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Re: discussion with the FSF: GPLv3, GFDL, Nexenta

On Sun, Jun 03, 2007 at 11:14:16AM -0700, Don Armstrong wrote:
> > But even so, when you say things like "I'm personally more concerned
> > about licensing than the average developer" and "I [...] expect
> > people who disagree with my analysis to actually engage the analysis
> > with counter arguments, come to a complete understanding of the
> > problem, and then make a determination" you are saying your
> > understanding is more important than other people's.
> No, I'm saying that people who disagree should engage my analysis
> instead of remaining silent or discarding them with offhand comments.
> > Holding people who agree with you to that standard might be a way to
> > start?
> If I had time to do so, I'd consider it. Since I don't, I content
> myself with trying to make sure my messages approach this standard,
> setting an example instead.

Well, when you hold people to different standards based on whether they
agree with you or not, you can pretty safely expect that you'll end up
with a pretty biassed group.

> > In any event, the important thing (afaics) isn't to have a forum
> > where regulars can post their understanding of issues, it's to help
> > the people you're communicating with have a better appreciation for
> > the complexities involved in their issue and how they might choose
> > to approach them. That can mean pointing out possible drawbacks in
> > existing licenses, explaining tradeoffs between licenses, or
> > suggesting alternative ways of drafting licenses that avoid having
> > to make some tradeoffs, but it doesn't mean making the tradeoffs for
> > other people.
> Almost all this happens on -legal, actually. 

That's not my experience. From what I've seen, -legal mostly consists of
people who aren't particularly experienced in free software development or
professionally trained in any sort of legal analysis making unconditional
claims about whether particular clauses are good or bad (mostly the
latter) and how they'll be enforced.

Obviously (I hope), I don't consider you to be inexperienced in free
software development, but just in this thread you've made a reasonable
number of unconditional statements, including ones that're simply wrong.

I hope you can see why that can be frustrating, and why it can be more
annoying when it's done by people whose only "contribution" to free
software seems to be participating on -legal.

> I've personally been involved in trying to resolve the GFDL issue,
> making sure that the GPLv3 is DFSG free, and have been working along
> with Simon and a few others to try to fix the RFC issue. [In the case
> of the CDDL, it's interesting to note that this very issue was
> supposedly going to be fixed or at least looked at in an upcomming
> revision of the CDDL.]

Well, the GFDL issues have been "going to be fixed" for some years now
too; which, afaics, means that leaving Debian's interests up to folks
on -legal (including yourself in this case) isn't very effective. Maybe
it's not possible to be more effective on this score -- I'm not involved
enough to say -- but I do know -legal could be a lot more effective in
other respect, if it wasn't so insular: ie, less unconditional about
what's "free" and less likely to inflate things that are regarded in
the rest of the free software community as a non-issue (or a feature!)
into a disaster wrt DFSG-freeness.

> > No, punting to a GR is not a good solution -- it's slow to come to a
> > resolution, it annoys developers who have to inform themselves about
> > something they'd rather not worry about, and it ends up with -legal
> > folks complaining that the resolution doesn't make sense.
> If it's the case that a signficant proportion of contributors to
> -legal and Debian Developers feel that an improper decision has been
> made, there's little else that can be done besides bringing it to a
> GR.

What contributors to -legal feel is irrelevant to the above -- things
go to a GR if, and only if, Debian Developers care sufficiently about it.

And I mean, I know what a GR is for, why are you telling me? It's still
not a *good solution* for deciding these things; it's a last resort,
and the only other options we currently have a "ftpmaster decides" and
"it's obvious to pretty much everybody".

> > > What would make it more welcoming? A large part of the problem is
> > > the need to continuously point out counter arguments, [...]
> > What makes it unwelcoming is the appearance of a consensus that
> > doesn't brook argument, even when that consensus differs
> > significantly from that of other sections of the free software (or
> > open source) community.
> The problem is that it's very difficult to know if the consensus
> differens from the "silent majority" because the "silent majority" is
> nearly silent.

When you're saying a license from the Free Software Foundation is
non-free, it's *very easy* to tell you're going against another section
of the free software community. We've done that with the Affero General
Public License, the GNU Free Documentation License, and there's been
the occassional attempt to do it with the GPLv2 even.

Likewise when you're declaring an approach at free licensing from a
major community isn't good enough -- whether that be the good ol' MPL,
OpenSolaris's CDDL, or the Plan9 license.

> All of these, save the latter are subject to being overruled by GR;
> they are not necessarily the official position of Debian, but general
> consensus, or the consensus of ftpmaster. 

The official position of Debian is what we allow in main. Thinking of
it in any other way is counterproductive. There might be times when
our official position is contradictory or inconsistent or incoherent,
and we should work to fix that, certainly.

> Even though ftpmaster is
> likely in a priveledged position if they are currently delegated by
> the DPL to make such determinations, they still should be careful in
> advocating their opinion as the official position of Debian.

And, of course, we are. I wish I could say the same about posters on

> > Debian does accept the CDDL as a free license (at least when the
> > choice of venue is Berlin).
> Indeed; I wasn't aware of the CDDL ever being accepted in main; had I
> paid more attention to it, I would have brought this issue up sooner.

Had you paid more attention to it you might have been qualified to
comment on it in the authoritative tone you used anyway.

> > If you want to be trusted to make similar rulings on behalf of the
> > people who intentionally made the decision you're calling
> > "incorrect", then no, it's not possible.
> Why not? 

I really don't know how I can possibly explain this to you. It seems
pretty basic to me. 

If you don't believe there's a rational and consistent basis for coming
up with the original decision, then any decisions you come up with will
be, according to your own statements, either counter to the rationale
for that decision, or irrational.

> It's not like I'm personally campaigning for the ability to make these
> decisions myself, [...]

No, what you're doing is pretending you're already in a position to be
authoritative about those decisions when you're not. Which is actively

> When -legal (or I, for that matter) say that something is
> DFSG Free, it tends to be non-controversially so. 

That's mostly because -legal won't even say that the GPLv2 is DFSG-free,
except in so far as it's explicitly listed as being DFSG-free.

> It's interesting that you see this message this way; to me it seems
> that he's getting at precisely what you appear to want. -legal in
> general felt that GFDL had serious issues, and under no circumstances
> could it be acceptable for main. 

"-legal in general", was, however, wrong on that score.

Unfortunately, since "-legal in general" becomes an amorphous set of
individuals who reserve the right to hold whatever opinions they like
whenever questioned, there's little hope of -legal ever learning from
its mistakes.


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