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Re: Yearless copyrights: what do people think?

Not an ftp team member or anything, so this is just my personal opinion.

Peter Pentchev <roam@ringlet.net> writes:

> 1. Does the Debian Project consider it okay for an upstream package to
>    include one or more (or all) files with clear license grants (either
>    included or referred to in the files), and with clear copyright
>    notices (again, either in the files or in a central file) that
>    contain the authors' names, but no years? Does such a package
>    comply with the DFSG? I believe the answer ought to be "yes", but
>    I thought it wouldn't hurt to ask.

Yes, I can't see any reason why this would be a problem.  Copyright
notices are optional.  I suppose it's conceivable someone could put
wording in a license that requires the years, but I've never seen
something like that unless one takes an extremely aggressive
interpretation of "copyright notice" that I wouldn't take.

> 2. If an upstream project does that, the debian/copyright file should
>    reflect that and have a `Files: *` (or whatever pattern) notice that
>    has a copyright notice without any years... right? And if an upstream
>    project does that between releases, the debian/copyright file should
>    change (drop the years) in the next "new upstream release" upload...
>    right?

Yes, that seems to logically follow.  For licenses like BSD and Expat
where including the copyright notices is a license condition, we should
just copy the license notices that upstream uses (I believe it's fine to
consolidate years), so if there are no years, we shouldn't put in years.

> 3. Now, what about the `Files: debian/*` section of the debian/copyright
>    file? The common wisdom seems to be that, if only to make it easier to
>    submit patches to the upstream project, the debian/* files ought to be
>    licensed under the same terms as the upstream source. Now I know that
>    licensing and copyright are different things :) So would the Debian
>    Project consider it okay for a Debian package to have
>    a `Files: debian/*` section in its copyright file that does not
>    mention any years? This question is both from a DFSG point of view and
>    from a "what would be best for our users" one. And does the answer
>    depend on whether the upstream project's copyright notices include
>    years or not? (as in, should we follow upstream's lead in that, too)

I think it's fine to omit the year from copyright notices in debian/*.  It
certainly seems clear to me that it's fine from a DFSG perspective; a lot
of packages don't even have any separate stanza or copyright notices for
debian/* at all and copyright notices are optional.  (Not saying this is
ideal, just that it's not a DFSG violation.)

Sam made the point that including the year communicates when the Debian
packaging would enter the public domain.  This is true, but I can't bring
myself to care that much about it since (sadly in my opinion) that point
is so far into the future that I'm dubious of the effort to reward ratio
of curating years for all those decades.  Not to mention that the debian/*
packaging is continuously updated so additional copyright may attach and
that gets into a murky mess in terms of copyright expiration, which
decreases the value of that information.

People doing this should be aware that you're probably waiving certain
damage provisions in US copyright law should you ever sue someone in the
US for violating the license on the Debian packaging, at least so far as I
understand US copyright law.  (I am not a lawyer and this is not legal
advice for your specific situation.)

Russ Allbery (rra@debian.org)              <https://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/>

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