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Re: Autoconf 2.69: no more front-cover nor back-cover text

From: Eric Blake
Subject: Re: Autoconf 2.69: no more front-cover nor back-cover text
Date: Thu, 10 May 2012 12:16:49 -0600
User-agent: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64; rv:12.0) Gecko/20120430 Thunderbird/12.0.1

[with permission, replying on a public list so that others may also see
my answers]

On 05/09/2012 05:49 AM, address@hidden wrote:
> Dear Mister Blake,
> I have read recently on
> that:
>     The texinfo documentation no longer specifies "front-cover" or
>     "back-cover" texts, so that it may now be included in Debian's
>     "main" section.
> The changes are located on
>     docs: relax documentation license by dropping cover text
>     [autoconf.git] / doc / autoconf.texi

That diff was part of this larger commit:;a=commitdiff;h=00f569ae0c3

where the commit message in turn points to diffutils' example as rationale:

and where that message in turn points to m4's example as rationale:

And digging up the discussion at that time (nearly 6 years ago!)
explains my thoughts on the matter, even that far back:

> And the diff is:
> diff --git a/doc/autoconf.texi b/doc/autoconf.texi
> index db414cf..91bb50a 100644 (file)
> --- a/doc/autoconf.texi
> +++ b/doc/autoconf.texi
> @@ -209,15 +209,9 @@ Inc.
>  Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document
>  under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License,
>  Version 1.3 or any later version published by the Free Software
> -Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with the Front-Cover texts
> -being ``A GNU Manual,'' and with the Back-Cover Texts as in
> -(a) below.  A copy of the license is included in the section entitled
> -``GNU Free Documentation License.''
> -
> -(a) The FSF's Back-Cover Text is: ``You have the freedom to copy and
> -modify this GNU manual.  Buying copies from the FSF
> -supports it in developing GNU and promoting software
> -freedom.''
> +Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover texts, and
> +no Back-Cover Texts.  A copy of the license is included in the section
> +entitled ``GNU Free Documentation License.''
>  @end quotation
>  @end copying
> So, as far as I understand the change, you removed "A GNU Manual" from
> the front-cover of the printed manual of Autoconf and "You have the
> freedom to copy and modify this GNU manual. Buying copies from the FSF
> supports it in developing GNU and promoting software freedom." from
> its back-cover.

Correct, by removing the two sections of mandated text, we removed the
complaint that the Debian camp had about our use of the GFDL.

> I am aware that "invariant sections" and "imposed covers" do not
> respect Debian Free Software Guidelines, and so almost all GNU manuals
> are considered non-free by Debian. I think this is their problem, not
> yours, as a GNU maintainer. Moreover those covers indicate that:
> 1. This manual is the result of a lot of work from the GNU project, it
>    is its contribution, so I find it fair for "A GNU Manual" to remain
>    on the front-cover.
> 2. The GNU project is about freedom and the mention "You have the
>    freedom to copy and modify this GNU manual" is a clear explanation
>    for this enough even for someone who does not know what GFDL 1.3
>    is.
> 3. "Buying copies from the FSF supports it in developing GNU and
>    promoting software freedom." I think that supporting GNU and the
>    FSF is important in an era where DRM, defective by design devices
>    (Kindle, iSomething, etc.) and cloud computing are more and more
>    widespread.

I think one of the great things about the GFDL is that you are permitted
to add your own front and back cover text on your modifications of the
manual.  Just because the upstream sources no longer mandate you to
publish the book with a particular cover does not mean that you cannot
create a derivative work where you re-add that restriction.

Furthermore, the GNU Coding Standards state:

>> The FSF publishes some GNU manuals in printed form. To encourage sales of 
>> these manuals, the on-line versions of the manual should mention at the very 
>> start that the printed manual is available and should point at information 
>> for getting it—for instance, with a link to the page 

And the GNU Maintainer's documentation states:

>> Please adjust the list of invariant sections as appropriate for your manual. 
>> If there are none, then say “with no Invariant Sections”. If your manual is 
>> not published by the FSF, and under 400 pages, you can omit both cover 
>> texts. 

In other words, it is for those manuals published by the FSF where the
front- and back-cover text matters the most.  However, to my knowledge,
the Autoconf manual is not a text published by the FSF, and as such is
available primarily available only in electronic forms that do not have
front- and back-cover text in the first place.

We still fit in the 400-page limit (barely).  When I ran 'make pdf'
today, with margins defaulting to US sizing, the last page of the last
index is numbered 382, plus 10 unnumbered pages before page 1, leaving
us with 8 pages to grow.  Or, if you exclude Appendix A (the GFDL), the
indices, and table of contents, we have only 354 pages of actual content
written by autoconf developers, so we still have some breathing room.
Furthermore, if desired, we can follow the approach used recently by
automake and split the 'History of Autoconf' chapter into a separate
manual, as it is not as relevant to the modern usage of autoconf proper.
 For that matter, if the 400-page sizing limit were ever to become a
bigger concern, it might be worth separating the shell portability
section into its own manual, as it tends to be referenced quite heavily
even outside the confines of autoconf usage.

> It is so easy for someone who wants those non-DFSG manuals to install
> them on Debian (add the non-free server address inside
> /etc/apt/sources.list) that I think this change does harm more than it
> is beneficial. And it is clearly harmful for the GNU project.

While I appreciate your concerns, I disagree with your assertion that
this change is harmful for the GNU project.  The change was made in full
compliance with the currently documented GNU standards, Autoconf is not
the first package to make this change, and the fact that the
maintainer's guide specifically permits the exclusion of front- and
back-matter means that the FSF has considered this topic and not found
it to be harmful to GNU.  And in my personal opinion, making it easier
for Debian users to use GNU material out-of-the-box, rather than having
to jump through hoops to install from a non-default location, can only
increase the likelihood that the manual will actually be read, and I
feel that an increased readership actually benefits the GNU project,
regardless of the perceived bad politics between various groups over the
merits or drawbacks of the GFDL.

> Can you explain your point of view to me?

I hope that my answers above have proved satisfactory, and that you will
understand (even if you still choose to disagree) why I will not revert
that particular change in the Autoconf manual licensing.

> Thanks
> Christophe

Eric Blake   address@hidden    +1-919-301-3266
Libvirt virtualization library

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