003 @01:25PM (#5769202)
    Free nintendo for everybody!

    But seriously, wanting to change the license is kindof a logically self-defeating argument. This is more of a "trademark" issue .. can you call a license the GPL if it is not the GPL? Can you call a book "War and Peace" if it is in fact NOT the same book?

    Would you want to download a software that claims to be GPL when it is in fact Microsoft-EULA software?

    I think it's perfectly reasonable that a license not allow derivative works. I think it's also perfectly reasonable (if not a beauracratic morass) to allow for different CLASSES of copyrighted works. I'm not interested in "improving" an MP3 I download, but I would like to get rid of an annoying bug in software and share it with others. Etc.
  • by dark-nl (568618) <> on Sunday April 20, 2003 @01:26PM (#5769207)
    These sections become permanently attached to the manual. Not being allowed to change them isn't a big problem. Not being allowed to remove them is a problem because it puts an onerous condition on the rest of the manual. For example, it makes it practically impossible to extract a page or two from one manual for use in another -- you have to copy various essays and rants as well.
  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 20, 2003 @01:56PM (#5769338)

    But how does this make it any less stupid that you have to assign copyright to the FSF to contribute to GCC?

    Well we all like to live in our own fantasy worlds where everything is GPL'd or everything is BSD or whatever. But at some point the "real world" pops up. In this "real world" you have to follow copyright law as written.

    If the FSF ever wanted to go to court or otherwise handle a legal matter over their code, they would have to TRACK DOWN every single author and involve them in the legal proceedings.

    And if they didn't ask for a signed document, there could be disputes later, since you can't assign copyright with an email or a verbal promise.

    The FSF is just being EXCEEDINGLY careful with copyright law. For one thing, it will make court cases easier. And another thing: the FSF doesn't want to ever be accused of copyright infringement or even the smallest ignorance of the law.

    It would be very easy for someone to point to all of the FSF's writings and philosophies and say "Look .. these guys are clearly against copyright law. That means they are perfectly willing to violate it."

    By being VERY careful, the FSF can say "No. We disagree with parts of copyright law, but we NEVER violate it. We follow it to the letter and take every possible precaution. We have permission from each and every author on file."

    If I were in their position, I'd do the exact same thing. I'd leave absolutely no question that the software I'm distributing is 100% legal and clear.

    If the FSF turns evil one day, you can still continue to use their software the same as you did the day before.

  • Oh boy here we go (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 20, 2003 @01:59PM (#5769352)
    Here are the relevant sections of 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."

    Note the explicit mention of political position. Gah. IMHO software documentation is not the place for this. That's what websites are for. Documentation describes the software. Agendas can be handled elsewhere.

    "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."

    What if I want to take over maintaining a good piece of software, and some wacko ideas I don't want to be associated with are stuck in the documentation and cannot be removed? I'll have to start from scratch, or abandon the project to die. Who does that help?

    The only thing I can see being worth putting in an invariant section is notice of authorship, to preserve the credit due previous authors. Also put strict restrictions on what can be in a valid authors section.

    "The "Cover Texts" are certain short passages of text that are listed, as Front-Cover Texts or Back-Cover Texts, in the notice that says that the Document is released under this License. A Front-Cover Text may be at most 5 words, and a Back-Cover Text may be at most 25 words."

    Again, what if there is something wildly inappropriate in these, such as the Back-Cover Text containing racist words or cuss words, that I don't want to be associated with?

    Don't do politics in Documentation! History is one thing, but when was history ever set in stone? Documentation serves the purpose of preservation of information. I see no reason not to make the use of it as easy as possible. No invariant sections except to preserve credit for work.
  • by jschrod (172610) <jschrod AT acm DOT 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!

  • GODDAMNIT (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 20, 2003 @03:25PM (#5769679)
    Debian, get off of your armchair lawyer assess and start producing something. With Debian as far behind as it is, do you really have time to argue semantics with yet another license that may not be free enough for you? Fuck it, I am going to format my Deb box today and install RedHat or Win 2003 server just because I am sick of the elitest Debian attitude.
  • Re:how? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jcast (461910) <[jonathanccast] [at] []> on Sunday April 20, 2003 @03:51PM (#5769802) Journal
    The problem is, RMS (and therefore the FSF) believes that IP rules should be based on an examination of the technical details surrounding a particular work and their cultural/social implications. Since these details vary widely between different types of works, RMS prefers a wide variety of rules: music should be freely copiable, but not modifiable; software should be modifiable, but not distributable as binaries-only. His position on printed documentation used to be that it should be modifiable, but it doesn't matter whether it comes with source, since printing documentation from source isn't a technology that's widely available (like compiling software is).

    When RMS applies his system to philosophical documents, like the GNU Manifesto, he concludes that these should not be modifiable, since that would open the door for mis-representation of the original writer's opinions. So, if he includes a philosophical/political rant in a GNU manual, he prohibits modifying that section. Debian, OTOH, believes that everything should be modifiable, so they don't approve of RMS's position w.r.t. invariant sections (which is just the FDL's term for don't-modify-this philosophical rants).
  • by njdj (458173) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @05:43PM (#5770141)
    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 Emacs, and license it under the GFDL, nothing that describes any part of Emacs can be a "secondary section". A "secondary section" could be something like an acknowledgement that you got moral support from your spouse/POSSLQ/kids/dog while writing the document; and you could make that an "invariant section" if you wanted to.
    For Debian to make a fuss about this seems silly to me.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 20, 2003 @06:45PM (#5770391)
    Debian is making no value judgements here, at least not in the way that you claim. They don't want you to go without credit; they're not concerned with that at all, as a matter of fact. It's a non-issue. They're concerned with making a Free Linux distribution.

