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Comments on GNU FDL 1.2 Draft


I am a Debian GNU/Linux Developer and frequent participant on Debian's
mailing list for legal issues, where the Debian Project discusses and
applies the Debian Free Software Guidelines ("DFSG") to software
submitted for distribution by the Debian Project.  For a work to to be
an official component of Debian GNU/Linux, it must be licensed in a way
that satisfies the requirements of the DFSG.

For further background on the DFSG, please see:


I trust that Debian needs no further introduction to the FSF, as we were
once a GNU Project.

My comments follow.  As I am the first person to comment in detail on
the draft to the debian-legal mailing list, I will quote the entire diff
for the convenience of my Debian colleagues, who may wish to add their
own remarks.  I speak only for myself and not from any position of
unusual authority within the Debian Project.

(Debian colleagues, remember to reply to this list; I suggest that
discussion threads be confined to debian-legal, and that comments on the
draft itself be self-contained and submitted to fdl-comments@fsf.org as
a separate message.  I encourage you to CC debian-legal with those,

As is typical in civilized (i.e., non-corporate) email discussions, my
remarks *follow* (not precede) their context.

> --- fdl.txt	Sun Jul 15 07:55:07 2001
> +++ fdl-1.2-draft.txt	Thu Feb  7 11:52:42 2002
> @@ -1,7 +1,8 @@
> -		GNU Free Documentation License
> -		   Version 1.1, March 2000
> +    *draft* GNU Free Documentation License *draft*   January 2002
> +    This version is circulated as a draft and has no legal force.
> - Copyright (C) 2000  Free Software Foundation, Inc.
> +
> + Copyright (C) 2000,2001  Free Software Foundation, Inc.
>       59 Temple Place, Suite 330, Boston, MA  02111-1307  USA
>   Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies
>   of this license document, but changing it is not allowed.
> @@ -47,7 +48,7 @@
>  the Document that deals exclusively with the relationship of the
>  publishers or authors of the Document to the Document's overall subject
>  (or to related matters) and contains nothing that could fall directly
> -within that overall subject.  (For example, if the Document is in part a
> +within that overall subject.  (Thus, if the Document is in part a
>  textbook of mathematics, a Secondary Section may not explain any
>  mathematics.)  The relationship could be a matter of historical
>  connection with the subject or with related matters, or of legal,

No objection.

> @@ -56,30 +57,35 @@
>  The "Invariant Sections" are certain Secondary Sections whose titles
>  are designated, as being those of Invariant Sections, in the notice
> -that says that the Document is released under this License.
> +that says that the Document is released under this License.  If a
> +section does not fit the above definition of Secondary then it is not
> +allowed to be designated as Invariant.  The Document may contain no
> +Invariant Sections.

In the first added sentence, I suggest strengthening this prohibition to
declare application of the FDL to the Document null and void if a
non-Secondary Section is declared Invariant.

I am confused as to the meaning of the second added sentence.  A
Secondary Section is defined in version 1.1 as "a named appendix or a
front-matter section of the Document" and the Draft does not alter this
definition; therefore it does not seem logically possible that an
Invariant Section can exist in such a way as to satisfy the requirements
of the Draft GNU FDL.

Of course, any document which contains no Invariant Sections has no
trouble here, and if that is what the FSF intends to encourage, I fully
support you, but I encourage you to make this more explicit.

To reiterate: I unreservedly support the elimination of Invariant
Sections altogether.

>  The "Cover Texts" are certain short passages of text that are listed,
>  as Front-Cover Texts or Back-Cover Texts, in the notice that says that
> -the Document is released under this License.
> +the Document is released under this License.  A Front-Cover Text may
> +be at most 5 words, and a Back-Cover Text may be at most 25 words.

I support this clarification; however, see below as to my concerns about
the circumstances under which Cover Texts are mandatory.

>  A "Transparent" copy of the Document means a machine-readable copy,
>  represented in a format whose specification is available to the
> -general public, whose contents can be viewed and edited directly and
> +general public, that is suitable for revising the document
>  straightforwardly with generic text editors or (for images composed of
>  pixels) generic paint programs or (for drawings) some widely available
>  drawing editor, and that is suitable for input to text formatters or
>  for automatic translation to a variety of formats suitable for input
>  to text formatters.  A copy made in an otherwise Transparent file
> -format whose markup has been designed to thwart or discourage
> -subsequent modification by readers is not Transparent.  A copy that is
> -not "Transparent" is called "Opaque".
> +format whose markup, or absence of markup, has been arranged to thwart
> +or discourage subsequent modification by readers is not Transparent.
> +A copy that is not "Transparent" is called "Opaque".

I support this alteration.  I applaud this defensive posture against the
type of crippleware that, e.g., the DMCA encourages authors and
publishers to develop.

>  Examples of suitable formats for Transparent copies include plain
>  ASCII without markup, Texinfo input format, LaTeX input format, SGML
>  or XML using a publicly available DTD, and standard-conforming simple
> -HTML designed for human modification.  Opaque formats include
> -PostScript, PDF, proprietary formats that can be read and edited only
> -by proprietary word processors, SGML or XML for which the DTD and/or
> +HTML designed for human modification.  Examples of transparent image
> +formats include PNG, XCF and JPG.  Opaque formats include PostScript,
> +PDF, proprietary formats that can be read and edited only by
> +proprietary word processors, SGML or XML for which the DTD and/or
>  processing tools are not generally available, and the
>  machine-generated HTML produced by some word processors for output
>  purposes only.

