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Re: copyright precision


Am Mittwoch, den 10.08.2016, 17:30 +0100 schrieb Simon McVittie:
> For software with a reasonably helpful upstream and a reasonably sane
> build system, I've often found that jumping through the necessary
> hoops to write debian/copyright takes about as long as the rest of the
> packaging put together. This is demotivating: I didn't join this project
> to copy copyright information around, I joined this project to make an
> operating system.

I agree with that sentiment, thanks for bringing this up. Let me
express my thought in that direction.

I question the value of precise debian/copyright files, or at least
question the effort-to-value ratio. The legal situation is generally
not affected by whether we have course or fine copyright files, or
whether we have them at all. Software does not get more free if we
meticulously update copyright years or list individual authors. And to
the best of my knowledge, our copyright files are not used in any
systematic way. (If they were, this would add value and add motivation
to work on this, and with machine-readable copyright files, it might
happen some day. But currently, there is not.)

A while ago, the most useful aspect of debian/copyright was the
homepage field, but that is now where it belongs, in the package

So my impression is that debian/copyright files are a mostly write-only 
exercise, and a way of forcing developers to check the license before
packaging something.

I do not deny that there is something pleasing about a very written,
detailed, elaborate, up-to-date, machine-readable debian/copyright
file. Similar to how there is something pleasing about a extensive and
well-sorted stamp collection.

But if we discuss the kind of copyright precision we want, let us not
only discuss and define the ideal debian/copyright information, but
also think about what really really has to be in there, and so what is
the minimal, most effortless debian/copyright that still makes us

Let me give an example of a less labor intensive copyright fragment:
I have started using this stanza

    Files: debian/*
    Copyright: held by the contributors mentioned in debian/changelog
    License: <same as the package>

which might be an overestimation (a contributor mentioned in
debian/changelog does not necessarily own copyright), but it works for
many packages, only needs the license to be set once, and does not
require any changes from then on.


Joachim “nomeata” Breitner
Debian Developer
  nomeata@debian.org • https://people.debian.org/~nomeata
  XMPP: nomeata@joachim-breitner.de • GPG-Key: 0xF0FBF51F

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