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[Gnu-arch-users] [OT] Debian should move all GPL sw to non-free

From: Tom Lord
Subject: [Gnu-arch-users] [OT] Debian should move all GPL sw to non-free
Date: Sat, 27 Mar 2004 08:38:22 -0800 (PST)

* The GFDL is not Debian-free

  One clause of the DFSG ("Debian Free Software Guidelines") is
  commonly cited as contradictory to the GFDL:


    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.


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