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Re: Permission to use portions of the recent GNU Emacs Manual

From: David Kastrup
Subject: Re: Permission to use portions of the recent GNU Emacs Manual
Date: Sat, 11 Dec 2004 21:43:43 +0100
User-agent: Gnus/5.11 (Gnus v5.11) Emacs/21.3.50 (gnu/linux)

"Eli Zaretskii" <address@hidden> writes:

>> Date: Sat, 11 Dec 2004 10:27:39 +0000 (GMT)
>> From: Alan Mackenzie <address@hidden>
>> Cc: address@hidden, address@hidden
>> What is the purpose of the GFDL?  I quote from the licence: "The
>> purpose of this License is to make a manual ....  "free" in the
>> sense of freedom: to assure everyone the effective freedom to copy
>> and redistribute it, with or without modifying it, either
>> commercially or noncommercially."  Since the XEmacs team's freedom
>> here is ineffective, the GFDL is, on its own terms, broken.
> I think you are taking the ``free'' part too literally.  Free
> Software or Free Documentation does not necessarily mean that you
> are ``free'' to do whatever you want with it.  For example, the GPL
> says that your freedom is limited by the requirement to supply the
> sources together with the binary.
> So an argument that ``free'' means there are no limitations is an
> invalid argument, IMHO.  A better argument would be whether the
> limitations of freedom imposed by the GFDL are justified by the
> goals of the Free Software movement.

And that, in my opinion, is not just a question about the GFDL itself,
but also what it is being applied to.

Personally, I consider it a good thing that the GFDL as an option for
authors exists: if I were to write a book with non-trivial
non-technical value, a book with a topic of its own, I'd consider the
GFDL a good choice to have that would be good for preserving parts of
my author's interest in the integrity of the work.

But while I like its availability where I consider it appropriate, I
think that it should not be applied to reference material intended to
accompany software distributions: it makes no sense to not be able to
copy examples and passages freely between doc strings and manual.  Of
course, the sole copyright owner of the material (like the FSF is for
its key project) _can_ do that, but it means that the project as a
whole is no longer governed by the spirit of a public licence: we now
have only a _single_ party that is allowed to manage the operations
needed to sensibly maintain the project as a whole.

Since combined GFDL/GPL projects break the spirit of a public licence
in, I consider the GFDL licence the wrong choice for material that is
basically maintained by the same set of authors and in the same manner
(CVS or whatever) together with GPLed software.  This would probably
hold for the majority of documentation in Texinfo format, with
possibly some arguable exceptions where a whole project is done
_completely_ under the GFDL, like some LaTeX references are, even
though the lack of ability for freely copying example code from and
back to GPLed projects might also apply here.

Of course it would be pointless to distribute the Emacs Lisp manual
under the GFDL while giving the XEmacs team full licence to use it
under the GPL.  I agree with that.  But I also think that the Emacs
Lisp manual is a prime example of a manual that should be available
under the GPL outright to begin with, because it evolves together with
and inseparable from Emacs, and having it under a different licence
means that we use copyright for throwing a permanent monkey wrench for
maintenance into any forks of the project not done by the copyright
owner itself, defeating the "public" in the "GNU General Public

David Kastrup, Kriemhildstr. 15, 44793 Bochum

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