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Re: Non-free section

Lars Wirzenius:
> (If you wish to discuss whether software should be free or not,
> please do it elsewhere, not on debian-devel.)

No, I don't wish to discuss whether software should be free or not -
definitely all software should be free (and everyone should be healthy,
rich, and happy, too), no question about it :-).

> That the main Debian distribution is and should always be free,
> and that non-free parts should be clearly separated, is quite
> axiomatic to the project. Changing this would change the whole
> character of Debian.

OK, but let's not be too dogmatic about it.  The question is - how we
define "clearly separated"?  There are alternatives to the (currently
used) separate non-free "distribution" (which, as it has already been
discussed, unfortunately tends to become rather "unstable").  How about
the following proposal:

- make non-free a new section (like base, devel, ...).  It's easy to
implement even now, dselect will clearly show these packages as being
in a different "non-free" (or "contrib") section, and the non-free
stability problem is solved.

- add new flags in the package control information.  Needs some support
in dselect, but allows clear separation between another two orthogonal
issues (affecting different groups of people): distribution restrictions,
and use restrictions.  I'll try to explain it using some examples:

1.  Perfectly free package, in the main Debian distribution:

Free-to-Distribute: yes
Free-to-Use: yes

2.  A package that is freely distributable but has certain use
restrictions - shareware, GPLed development libraries (*), etc.:

Free-to-Distribute: yes
Free-to-Use: no

(*) GPLed programs, and GPLed run time (shared) libraries needed by
GPLed programs, are still in the main distribution, of course.
So, gettext would be in base (or whatever), gettext-dev in contrib
(to make it clear that you may not use it in commercial programs).

3.  A package with US-only patent problems, free anywhere else:

Free-to-Distribute: yes EXCEPT us
Free-to-Use: yes EXCEPT us

4.  A package that is free, but does some encryption:

Free-to-Distribute: yes EXCEPT us
Free-to-Use: yes EXCEPT fr, ru

(US munitions export issues count as distribution restrictions.
Encryption is illegal in France and Russia.)

5.  A truly evil, 100% non-free package:

Free-to-Distribute: no
Free-to-Use: no

Another useful flag could be Free-to-Modify: yes/no - some packages are
freely distributable, but only if not modified (so we can't support
them - just like with binary-only packages, we can't fix upstream bugs).

If you have a package.deb file, you can very easily check these flags
(dpkg -I package.deb), and it shouldn't be too hard to write scripts to
list non-free packages in a directory tree full of packages.  Front-ends
like dselect would check the flags and show them in the package listing
(unless configured by the user not to do so).

Only packages that are not freely distributable would need to be placed
in non-free.  If a package is freely distributable, but has any use or
modification restrictions, it would be placed in contrib.

Use:	Modify:	Distribute:	Distribution:
yes	yes	yes		main
X	no	yes		contrib
no	X	yes		contrib
X	X	no		non-free

Another suggestion: let's make it very easy (a single dpkg option) to
extract the copyright information from any .deb package without
actually installing it, so that it is easier for CD publishers to
check what is in non-free and to decide what can legally be included on a CD (for example, it's OK to distribute gs-aladdin
on a CD with only free software) instead of leaving out everything.


> > Besides, the definition of non-free (or proprietary) is a matter of
> > policy, the country you are in (US software patents), etc.
> Of course it is. If you move to a country that doesn't have any
> laws about intellectual property, everything is free. Debian,

Where is such a country? :-)  Seriously: almost all countries have
copyright laws, and we just have to live with it.  But Debian, as an
international Linux distribution, shouldn't be affected by laws that
exist in just one country.  This should be handled by those who sell
Debian in that country, and shouldn't be anyone elses problem.  That
country should not be treated specially in any way, even if it has the
world's largest population of lawyers :-).  Moving the project out of
the said country would help here.  (Not necessarily to Europe - for
example, OpenBSD is in Canada, and they can distribute Kerberos as part
of the standard system...)

> >  - relaxing the policy a little (for example, not making otherwise
> >    free packages non-free just because they depend on a non-free
> >    package, example: auto-pgp, mailcrypt, premail depend on pgp),
> No, that should not be done. The main Debian distribution should be
> idempotent -- everything in it should work without having to install
> other stuff.

Note that I didn't say "place packages that depend on non-free packages
in the main distribution".  How about this: packages that are freely
distributable, but depend on non-free packages, should be placed in
contrib.  Only packages that are not freely distributable (for whatever
reason) should be placed in non-free.  This way, these packages are not
in the main distribution, but they still appear on Debian CDs, so people
don't need to download them separately.

That would be good for very practical reasons - here in Poland we still
have a telecom monopoly, so local phone calls are not free (one "pulse"
every 3 minutes), and downloading packages over a modem costs real money.
For the cost of downloading all the non-free packages at 14.4, one
probably could buy another Debian CD.  I came up with a theory: those
who release programs with non-free distribution terms probably own some
shares in phone companies and/or IP providers :-).

> >  - moving the distribution out of the US - I am still hoping that it
> >    will happen someday, maybe even before the LZW patent expires :),
> That doesn't matter to the non-free issue.

It doesn't in the case of copyrights (which are valid almost everywhere)
but I think it does in the case of US patents and export restrictions
(without them, many of the currently non-free packages would be free).


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