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Re: [Gnu-arch-users] [OT] Debian should move all GPL sw to non-free
Re: [Gnu-arch-users] [OT] Debian should move all GPL sw to non-free
Sun, 28 Mar 2004 01:54:04 -0500
Tom Lord has claimed that if the Debian Free Software Guidlines (DFSG)
is interpreted to mean that the Gnu Free Document License (GFDL) is
nonfree, then the Gnu Public License (GPL) must be nonfree as well.
First, Lord quotes the section of the DFSG that he believes comes into
conflict with the GDFL. By use of deduction from the later parts of
Lord's essay, he is essentially claiming that the paragraph should be
interpreted to mean that, with the exception of legal necessities, the
source code should be freely modifiable in its entirety.
Lord goes on to cover the main points of contention between the DFSG and
the GFDL. His charactarization is accurate; well respected developers of
the Debian team do indeed interpret the GFDL as being in conflict with
the DFSG. His examples of reasons why the GFDL is interpreted to be in
conflict with the DFSG is correct as well. Sections of the GFDL can be
locked so as others may not modify certain sections and other sections
must be removed, and so forth.
Lord then continues on, claiming that within the GPL a clause exists
that requires interactive programs to include a banner. This clause,
which shall shall forthwith be referred to as the "banner clause", does
exist in the GPL under section 2C.
The next step that Lord takes is that he claims that the banner clause
is not a necessary instrument of copyright, but an instrument of
politics. Again, Lord has perceived correctly. The banner clause is not
necessary for the software to perform its intended purpose.
Lord then combines his assetions to make the following statement: The
GPL, by requiring a statement that goes beyond the minimum required to
preserve copyright, fails to meet the criteria established by the DFSG.
Lord's claim fails at several points. He also fails to logically
support his claim by commiting a number of logical fallacies.
If we rely on Lord's logic, then the banner clause is
not code at all, but a political claim. If we take Lord's claims on the
surface, then we can not treat his argument fairly and must stop here.
However, if we read into what his argument implies -- namely that these
licenses are more generalized than 'just software licenses', we can
continue to limp on.
Lords claim is weakend when we consider the banner clause of the GPL.
The only way that we can agree with Lord on this point is if we resort
to black-and-white thinking. His claim essentially reduces thusly: If
_any_ part of the GPL can in the least bit be considered less free than
possible, then it must not be considered free at all. This claim, like
other black-and-white claims, fails miserably when considered in the
light of reason. Licenses, like many other issues, may have varying
degrees of freeness. One can reasonably argue that unlicensed software
is freer than BSD licensed software; BSD licensed software is freer than
the GPL, and the GPL is more free than the GFDL; so forth and so on. The
banner clause does not place an onerous burden upon the freeness of
The second largest failure is that Lord referenced, but failed to
take into account, was that the DFSG _defines_ the GPL as a free license.
Thus, a priori, we know that the GPL is free software.
The most significant failure of Lord's is that we have the benefit of
followup definitions from the creators of the DFSG that have clarified
the issue. We know a priori that the GPL is a free license and that the
GFDL is not a free license because they have publicly defined them as such.
Left with no legs to stand on, Lords argumement siezes and falls onto
its side. For the sake of pity, let us be charitable and grant Lord's
argument one more breath of life -- If the GPL is free, must we also
consider the GFDL as free as well?
Fortunately, no. The GPL and the GFDL are different licenses. Both
licenses have different clauses in them, seek to solve a different issue
(the claim of the GPL is to license free software, the claim of the GFDL
is to license free documentation). Most importantly, the GPL and the
GFDL have different restrictions on use. The GPL requires approximately
4 lines of information; the GFDL allows for requirements that can be
stretched to any arbitrary length. These differences are more than
enough to allow one to safely consider the licenses independantly.
As such, Lord's argument breathes its last death, and we are left with
nothing to do but to bury the poor thing.
> * The GFDL is not Debian-free
> One clause of the DFSG ("Debian Free Software Guidelines") is
> commonly cited as contradictory to the GFDL:
> from http://www.debian.org/social_contract#guidelines:
> 4.Integrity of The Author's Source Code
> The license may restrict source-code from being distributed in
> modified form _only_ if the license allows the distribution of
> "patch files" with the source code for the purpose of modifying
> the program at build time. The license must explicitly permit
> distribution of software built from modified source code. The
> license may require derived works to carry a different name or
> version number from the original software. (This is a
> compromise. The Debian group encourages all authors not to
> restrict any files, source or binary, from being modified.)
