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Re: License discussions in Debian

On Tue, Jun 05, 2007 at 09:08:31AM +0200, Frank K?ster wrote:
> That's true, as an ideal.  In reality, you can't expect every DD or even
> maintainer to subscribe to -legal except when they've got a particular
> problem to discuss.  

Sure, but you don't need or want that. All you need is an unbiassed
sampling of developers to participate, which is to say the list needs
to be just as open to extremist opinions from people who think the GFDL
is completely "free" as people who think the GPL is actually "non-free".

AFAICS the only way that's going to happen is by taking the view that
Debian's definition of "free" as per the DFSG-free is just one view
you can take, and that people who take alternative views -- whether
stricter or more liberal, whether focussed on legal details or ignorant
of them in favour of just doing stuff -- are still worth listening to,
even though their views on what's free or not may well be fundamentally
different to Debian's.

If the only question is "is this free or not?" then you're going to get
turf wars because there's just no middle ground, and whoever gets to make
that decision controls the debate. Even just having analyses take the form
of "these are the consequences, personally I'd avoid them, though Debian
doesn't think the problem's a big enough deal to worry about; Don agrees
with me, but Francesco doesn't" seems like it'd be most of the way there.

But as it stands, -legal's analysis seems to me more to fit the mold of
"this is conceivably bad in some circumstances, not the same as anything
in any good licenses, therefore it's non-free, and that's all there is
to it".

> I'm not sure, however, that this is the general attitude on -legal: I've
> never encountered it.  

Take Don and Jordi G. H.'s exchange this month:

] > If you disagree with the determination of the Developers, you can
] > easily install the work from non-free, or cease supporting Debian in
] > its entirety. The choice is yours, really.
] "Our way or the highway" isn't a nice thought either. Do you really
] think that the DDs that voted against putting the GFDL in non-free
] should fork off too? Debian is the best distro out there, and I'm very
] loyal to it, but I'malso  very unhappy with its treatement of the
] GFDL, and I think this horrible mess should be fixed.

And no, to be fair, skimming the archives does indicate it's not the
"general attitude" at all, and I'm also pleased to have stumbled across
an example of Michael Poole noting he's not a lawyer or DD while giving
his thoughts/advice. Equally, if -legal were working 100% how I wanted
it to, that'd just mean I'd be happy to trust it implicitly and wouldn't
pay any attention to it at all; which probably means that the times
I do pay attention now are the times it's going (imo) severely wrong,
which is going to produce a pretty biassed view on my behalf.

Comparing Ted Tso's and Thomas Bushnell's views, as cited on LWN some time
ago [0] is probably a good reference point too. Having disagreements like
the current one over choice of venue be escalated into claims that are
one set of DDs are trying to "prov[e] they are Holier Than Stallman",
or another are "sell[ing] out [freedom]" isn't very helpful if we want
the DFSG to be useful at helping upstreams and users.

In *my* opinion, and ymmv etc, analysing licenses so that we can say:

	* These are almost certainly the effects, which barely anyone
	  disagrees with (GPL is viral, CDDL is viral and GPL
	  incompatible, QPL requires modifications to be made as patches)

	* These are things that might not happen, but that you might be
	  concerned at (GFDL stuff can't be encrypted, or even have Unix
	  permission bits set? CDDL leaves you vulnerable to nuisance
	  suits in foreign countries)

	* These are ways you can avoid some of the drawbacks (use
	  MIT instead of the old BSD license, explicitly limit when
	  "choice of venue" comes into play)

	* Different people and organisations may reasonably have different
	  views on the acceptability of various effects -- the FSF view
	  the Affero GPL and GFDL as free, OSI views the APSL as free;
	  and you may want to make a different choice to any or all of
	  those organisations. Debian's choices are focussed on ensuring
	  we can develop and distribute a high quality operating system
	  that works for our users. This may mean we'll accept some
	  licenses that aren't as free as we'd like them to be, in
	  some cases (such as licenses with patch clauses, or obnoxious
	  advertising clauses, etc).

From what I've seen, debian-legal isn't very good at accepting anything
less free than it'd like. Which is pretty understandable, but not really
helpful either in advocating Debian's views (which are more accepting),
or in working with other groups (upstream or down) who don't have the
patience for endless nitpicking.

It could also be a lot better at summarising thoughts about what will
and might happen for a given license. "We've discussed this years ago,
read the archives" isn't a really good answer, obviously...

If Debian's going to say a license isn't free enough, we should be able
to explain, very simply and without needing to be very hypothetical or
theoretical, how users/developers/distributors are going to be blocked
from doing useful things, that is, what the bad effects are, not just
point at the bad clause or your right/freedom that's being violated. If
the CDDL is non-free, we ought to be able to come up with an explanation

	If someone creates a new version of OpenSolaris, don't assign
	their copyright to Sun, and you download and use it, they can
	[...] and thus prevent you from travelling to anywhere in
	the United States or Canada without having to pay extortionate
	damages -- simply by the fact that you've downloaded and used
	their software.

that's sufficient to convince reasonable people (not just people who've
already signed onto the DFSG) that they don't want to use non-Sun
copyrighted versions of OpenSolaris.

(Sun versions of OpenSolaris are different in that, aiui, we have a Sun
rep or two on the record as indicating that circumstance isn't intended,
which should be sufficient to stop it actually happening. If we decide
our acceptance of the CDDL relies on that assurance, then we can add
it to debian/copyright for packages it covers, and not distribute ones
it doesn't)


[0] http://lwn.net/Articles/82536/

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