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

From: Karl Fogel
Subject: Re: Permission to use portions of the recent GNU Emacs Manual
Date: 11 Dec 2004 22:59:46 -0600
User-agent: Gnus/5.09 (Gnus v5.9.0) Emacs/21.3.50

"Robert J. Chassell" <address@hidden> writes:
> The prime purpose of the GFDL is to encourage more publishers to
> provide commercial, free documentation.  
> Publishers have told me that they are afraid that without some kind of
> legal obligation to publish a few words on the front and back covers
> they will be ripped off by free riders.  Were they to invest in
> gathering people's attention, others would benefit.  So they did not
> invest in providing commercial, free documentation.  
> The strategy may be wrong.  Businesses may not compete with one
> another.  They may not care whether they lose revenue to free riders
> and others.  But I do not think so.  (Indeed, most of the free works I
> see nowadays in commercial publications are under more restrictive
> `Creative Commons' licenses, so there is an argument that the GFDL is
> not restrictive enough.)
> From my knowledge, many businessmen fear that other businessmen will
> compete, one way or the other.  For example, a long time ago Tim
> O'Reilly told me that he believed that powerful people in Macmillan
> hoped to destroy his publishing house before it became well
> established.  Perhaps he was delusional.  Or perhaps he was correct.
> I think he was more likely correct than wrong.  In any event, others
> have said the same.

If O'Reilly was worried about this at one point, they've loosened up
considerably.  They're now happily publishing books under considerably
*less* restrictive [than the GFDL] Creative Commons licenses --
licenses that do not have, for example, front- and back-cover
requirements, or invariant portion requirements.

> The GFDL is designed to reduce the benefits to free riders.  That is
> its prime purpose.  (It has secondary purposes, too, like enabling
> people to write personal introductions that legally will remain
> invariant.)  As I said, there is short term evidence that the GFDL is
> insufficiently restrictive; but I do not see how it could be made more
> restrictive and still be free in any meaningful sense.

(Thanks for the summary of the GFDL's purposes -- very helpful!)

An important question remains:

Why is attractiveness to commercial publishers, or reducing benefits
to free riders, important for the Emacs manual?

If the Emacs manual were picked up by free riders, that would be fine
with us, wouldn't it?  

(Is it that the FSF sells manuals?  If so, how many copies do they
sell anyway, and how much would that number be likely to be affected?
Most people who contribute to the manual are not doing it to raise
money for the FSF.  They're doing it to contribute to Emacs.  When I
want to contribute to the FSF, I write a check.  When I want to
contribute to Emacs, I write code or docs.)

So what exactly is the GFDL protecting, in the specific case of the
Emacs manual?  Are we really worried about some portion of the manual
being used in a screed in support of software patents or something?

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