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Re: General Resolution: Removing non-free

On Wed, Jun 07, 2000 at 05:46:39PM +1000, Anthony Towns wrote:
> Who's being compelled?
> You're certainly not: you don't have to mirror non-free, or work on
> packages in non-free, or pay attention to bug reports for non-free
> packages, or anything of the sort.
> Debian as a whole isn't compelled to either, but it has in the past
> voluntarily agreed to provide non-free software to its users in a form
> that's easily assimilatable into a Debian system.
> You now want Debian to renege on that agreement.

You color your language interestingly, fully aware of the the fact that the
Debian Social Contract isn't a "contract" in the sense that a group of
individuals create a contract with each other.

In fact, the Social Contract generally is an interesting document in that
it makes no requirements of those with whom it contracts.  Instead, it
unilaterally enumerates a set of responsibilities that we have accepted.

A contract connotes an act of exchange:

     1. The act of giving or taking one thing in return for
        another which is regarded as an equivalent; as, an
        exchange of cattle for grain.

     5. (Law) A mutual grant of equal interests, the one in
        consideration of the other. Estates exchanged must be
        equal in quantity, as fee simple for fee simple.

It can be construed that Debian abides by the Social Contract in exchange
for the free software that is donated to the world by its authors; they
give to the world, and we attempt to give back to them and collaterally to
the world as well.

Before we can talk about "reneging" on such an agreement we have to
consider whether it is even truly possibly to do so, and if so, what would
constitute reneging.

Debian is a somewhat well defined group of individuals, and therefore we
can each be considered signators to the social contract.  But who has
signed for the free software community?

The Debian Social contract would more properly have been entitled a
Statement of Principles, or something similar.  But that is water under the

By characterizing John's proposal as one to "renege" on the social
contract, you must be positing one of two exlcusive positions:

1) That any modification of the social contract constitutes reneging on it;
2) That it is possible to modify the social contract without reneging on it.

Please identify which of these positions you hold.  If 2), please describe
the scope of change that you believe can be made without reneging on the
social contract.

Ultimately, I think it is more fruitful to not hew to an excessively
literal interpretation of "contract" vis a vis the Social Contract.  This
is not to say that there aren't potential consequences for modifying it; we
might understand our social contract -- to the extent that we abide by its
principles -- to be a force that gives Debian legitimacy in the free
software community?  With that in mind, we must ask a few questions:

Is the Social Contract the *only* thing that legitimizes Debian in the eyes
of the free software community?  Is it possible for Debian to contribute to
the free software community without a governing social contract?  Is the
existing social contract the only one that is conceivably acceptable to the
worldwide empaneled jury of free software developers?

Finally, in the present case we would do well to ask ourselves just how
much the free software community proper cares about our stance with regard
to non-free software in and of itself.  Most public discussion of Debian's
free software stance has to do with our definition of it (the DFSG) and how
we interpret the DFSG, and with other issues of license interpretation.  If
my observations on this point are accurate, then you either incorrect or
being disingenuous to imply that amending the social contract -- whether
generally or as proposed -- constitutes a betrayal of the free software
community.  Whether it constitutes a betrayal of the non-free software
industry is much more open to question -- but, then again, how can we
betray the representatives non-free software since we never contracted with
them in the first place?

> If anything, you're the one trying to compell people: you're trying to
> stop developers and non-free authors working on non-free software.

He's doing nothing of the sort.  The Debian Constitution (as I was recently
reminded in a completely unrelated discussion) demands that a developer
take no particular action at all; consequently, since it makes such minimal
demands on any developer's time and effort, developers are left free to
work on non-free software, historical research, or their golf game.  They
just wouldn't be doing it as Debian developers per se.

> Certainly within the context of Debian, and, based on your rationale, in
> the wider world as well.

The rationale is not part of his proposal, and does not have to be voted
on.  It describes how he came to propose it.  The proposal should be
weighed on its own merits, and is easily severable from John's statements
of rationale because, if adopted, interpretation of its terms will be the
province of the entire project, and not John exclusively.

I don't agree with all of John's rationales.  I don't have to.  Intelligent
adults who have elected to be rational can read the terms of the proposal
and decide for themselves what they mean in and of themselves.

> And that's all very well, but don't try to tell us we're already being
> compelled to do anything here. We're not.

Certain individuals within the project, such as the FTP administrators and
bug tracking system maintainers, are in fact compelled by the existing
social contract to support infrastructure for non-free packages.

     Thus, although non-free software isn't a part of Debian, we support
     its use, and we provide infrastructure (such as our bug-tracking
     system and mailing lists) for non-free software packages.

This is no way implies that it bothers them to do so.

> Words mean things, please choose them carefully.

I presume you mean we should follow your example, with your reckless
employment of the term "renege"?

We should probably do as you say, and not as you do.

G. Branden Robinson            |    Human beings rarely imagine a god that
Debian GNU/Linux               |    behaves any better than a spoiled child.
branden@ecn.purdue.edu         |    -- Robert Heinlein
roger.ecn.purdue.edu/~branden/ |

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