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Re: [gNewSense-users] KFV: how to handle COPYING?

From: Sam Geeraerts
Subject: Re: [gNewSense-users] KFV: how to handle COPYING?
Date: Thu, 26 Jun 2008 21:29:23 +0200
User-agent: Mozilla-Thunderbird (X11/20080420)

Bake Timmons wrote:
There are certainly different motivations to justify either way.
Thinking about it again, "free" could indeed be made acceptable with
sufficient explanation, which would matter even more than in the
non-free case given the controversy that has flared up before (e.g.,
in Debian).
I think if we aim for a 100% free distro, and say "we are 99% free
because of licence files" it will be more confusing then if we say "we
are 100% free, and heres why we consider licence files to be a

Indeed, this is one of several "social" problems the "non-free"
designation would not help.

I would say "Licence texts are completely free", rather then COPYING
files - licences appear in other files as well, and the COPYING file may
not be free (i cant imagine why, but there could be non-changable text
of some sort in the file, thats not related to the licence)

Part of the problem is explaining why license text is "free"; my
qualification previously, "For the main purpose of gNS..." is one way.
Another way is to explain that license texts--in a world of copyright
systems and such--are the natural and accepted way of way of granting
rights to make software free.  (Of course, they are not *necessary*,
at least in some places, since there is the public domain [i.e., total
relinquishment of all rights].)

Perhaps a useful example to bring up in an explanation is TeX(*), now
that I think about it.  Few would think of TeX as non-free, so in this
light, license texts seem to be even less of an issue.

The '100% free + explanation' approach is best, because it's in line with how we actually view this issue. We don't make an exception for something evil for the sake of convenience. No, we include it because it's the (or at least a) right way to do things.

"For the main purpose of gNS..." sounds a bit like "because we say so". I like the second way better. A summary of some GNU pages would also be useful: (What Is Copyleft?, Licenses for Other Types of Works)

Something along the lines of:
Copyleft licenses are designed to protect the user's freedom. It can only do this if no further restrictions can be added. Therefore, not being allowed to change the license is a good thing. Functional, scientific and artistic works and works of opinion are used differently, so they don't all have the same freedom requirements.

I'm not sure if TeX is a good example. That looks like "do what you want with it, but keep it feature complete or call it something else". The GPL is more like "don't change a single word of this, unless you change it significantly and call it something else and even then it's frowned upon". So if you're going to compare them in that way, license texts are still more of an issue (at least for the GPL).

BTW, regarding non-free documentation, while Ubuntu may already filter
it out, should we not be more explicit in rejecting it?  (Maybe I am
not acquainted enough with the gNS web sites.)
I belive the aim of gNS is 100% *FSF* free (as oposed to DFSG free). As
such the doco moved by upstream(s) into non-free categories may actually
be free for our purposes.

Right.  I had in mind clear-cut cases (e.g., however Common Lisp
HyperSpec is licensed, making it completely unmodifiable, IIRC).  The
main thing to me is that we eventually help people become more aware
of the issues here as well as with software.

(*) From

   Donald Knuth has indicated several times^[26]^[27] that the source code
   of TeX has been placed into the "public domain," and he strongly
   encourages modifications or experimentations with this source code.
   However, since the code is still copyrighted, it is technically
   free/open-source software but is not in the public domain in the legal
   sense. In particular, since Knuth highly values the reproducibility of
   the output of all versions of TeX, any changed version must not be
   called T[E]X, TeX, or anything confusingly similar. To enforce this
   rule, any implementation of the system must pass a test suite called
   the TRIP test (available on CTAN) before being allowed to be called
   TeX. The question of license is somewhat confused by the statements
   included at the beginning of the TeX source code^[28], which indicate
   that "all rights are reserved. Copying of this file is authorized only
   if (...) you make absolutely no changes to your copy". However, this
   restriction should be interpreted as a prohibition to change the source
   code as long as the file is called tex.web. This interpretation is
   confirmed later in the source code when the TRIP test is mentioned ("If
   this program is changed, the resulting system should not be called

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