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What are the benefits of a machine-parseable ‘debian/copyright’ file? (was: Sponsorship requirements and copyright files)

Arthur de Jong <adejong@debian.org> writes:

> I have been reading this discussion a bit and I've been wondering
> what use-case you actually have for machine-readable
> debian/copyright files.

Several off the top of my head:

* Automated generation of ‘license::foo’ tags for the package,
  allowing users to select or exclude packages based on license.

* Display of the copyright notices, license grant and terms (in e.g.
  ‘aptitude’) when deciding whether or not to install a package.

* Display (or via a link) of the copyright notices, license grant and
  terms on the package-specific pages at ‘packages{,.qa}.debian.org’.

Perhaps you have never factored license terms into your decisions as a
prospective user of a package, pre-installation; I do, all the time,
since I want to know what I'm getting myself in for before adding a
work to my computer's operating system.

As for copyright notices, if the work is in a field of interest to me,
then I'm interested to know who wrote it. Reputation is one of the
greatest benefits reaped by a developer of free software; having their
copyright notice automatically and visibly connected with the package
can only increase this, and I consider that a very good thing.

> If I'm developing software and I want to use another piece of
> software (e.g. library, framework or component) I check the license
> (I don't care about the copyright holders btw.) and perhaps
> sometimes I check the copyright file but most of the time I just
> check what upstream put on their website. For these seldom uses a
> common format or tools wouldn't help me much.

The copyright notices and license terms on the work in Debian only
infrequently bears relation to what upstream puts on their website,
not least because a great many upstream websites have *no* copyright
or license information easily discoverable.

Then there is the (admittedly less frequent, but undiscoverable
without looking at the Debian copyright information for the work)
issue of the upstream copyright information differing from what was
packaged for Debian.

> I can understand there may be benefits of a parsable format but I
> don't directly see enough gain. On the other hand there seems to be
> a lot of (perceived) cost involved (maintainer work).

As has been pointed out many times, there should be no significant
increase in the amount of writing to generate one of the
machine-parseable ‘debian/copyright’ files. It merely imposes a
consistent structure, much like the ‘debian/control’ file, or the
pseudo-header of a Debian BTS report.

> Anyway, thanks for the work on the format. To me it seems to
> probably be a good thing. I hope this mail wasn't too negative.

I find this a little confusing, since you spent most of your message
saying how you *don't* think it's a good thing (nor, presumably, much
of a bad thing), but thanks for the positive note :-)

 \       “If you go flying back through time and you see somebody else |
  `\   flying forward into the future, it's probably best to avoid eye |
_o__)                                           contact.” —Jack Handey |
Ben Finney

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