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Re: A GNU “social contract”?

From: Ludovic Courtès
Subject: Re: A GNU “social contract”?
Date: Tue, 05 Nov 2019 12:27:19 +0100
User-agent: Gnus/5.13 (Gnus v5.13) Emacs/26.3 (gnu/linux)

Hi Andreas,

Andreas Enge <> skribis:

> These are good points. I wrote "that respect users' freedom" everywhere,
> and spoke a bit more vaguely of "systems", as well as dropped all references
> to computers. Given that the document is aimed to be valid longterm, there
> should indeed be some opening for future projects. For instance, providing
> a free system for smartphones might be the next big project; this seems to
> be the area where currently we experience the biggest restrictions of our
> daily life when we want to limit ourselves to free software. And while this
> is, strictly speaking, covered by "operating systems for computers", I
> wanted to avoid to sound too specific like "GNU/Linux for 'traditional'
> computers". Also, there is the topic of free hardware. Why this does not
> seem to be something that we can tackle currently, it might be an option
> and entirely reasonable in a few years from now. And I would argue it can be
> within our mission statement (also given that the boundary between soft- and
> hardware becomes quite blurry).
> Then, as discussed, I merged the points 1, 2 and 4.
> Unlike discussed so far, I rewrote parts in my personal style:
> - I replaced most occurrences of "the GNU Project" by "we", to emphasise
>   that this is indeed a commitment by us towards our users.

I think we should avoid “we” because it’s ambiguous.  Instead, I very
much prefer either “the GNU Project” or maybe “members of the Project”
where appropriate, but “members” is undefined.

> - As I like snappy text, I shortened things quite a bit and occasionally
>   left out the rationale for a paragraph.

Perfect.  :-)

> Proposal of a “GNU Social Contract”
> This document states the core commitments of the GNU Project to the
> broader free software community.  All current GNU Project members
> have agreed to uphold these values.

Note that “members” is undefined, but maybe that’s OK.

We could define “member” as someone who signed the social contract, but
that’s probably not enough: a group of people could make a hostile
takeover by signing it en masse.  So there needs to be some form of
cooptation to avoid that, as is commonly done in organizations.

I guess that leads to a new sub-task: defining the procedure to become a
“member” of the project.

> The purpose of the GNU Project is to provide software and systems that
> respect users' freedoms.
> * GNU respects users' freedoms
> We provide software that guarantees to users the four essential freedoms,
> without compromise:
>   0. The freedom to run the program as they wish, for any purpose.
>   1. The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does
>      their computing as they wish.
>      Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
>   2. The freedom to redistribute copies so they can help others.
>   3. The freedom to distribute copies of their modified versions to others.
>      By doing this they can give the whole community a chance to benefit
>      from their changes.
>      Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
> All software written by us is distributed under copyleft licenses, designed
> to ensure that developers cannot strip off users' freedom from GNU software.

Like others wrote, this should be stated as a preference:

  The GNU Project preferably distributes software it develops under …

Also, it may be better to avoid the term “copyleft” unless we define it.

> * GNU provides consistent systems

Side note: in the first version, I tried to use “GNU” to refer to the
software, and “the GNU Project” to refer to the collective.  It might be
worth preserving that distinction for clarity.

> We develop an operating system and a set of applications, in the form of
> GNU packages.  GNU package developers work together to ensure consistency
> across packages.  GNU packages follow the design and development guidelines
> of the GNU Project.

Perhaps s/follow/should follow/ to better reflect current reality.

> * GNU collaborates with the broader free software community
> Free software has extended beyond the GNU Project, and we work with
> companion free software projects that develop key components of our system.

s/our system/the GNU operating system/ (to make it sound less

That’s all I have to say!

Should we do a v2.1 based on this and feedback others gave?
What do people think?


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