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Re: Draft new DFSG

On Mon, 23 Nov 1998, Ian Jackson wrote:

> As I've said before, most recently in a posting to -private, and
> before that in various fora, I think the DFSG has some serious
> problems due to loose wording.  I also strongly dislike the patch
> clause.

I have heard this from you before, and I don't think you understand just
what is at stake here. Let me see if I can explain.

All licenses, such as the GPL, draw their enforcement powers from
Copyright laws. That is, it is the copyright which provides the author
with the legal authority to inforce the license.

Now, a copyright pertains to, and only to, that string of characters that
was produced by the author, and which he has the legal rights to
copyright. It is only that specific document that the author may

In order to protect that copyright, and the license it supports, it is
reasonable, no, even necessary, that the source so copyrighted remain
unchanged. The changes proposed, or produced, by some other party can not
be covered in said copyright simply because the license says so. Any new
source produced from the original work with modifications provided by
another party is not, and can not be, covered by the original copyright.

More important, a license that trys to allow the original copyright to
cover the modified work is more likely to invalidate the original

While "the patch" is one of the mechanisms that eases distribution of such
software, there are other possibilities for distribution solutions.

We should not declare a license non-free which only requires that the
original source be propogated unchanged. I would argue that this provides
more freedom to the "end user" since it should then be a simple matter for
the "current owner" of the sofware to refert to the original author's

It is always the expectation of the submitter of a patch, that that patch
will be incorporated into the upstream source. Stripping out the various
patches from a downstream source is not like to be something that an
upstream author is going to be intrested in doing, so the patch method of
propogating source changes is the desirable path to such changes.

Debian's source format has not only supported, but enforced, the
unchanging upstream source as the preferred method of distribution.

Demanding mutable source does nothing to advance the cause of Free
Software, has nothing to do with distribution freedoms, and may ultimately
lead to the defeat of DFSG compliant licenses.

I don't think this strengthens the free software license. Freedom isn't
about "easy use" but about unrestricted use without compromizing the
author's work.

> (c) Anyone must be permitted to distribute it in its original form and
> in modified forms, both as source code and as executables, on its own
> or together with other works.

If this means that I can still require that the original source and my
original copyright notice are to accompany any modified source or binary I
can live with this. At the moment, however, this statement is too
ambiguous, and doesn't leave me the option of protecting my copyright.

> (d) Anyone must be permitted to reverse-engineer it.
Reverse-engineering, to my mind, has always meant, taking a binary and
decompiling it to arrive at source.

Since source is already provided only re-engineering is necessary, and is
already covered under the "source modifiability" clauses.

> (g) The licence(s) must not allow the copyright or patent holder(s) to
> terminate the licence(s).

I know what you are trying to say here, but you haven't really said it,
and the ambiquity would lead some to suspect that they can't change their
license in the future, which you cannot, of course, require.

In general I find this total restatement of the DFSG to have created more
ambiguity that it has resolved. I would much rather see the original work
used as the starting point for discussion, working out the ambiguities
found in that original work, until they satisfy the group.

The current rewrite states a number of new concepts while dropping some of
the old ones. Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water ;-)

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

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