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

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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  • 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.
  • by antis0c ( 133550 ) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @11:05AM (#5768658)
    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 People will benefit from the source I had originally made, and I benefit in the fact I can use the work in closed environments.

  • by lederhosen ( 612610 ) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @11:15AM (#5768689)
    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.
  • No problem (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 1nv4d3r ( 642775 ) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @11:29AM (#5768743) Homepage
    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>
  • by iabervon ( 1971 ) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @11:35AM (#5768770) Homepage Journal
    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 dealing with it.

    It actually makes a lot of sense for debian to have a policy of distinguishing between packages they are licensed to maintain and packages which can only be maintained effectively by other people.
  • 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.
  • Read this. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 20, 2003 @11:49AM (#5768826)
    Here [wikipedia.org] 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: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 Nivex ( 20616 ) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @02:57PM (#5769578) Homepage
    No wonder the Debian distribution is so far behind technically. They're all so busy arguing all this legal mumbo jumbo.
  • Re:how? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mirabilos ( 219607 ) on Sunday April 20, 2003 @04:44PM (#5769970) Homepage
    That's right. OpenBSD in fact is seeking to get
    rid of _all_ GPL'd userland, no wait - all unfree
    (as in BSD/MIT/X11 licence) code.

    In fact, sendmail is in the unfree subdir as well.
  • 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: http://opencontent.org/openpub/ [opencontent.org]

    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@NOsPam.hackish.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 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

  • 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.

  • by jschrod ( 172610 ) <.jschrod. .at. .acm.org.> on Monday April 21, 2003 @03:14AM (#5771974) Homepage
    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.

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." -- Will Rogers