Re: Documentation/License freeness
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On Sat, 6 Jun 1998, Marcus Brinkmann wrote:
> I think:
> * We should treat documentation under the same terms as software, as we need
> it to use the software successfully and we'll have the same benefits of free
> documentation as we have of free software.
This could be more than what is really needed.
I think we should just add a paragraph to the DFSG saying that although
the DFSG applies to *software*, modifying the documentation for such
software should be also allowed, in general, because otherwise the
modified software and the manual would not match (because of added
features, different behaviour, etc.).
I don't think it makes sense to be able to modify *all* sorts of
documentation. For example, I don't think we should require RFCs to be
"dfsg-free" to be in main.
Please, read the following article from rms, sorry for the length but I
think it is interesting:
- From firstname.lastname@example.org Tue Jun 2 21:45:40 1998
Date: 28 May 1998 22:02:52 -0400
From: Richard Stallman <email@example.com>
Newsgroups: gnu.misc.discuss, comp.lang.perl.misc
Subject: Have we got a good free Perl manual?
[I first tried to post this on Saturday May 23 but it did not get through.
Paul Fisher posted it for me on Monday, but there is doubt that it was
noticed, since it did not come from me or gnu.org.]
Once upon a time, I thought I would learn Perl. I got a copy of a
free manual, but I found it simply unreadable, and gave up. Perl
users told me that there were better manuals, but they were not free.
Why was this? Their authors had sold the manuals to O'Reilly, instead
of contributing them to the free software community. It wasn't the
first time and (to our community's great loss) it was far from the
last. O'Reilly and other publishers have enticed a great many authors
to withhold their manuals since then. Partly as a result of this,
partly because writing good English is a skill which most good
programmers have not studied, a lack of documentation is one of the
worst deficiencies of free operating systems today.
Perl is an important piece of free software, and it ought to have a
*good* free manual. So I added this item to the GNU task list, hoping
this would encourage someone to write one.
That was a few years ago. If there is now a good free manual, that's
great. I'm always glad to remove an item from the task list because
the job has been done. I might even buy a copy of this manual, if
someone is selling them--especially if it is O'Reilly. (If we buy
O'Reilly manuals only when they are free, we can encourage O'Reilly to
publish and sell more free manuals.)
But before I start celebrating, I ought to verify the facts--in
particular, verify that the manual in question is actually free. The
criterion for free documentation is basically the same as for free
software: users have to be free to redistribute it, with or without
changes, either gratis or for a fee, in any medium.
As a general rule, I don't believe that it is essential for people to
have permission to modify all sorts of articles and books. The issues
for writings are not necessarily the same as those for software. For
example, I don't think you or I are obliged to give permission to
modify articles like this one, which describe our actions and our
But there is a particular reason why the freedom to modify is crucial
for a manual for free software. The most natural use of such a manual
is to distribute it in free operating systems, along with the program
it documents. And when people exercise their right to modify the
software, and add or change its features, if they are conscientious
they will change the manual too--so they can provide accurate and
usable documentation with the modified program. A manual which
forbids people to be conscientious and finish the job, or more
precisely requires them to write a new manual from scratch, does not
do the job.
While a blanket prohibition on modification is unacceptable, some
kinds of limits on modification are ok. For example, requirements to
preserve the original author's copyright notice, the distribution
terms, or the list of authors, are ok. It is also ok to have entire
sections that may not be deleted or changed, as long as these sections
deal with nontechnical topics. (Some GNU manuals have them.) These
restrictions are not a problem because, as a practical matter, they
don't stop the conscientious programmer from adapting the manual to
fit the modified program. In other words, they are ok because they
don't block the free software community from doing its thing with the
program and the manual together.
However, it must be possible to modify all the *technical* content of
the manual; otherwise, the restrictions do block the community, the
manual is not free, and we need another manual.
To be sure, many users find non-free manuals "useful". And they can
indeed be useful, in a purely materialistic sense, just as non-free
software can. What they can't be is part of the free software
I expect that I'll soon know whether Perl now has a good free manual.
I hope that the answer will be yes, and that I'll be able to delete
that item from the GNU task list. If not, I hope that someone will
change the distribution terms on an existing good manual, or write a
new one. O'Reilly is just beginning to contribute to our community;
most of what they do is still non-free, and thus no contribution. If
O'Reilly's Perl manual is still non-free, making it free would be a
fine way to take the next step in actually contributing to free
Copyright 1998 Richard Stallman
Verbatim copying and distribution is permitted in any medium
provided this notice is preserved.
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