> (I have seen people also argue that clause 3 of DSFG contradicts
> the GFDL but I haven't seen it argued well enough to try to refute
> The problematic GFDL provisions are primarily found in section 3
> of the GFDL. Summarizing:
> * restrictions that apply to distribution of modified copies
> GFDL requires that when modifications are made to a GFDL document,
> some optional parts of the document _must_ be modified in certain
> ways; others _must_not_ be modified in certain ways.
> Most famously, a contributor may add an "Invariant Section" which,
> thereafter, may not be removed or modified by others.
> Slightly less well known: an "Endorsements" section must be
> removed from modified versions; "Acknowledgements" and
> "Dedications" sections may be modified only in certain ways; a
> "History" section must be added or modified in a certain way;
> "cover texts" and author lists must be updated in certain ways;
> the title must be modified; and a portion of the information about
> obtaining the source-form of the unmodified copy must be
> It should be noted that all of the sections and items which must
> or must not be modified are specifically restricted by GFDL in
> purpose and content. None of them can contain information which
> is central to the topic of the document. If a manual's main
> purpose is to document a program, none of the restricted sections
> or items may document that program.
> * Is Debian Being Coherent?
> The Debian position on the DSFG is that it permits no restriction
> whatsoever on modifications to the substantive content of a free
> work. The sole exception is, of course, those kinds of minimal
> restrictions which are necessary to implement the copyright
> ownership and licensing which protects the freeness of a work.
> By extension, any license which imposes content restrictions, other
> than those which implement minimal requirements of copyright law,
> must not be DSFG-free.
> The GPL is such a license.
> In section 2c, the GPL says:
> c) If the modified program normally reads commands interactively
> when run, you must cause it, when started running for such
> interactive use in the most ordinary way, to print or display an
> announcement including an appropriate copyright notice and a
> notice that there is no warranty (or else, saying that you
> provide a warranty) and that users may redistribute the program
> under these conditions, and telling the user how to view a copy
> of this License. (Exception: if the Program itself is
> interactive but does not normally print such an announcement,
> your work based on the Program is not required to print an
> I call your attention to the list of things which must be printed or
> displayed, in particular:
> that users may redistribute the program under these conditions
> Such a statement in the start-up message of an interactive program
> is not legally necessary. It is political speech.
> It is political speech that the FSF typically includes in its
> interactive programs. For example:
> % gdb
> GDB is free software and you are welcome to distribute copies
> of it under certain conditions; type "show copying" to see the
> conditions. There is absolutely no warranty for GDB; type
> "show warranty" for details.
> GDB x.y, Copyright XXXX Free Software Foundation, Inc.
> Note the phrase "you are welcome to distribute copies of it under
> certain conditions". There is no legal necessity for that phrase
> outside of the requirements of GPL.
> You are free to modify GDB. You are free to change the wording of
> that start-up message. However, you are not permitted to change the
> wording of the start-up message in a way that causes it to fail to
> explicitly inform users that they may redistribute GDB and directing
> them to the GPL to see the conditions of that redistribution.
> The same brute-force application of the DFSG that leads to the
> conclusion that GFDL is non-free must also reach that conclusion
> that GPL is non-free.
> GPL imposes an invarient requirement on the behavior of some
> programs and on the content of part of their output. These
> requirements restrict the range of permissible modifications. GPL
> hard-codes a specific use of this requirement: namely to deliver a
> political message from the FSF.
> Of course, the 10th DFSG guideline says explicitly that GPL is "an
> example" of a free license according to the previous 9 guidelines,
> but nothing in those guidelines explains why the modification
> restrictions of GPL 2c are tolerable. Nothing in Debian's
> rejection of GFDL suggests there is any fuzziness in the issue.
> It is apparently simply a mistake that GPL is listed as an example
> of a free license.
> Clearly, to be consistent, Debian should now move all GPL'ed
> software to non-free and remove the mention of GPL from the DFSG.
> Gnu-arch-users mailing list
> GNU arch home page:
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Re: [Gnu-arch-users] [OT] Debian should move all GPL sw to non-free,
James Blackwell <=
Re: [Gnu-arch-users] [OT] Debian should move all GPL sw to non-free, Florian Weimer, 2004/03/30
Re: [Gnu-arch-users] [OT] Debian should move all GPL sw to non-free, Andrew Suffield, 2004/03/28
Re: [Gnu-arch-users] [OT] Debian should move all GPL sw to non-free, Robin Green, 2004/03/28
Re: [Gnu-arch-users] [OT] Debian should move all GPL sw to non-free, Stephen J. Turnbull, 2004/03/29