    It simply doesn't meet their definition of "Free". They have no objection to you choosing the GFDL if you don't agree with their arguments against it, they just won't let it be included in Debian main, which is their right.

    You want to restrict the freedom to modify in a way that gives you credit. Good for you. But Debian objects to the fact that you're restricting it at all.
  • Typo in Headline? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sepluv (641107) <blakesley@gmai l . c om> on Sunday April 20, 2003 @07:08PM (#5770470)
    Quote from the article:
    This is the stuff of which nasty flamewars and
    misspelled Slashdot headlines are made.
    You've got to love this.

    The headline of this story should read "GNU FDL" or "GFDL" - not "GNU GFDL" which is redundant.

    Also, I think they mean "Debian to declare" - not "Debian GNU/Linux to declare" - as last time I checked my OS did not have the ability to express opinions.

    So that is 2 mistakes and that's just the headline. If only the editors RTFA they might pay special attention to not making typos in headlines where the article says "This is the stuff of ... misspelled Slashdot headlines".

  • Re:NO, sorry (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 20, 2003 @08:06PM (#5770704)
    No, stupid fool, because Microsoft has resources and "pull" that the individual coder can never match. They can give their incompatible "prettified" version away free until all interest in your original product has dried up and you kill yourself in sorrow. They can hire 50 coders to "improve" on your foundation in ways that will make it impossible for you to compete, since they're obviously not giving the improvements back to the community, while simultaneously marginalizing you with purposeful incompatibilities. And they can get deals with enough other OEM companies to set up their incompatible version as the standard, and then not let you have the necessary information, hardware specs, or whatever you need to even get your foot back in the door.

    You're right, if you put your software into the public domain, you can't complain if Microsoft or some other Multinational SCREWS YOU to death. You asked for it. That's why people who care about what happens to their software don't leave it defenseless under the weak public domain licenses. They use the GPL. I give it to "the public only" with the GPL, with the intention that it, and all its derivatives, remain free. If I foolishly put it into the public domain, I have no protection from it being stolen from the public and closed off. True, the original won't be stolen, but once the incompatible "polluted" version is 98% of the market, thanks to Microsoft's brute force, marketing, and manipulation, my project is effectively dead and not even in memory. So yes, it's basically dead. You're trying to deceive people with your flawed logic.

    Looking at your horrific and biased posting history, you are the worst corporate shill I've ever seen on Slashdot. You're a dick and you don't even come close to having my respect.
  • by edinho (145769) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @08:07PM (#5770707)

    You are wrong. GPL does not discriminate against commercial endeavours. It just say you can't take free code and make it unfree. I.e., you get people's contribution for free, so as decency dictates then you should return your contribution. It says this regardless of who you are: commercial entity, GWB, John Smith, McDonalds, Britney Spears, Pfizer, Brett Glass, or me.

    You accuse of FSF of discriminating against commercial endeavours. Just because the company with self-serving-only interest is not allowed by GPL to take and not give back? That's lame. GPL does not discrimate against commercial endeavours, it does not discriminate. Period. If you want to insist that GPL does discriminates, then, OK, GPL discriminates--it discriminates against everyone equally.

    You want a special treatment for commercial companies? Nah, I don't think you want that. What I think you want is a rule that also does not discriminate, but at the same time allow commercial companies to "do their usual business". Unfortunately, given the nature of the kind of commercial companies that you have in mind, this will put everyone else at a disadvantage, because your kind of commercial companies do not share. GPL is designed so that everyone has access to the same thing, no one can co-opt the code.

    In the GNU Project, discrimination against proprietary software is not just a policy--it's the principle and the purpose.

    Yep. Damn right. You are trying to use this quote to support your point, but it only fools those that don't read carefully. Let me translate it for you: We don't want people to steal our code--our code is for everyone equally . It says nothing about discrimination against commercial endeavours. It discriminates against proprietary software, which is not an entity, and certainly not a commercial company. GPL is to preserve the freedom of everyone to access the code. If some commercial entity, or anyone else for that matter, wants to come and take advantage of that code and not give back the advantage, the GPL prevents that.

    GPL is the free-est license in the world: it gives you all freedom, except the freedom to take that freedom away. But you don't want to see that, do you?


  • 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)

  • Re:Read this. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by The Vorlon (15731) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @09:40PM (#5771067)
    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 that are recognized as free under the DFSG would show you that Debian does NOT require authors to waive the right to be acknowledged for their work in order to have their software (or documentation) included. If you're having trouble figuring out what license to look at, try the BSD license or the GNU GPL, both of which are widely used and both of which require recognition of the authors. The suggestion that Debian is opposed to the license because it prevents plagiarism is ludicrous, and I'm appalled that such a notion even has to be rebutted.

    Why is ignorance considered interesting here these days?

A bug in the code is worth two in the documentation.