Discussion - non-free software removal
First, let me provide a brief history.
This issue originally surfaced in June 2000, but because of a then-absent
project secretary, a binding vote was never held. The proposal this time is
not the same as I advanced at that time; however, it is quite similar. The
modifications are primarily to address some of the objections raised at the
time and to clarify the precise intent of the resolution.
The draft resolution itself has been posted to debian-devel-announce and
debian-vote per the voting guidelines.
Below please find some statements about the intent and rationale for this
First, let me lay some groundwork. Some of this may be semantics to some,
and agreement with it is not really necessary to support the resolution, but
nonetheless this may help to clarify the situation.
No released Debian Distribution has ever included non-free software.
However, the Debian FTP sites have distributed non-free software, and
non-free software has used our bug-tracking system.
This distinction has caused substantial confusion for years. The line
between "support" and non-support is grey.
Secondly, let me state that the Social Contract is primarily a set of
promises to our users. Section 5, however, is noticably different from the
rest: it binds us to distributing software with the FTP protocol, to
specific directory names in the FTP archive, etc.
> A. That the non-free areas be removed from all non-released Debian
> archives, such as "unstable" and "testing". All packages placed in a
> non-free area in accordance with the definition in Policy section
> 2.1.4 must be removed from the Distribution and archives, subject to
> the restrictions in section B. The introduction or re-introduction
> into the Debian Distribution or the Debian archives of any package
> meeting the non-free definition in Policy section 2.1.4, or failing
> the Debian Free Software Guidelines, shall be forbidden.
This means that unstable and testing will have non-free removed, and that
the removed software will not be re-introduced later, nor will new non-free
software be introduced.
Note what it does NOT say: it does not mandate the removal of non-free
software from the bug-tracking system; it does not mandate the removal of
contrib software; and it does not mandate any alteration to any historic
archive. While I would support most of these actions, I have omitted them
from the resolution because they are objectionable to many.
> B. That nothing in this Resolution shall mandate the removal of non-free
> software from historic Debian archives nor from the current stable
> archive. The archive maintainers, release maintainers, or other
> responsible parties under the Debian Constitution shall decide the
> final disposition of the non-free software in historic and current
> stable areas.
This spells out one of the above exceptions in more detail. The resolution
contemplates the possibility that those non-free sections may be removed,
but does not mandate it; the decision is left to the appropriate managers.
> C. That nothing in this Resolution shall mandate the removal of
> "contrib" sections from any archive. The archive maintainers, release
> maintainers, or other responsible parties under the Debian
> Constitution shall decide the disposition of contrib sections, and may
> re-visit their decision at any later date, subject to the normal
> procedures governing such decisions.
Section C is similar to section B, but applies to contrib.
Additionally, it contemplates that Debian may opt to include contrib at this
time, but remove it later. Section B does not prevent "changing ones mind"
about the historic non-free archives, but I wanted to highlight that
possibility in section C. Some may feel that the best course is to maintain
contrib in its current state, and remove it when the time seems better.
> D. That the maintainer of the Debian Policy Manual, or an appointee of
> the Debian Project Leader, be directed to update that manual
> respective of the changes to the Project and general Project policy
> detailed in this Resolution.
This is largely procedural, and requires that our Policy Manual be kept
up-to-date with respect to this resolution.
> E. That the maintainers of the Debian archives and website, or an
> appointee of the Debian Project Leader, be directed to implement the
> changes to the Debian archives and website to reflect the changes to
> Debian enacted by this Resolution.
Likewise for the archive and website.
> F. That a new version of the Debian Social Contract with the Free
> Software Community be released, with the same content as the
> existing version, save for the following amendments:
You will note several differences between this section and section A of my
First, the language does not alter the social contract at all. Rather, we
are simply issuing a new social contract. This is no doubt a semantic
quibble to some, but it was a point of contention last time. Section 4.1,
part 5, of the Debian constitution grants powers to "Developers by way of a
general resolution or election to:
Issue nontechnical policy documents and statements.
These include documents describing the goals of the project, its
relationship with other free software entities, and nontechnical policies
such as the free software licence terms that Debian software must meet.
They may also include position statements about issues of the day.
Clearly this falls under that category, and clearly we have the ability to
advance this by way of the general resolution process.
Why do I even bother at all? I believe we must be honest and
straightforward with our users, and we must neither act in violation of our
current social contract nor pretend that our project is set in stone in the
1990s and can never adapt.
Please note that this GR also requires a notification (such as a post on a
web site) about the historic social contract, so that we ensure that there
is no sleight-of-hand or trickery. We do not want to take the Social
Contract change lightly, and we must inform our users of the reasons for the
change and the nature of the change.
> 1. The title of Section 5 shall be modified to read: "We will
> support users of our system who develop or run non-free software."
> 2. The text of Section 5 be modified to read: "We acknowledge that
> some of our users require the use of programs that don't conform to
> the Debian Free Software Guidelines. While we will not distribute
> such software itself, we will take steps wherever technically
> feasible to ensure compatibility with these programs."
This is the actual change, and is also different from clause A of the 2000
draft. That draft also changed section 1, which some objected to. Really,
that change was redundant, so I have omitted it from this draft.
Additionally, my proposed text for section 5 is more clear this time, and
better avoids the same mistakes that got us into this bind in the first
> G. That the public will be advised of the date, purpose, and nature of
> the new Debian Social Contract as mandated by this Resolution. This
> notification must state that the new Debian Social Contract supercedes
> the older version. Subject to the decisions made in section B, this
> notification must also include information about the disposition of
> historic and current stable non-free software.
I expect that this notification might take the form of a link from the
Social Contract page to a page describing what happened, when, and perhaps
with a link to the old Social Contract.
This way, we will be completely straightforward with our users, and they
will know our intentions and the nature of our relationship with our users
in the past.
-- John Goerzen