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Re: Documentation Freeness (Re: Packages to be removed from hamm)

On Sat, 30 May 1998, Raul Miller wrote:

> Dale Scheetz <dwarf@polaris.net> wrote:
> > B. The copyright applies to the specific textual material created by the
> >    author.
> > 
> >    This has two consequences.
> > 
> > 	1. The author is empowered by the copyright to license the use of
> > 	   the copyright matherial only. This implies that such license
> > 	   can not control the use of "modified version", as the copyright
> > 	   does not apply to them.
> Huh?  If I take a best seller, and modify it a bit, the copyright no
> longer holds?  You'd better double check this with your lawyer friends.

After several readings I see where I was unclear.

Certainly, if you take my (as yet non-existant) best seller, modify it a
bit and try to pass it off as either mine or yours, you will find yourself
explaining to a judge why you thought you had the right to violate my
copyright. Note, as well, that had you done the same thing without
modifying any of the text, you would be violating the copyright as well.

All of the above is predicated on the fact that I have not licensed you to
do those things. If I have given you explicit license to do so, then you
are not liable under copyright restrictions.

> > 	2. Attempts to apply the copyright to the modified text may, in
> > 	   fact defeat the copyright. A copyright that claims to cover any
> > 	   and all "additional text", not written by the author, may make
> > 	   the copyright unenforcable.
> The GPL, at least, makes a clear distinction between the part of the
> modified text which is licensed by the GPL and the part(s) which are
> under other licenses.

The GPL is not "law", it is a contract, and as such is subject to "legal"
interpretation by a court. As far as I know this has not yet happened with
the GPL. (I'd be pleased to hear of any court decisions concerning
applications of the GPL)

> > I submit that unmodified source is the only way to protect the freeness of
> > the software it applies to.
> I disagree, and refer you to the gnu manifesto.

Which is not even a binding contract.

> > This has some intersting ramifications for the GPL, as this License
> > wishes to imply control of other copyright material that it is
> > associated with in certain ways. Others have pointed this out as a
> > "non-freeness" of the GPL. Personally, I see it as an interpretation
> > problem.
> It's an interpretation problem only in the sense that its a
> mis-interpretation.  The only freedom missing from the GPL is
> the freedom to become non-free.
> The GPL very clearly spells out that you have a right to redistribute
> GPL'd code if you follow the restrictions spelled out in the GPL. The
> GPL doesn't mandate that you follow these restrictions, but it doesn't
> give you permission to distribute the GPL'd code unless you comply.
> Since the restrictions restrictions are that the software must be
> free, I'd classify the GPL as a clever hack, not "non-freeness".
> The only contexts where you can't use GPL'd code is contexts where
> there is other non-free code.
> Again, the gnu manifesto spells out this rationale fairly clearly.
Again, this isn't about what we think it means, it's about what the court
will interpret. This is why I have been talking with lawyers instead of

One of the ways we deal with copyright is totally wrong according to the
lawyers that I have spoken with. 

We say that if software has no copyright it is totaly non-free because we
consider that state to be equivalent to a maximal copyright. The lawyers
suggest that this is not the case; that material without copyright is
public domain and you can do anything you wish with it.

The reason we do this is probably justifiable paranoia; as we consider the
case where a third party has removed the author's copyright and
distributed the material as free against said author's wishes. We as
distributors could be taken to court for the infringement, so we protect
ourselves by asking these authors to use an "adequate" license and
copyright instead.

So why shouldn't we allow the author to be clear about which text is under
his copyright by allowing "unmodified source" to be considered free if it
can be distributed with diffs and allows derived works (modified binaries)
to be distributed as well.

Consider the problem with ircii: The original author's copyright is still
distributed with the current code, which implies that it still has effect
over the author's part of the current code, making it impossible for the
later copyrighters to provide more liberal distribution rights.

If the original author's work were kept pristine, with the successive
authors modifications and additions provided as diffs, the question of
which copyright applies to which lines of code would be clear. This still
wouldn't untangle the problem much, although we could distribute the
patches in contrib and the original in non-free, as that would be the
clear position for the parts.

In either case the original author must provide a license that is more
liberal before the whole thing can be distirbuted under those liberal
conditions. (as I understand it, this is what is being negotiated at the

The problem, from what I know at the moment, is that I might loose control
of my copyright material if I allow unrestricted modifications to be
applied to my copyright material. The courts could decide that I have no
further rights to restrict the use of the code once it has been modified.
This would mean that the protections offered under the license against its
use in a "non-free" fashion is also unenforceable. As unmodified source
does not restrict the freedoms we are looking for in this software, I see
no reason to suggest that such software is "less free" than modifiable
source. I is possible that modifiable source is not as free as we would
wish. (To my knowledge, there is nothing in the GPL that declares
"unmodified source" to be non-free, or have I missed something)

This should make it easier to interpret "unmodifiable documentation" in
the same way. The distributed source has no changes to its source
documentation. Diffs are distributed for purposes of creating a "derived
work" which should be clearly marked as such in the package. (This might
also help with the dispute over a man page currently in progress)

Waiting is,

_-_-_-_-_-   Author of "The Debian Linux User's Guide"  _-_-_-_-_-_-

aka   Dale Scheetz                   Phone:   1 (850) 656-9769
      Flexible Software              11000 McCrackin Road
      e-mail:  dwarf@polaris.net     Tallahassee, FL  32308

_-_-_-_-_-_- If you don't see what you want, just ask _-_-_-_-_-_-_-

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