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Re: PROPOSED: interpretive guidelines regarding DFSG 3, modifiability, and invariant text

I'm wading into dangerous waters here, methinks... :)

I think Branden's proposal is well-intentioned, but ultimately the
wrong approach to dealing with this problem.  I think the standard
that should be applied is not about kilobytes or percentages, but
whether or not the licensing restrictions on ancillary materials harm
the ability to make derivative works.

For example, in the case of GNU Emacs, we have the "misc" directory
full of all sorts of philosophical ramblings on various topics.  None
of them have anything to do with Emacs; we could completely rewrite
Emacs without anything there being affected.  So their "non-freeness"
doesn't seem to harm anything.  On the other hand, if the GNU Emacs
manual had a non-free license on the parts dealing with the operation
of the program, then we might have a problem.

At least in the case of documentation and other ancillary materials
regarding software, the line seems pretty clear-cut: if the materials
document something that could change as a result of changing the
program, they should be free; otherwise, who cares?  I realize the
case of "3 pages of documentation with 100 pages of lame novella"
isn't covered here; in that case, I would expect the maintainer's
judgement (is the 100 pages of lame novella worth 3 pages of
worthwhile text... my gut feeling says "no") to take over.

If it isn't associated with software at all, ancillary materials
probably don't have a place in Debian.  For example, the text of
Martin Luther King Jr's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" (copyrighted,
non-DFSG-free) has no place in Debian, even though it is an incredibly
eloquent piece of writing, because it has nothing to do with computer

I don't know about the edge case of standards documentation, etc
(doc-html-w3, for example) that I'm sure most of us would agree isn't
in the same category as the acknowledgements in the GNU manuals.
There's a case to be made for exceptions for things that are standards
(I certainly wouldn't want people promulgating a modified version of
the National Electrical Code, for example), but I think my proposed
criteria wouldn't address that case, leaving it verboten as before.

I realize this leaves the door open for the inclusion of great volumes
of perjorative or simply annoying ancillary documentation in Debian;
today "Linux-and-GNU", tomorrow "Geeks-with-Guns", next week my
"great" collection of poetry I wrote in secondary school.  On the
other hand I can't see a fair way to include all of GNU Emacs,
including the (IMHO) crap in misc, without opening the door to rafts
of other crap anyway without a "if RMS wrote it, it's OK" exception
that smacks of hypocrisy.  And since I don't see either RMS removing
that material or us excising it from our package of emacs over his
objections, the only way forward is some sort of *gasp* exercise of
reasonable judgment by maintainers.

Chris Lawrence <lawrencc@debian.org> - http://www.lordsutch.com/chris/

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