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Re: [Gnu-arch-users] Front page to wiki now modifiable again

From: Stephen J. Turnbull
Subject: Re: [Gnu-arch-users] Front page to wiki now modifiable again
Date: Sat, 27 Mar 2004 00:06:39 +0900
User-agent: Gnus/5.1006 (Gnus v5.10.6) XEmacs/21.4 (Portable Code, linux)

>>>>> "Mikhael" == Mikhael Goikhman <address@hidden> writes:

    Mikhael> I fail to understand why people use FDL as an example
    Mikhael> against GPL v2+.  This is bogus.

The point is that software and its documentation should converge.  I
think we all pay lip-service, at least, to the Book of Literate
Programming by the Prophet Knuth.

And in practice, we have self-documenting programs like TeX, Emacs,
Python, Perl, ....  Not only is rms's vision failing, he's missing
something in glowing green and black, at every stroke of C-h!

Although I do not like the GFDL at all, both as a matter of personal
convenience and in principle, let's suppose that in itself it's a good
doc license.  Still, it prima facie violates two important principles
of free software licensing: don't proliferate licenses unnecessarily,
and don't use licenses that are incompatible with the GPL.  rms says
that this doesn't apply because doc and src are two different things.
That worries me; rms does not insist on "global" logical consistency
if important principles are satisfied "locally".  But in law and in
social interactions, that can come back to bite you.  So the GFDL _is_
a relevant example here---its inconsistency with the GPL strongly
suggests there's a flaw in the decision-making process.

Now, rms is very good at making precisely that choice---to abandon a
discussion (even with himself!) when it no longer looks like advancing
his goals.  So I agree with both Tom and Andrew.  Tom are correct,
rms's notion of freedom is nuanced, and tuned to the particular
context.  Thus the GPL, LGPL, and the GFDL.  This is one reason why
he's such a powerful motivator: consistency in the details doesn't
worry him much as long as he gets the feeling right, and his intuition
is very sharp---he rarely is "locally" inconsistent, even in small
details, and corrects himself quickly if it's pointed out---and very
persuasive to many people.

However, I think that rms is ironically mired in pre-Emacs attitudes
when he makes distinctions between "free software" and "free software
documentation".  And in practice I think it's unprincipled---the cover
texts and invariant sections are advertising[1], pure and simple, and
I see no justification for the way they reduce the freedom of all
downstream users---except the "right" of a copyright holder to extract
compensation from users.  Thus I agree with Andrew, both about the
GFDL itself, and more important that there needs to be consistency of
treatment across software and its documentation.[2]

You may disagree, but that's why many people consider the GFDL to be a
salient example for justifying misgivings about revisions of the GPL.
You shouldn't just dismiss it as "bogus".

[1]  More irony---there have been heated discussions over technical
issues at XEmacs that eventually were resolved in the traditional way:
"last patch wins".  And a fair number of comments and docs remain that
push one viewpoint or another.  While I've never seen evidence that
anybody deliberately removed or altered such, I can see an argument
that _those_ being invariant would improve the software---but of
course that's not allowed.

[2]  rms has confounded the logic-choppers before.  Maybe he'll do it
to me on this point, too, but neither my head nor my heart believes it.

Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences
University of Tsukuba                    Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
               Ask not how you can "do" free software business;
              ask what your business can "do for" free software.

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