This may range beyond the scope of the GNU FDL, but it sure would be
nice to somehow encourage the DTD and/or processing tools to be Freely
licensed.  I do not object to this alteration, but I am concerned about
the possible phenomenon of a "proprietary DTD" and the possible impact
it may have on Free documentation.  The extremely hostile intellectual
property environment in the United States today gives me concern that
reverse-engineering or re-implementation of a DTD.  Not just on patent,
but copyright grounds; despite copyright's traditional role protecting
only specific expressions of ideas, there are efforts underway to
broaden copyright to cover ideas themselves, which is traditionally the
venue of patents.

See, for example:
in which the CBS television network sued the Fox television network for
infringement copyright because the latter's television show "Boot Camp"
was too similar to "Survivor".  The case was settled and fortunately no
adverse precedent was set.

Also see:
which covers the U.S. Federal 11th Circuit's reversal of an injunction
against _The Wind Done Gone_, Alice Randall's parody of _Gone with the
Wind_.  The Mitchell Trust, demonstrating quite clearly why the
extension of copyright protection beyond the lifespan of the author (so
that the rights become part of his or her estate) is absurd, sued to
have the book suppressed as an infringement of copyright.

The hyper-aggressive tactics of these authoritarian proprieteers is
alarming, and I feel that the GNU FDL should spare no opportunity to
ensure that its terms afford no purchase from which this sort of attack
on freedom may be launched.

> @@ -91,6 +97,21 @@
>  the text near the most prominent appearance of the work's title,
>  preceding the beginning of the body of the text.
> +A section "Entitled XYZ" means a named subunit of the Document whose

Is the term "subunit" really necessary?  If "unit" or "portion" won't
do, I suggest defining the term "subunit".

> +title either is precisely XYZ or contains XYZ in parentheses following
> +text that translates XYZ in another language.  (Here XYZ stands for a
> +specific section name mentioned below, such as "Acknowledgements",
> +"Dedications", "Endorsements", or "History".)  To "preserve the title"
> +of such a section when you modify the Document means that it remains a
> +section "Entitled XYZ" according to this definition.
> +
> +The Document may include Warranty Disclaimers next to the notice which
> +states that this License applies to the Document.  These Warranty
> +Disclaimers are considered to be included by reference in this
> +License, but only as regards disclaiming warranties.  Any other
> +implication that these Warranty Disclaimers may have is void and has
> +no effect on the meaning of this License.
> +

I support these additions.

> @@ -110,9 +131,10 @@
> -If you publish printed copies of the Document numbering more than 100,
> -and the Document's license notice requires Cover Texts, you must enclose
> -the copies in covers that carry, clearly and legibly, all these Cover
> +If you publish printed copies (or copies in media that commonly have
> +printed covers) of the Document, numbering more than 100, and the
> +Document's license notice requires Cover Texts, you must enclose the
> +copies in covers that carry, clearly and legibly, all these Cover
>  Texts: Front-Cover Texts on the front cover, and Back-Cover Texts on
>  the back cover.  Both covers must also clearly and legibly identify
>  you as the publisher of these copies.  The front cover must present

I have a problem with the above.  Optical media such as CD-ROMs and
DVD-ROMs that are not directly human-readable are quite often published
with printed covers, jackets, or inserts.  Often enough that I think
it could be plausibly argued that such a practice is "typical".

A Debian GNU/Linux CD-ROM or DVD-ROM may contain many GNU Manuals in
electronic form which nevertheless comprise a very small portion of the
total amount of data, and it would be cumbersome both esthetically and
legally to accommodate this requirement.  This could adversely impact the
willingness of third-party vendors to distribute Debian GNU/Linux.
Debian GNU/Linux derives a portion of its donated income from such
vendors and we are loathe to do anything to choke that revenue stream.
Therefore, Debian might be compelled to omit GNU FDL-licensed documents
that include Cover Texts from its official distribution, and/or invite
third-party CD-ROM/DVD-ROM vendors to omit them.  I think that would be
just plain bad for dissemination of these works.

I am not sure what prompted this section's expansion of applicability
(would someone care to tell me?), but I feel that the requirement to
include Cover Texts should be restricted to traditional media that are
human-readable without machine aid.

Also, to speculate on the motivations behind this alteration, I don't
think e-books are going to take off in the general marketplace.  Perhaps
as a replacement for Braille books?  I'll note here that the GNU FDL
does not appear to address the phenomenon of Braille books at all.  What
about audio books?  (Dare we imagine a future where people listen to a
recording of RMS reading the GNU Emacs Manual aloud while commuting to

Anyway, I reiterate my objection to this change.  Practically all media
are typically sold and distributed with some sort of jacket for
protection, and almost any mass-produced jacket has printing on it of
some sort.  Thus, I think the impact of this alteration is too broad.
Restricting it to traditional books such as those typically published by
O'Reilly is, I think, sufficient to achieve what I think are the desired

> @@ -163,7 +185,8 @@
>  B. List on the Title Page, as authors, one or more persons or entities
>     responsible for authorship of the modifications in the Modified
>     Version, together with at least five of the principal authors of the
> -   Document (all of its principal authors, if it has less than five).
> +   Document (all of its principal authors, if it has less than five),
> +   unless they release you from this requirement.
>  C. State on the Title page the name of the publisher of the
>     Modified Version, as the publisher.
>  D. Preserve all the copyright notices of the Document.
> @@ -175,10 +198,10 @@
>  G. Preserve in that license notice the full lists of Invariant Sections
>     and required Cover Texts given in the Document's license notice.
>  H. Include an unaltered copy of this License.
> -I. Preserve the section entitled "History", and its title, and add to
> +I. Preserve the section Entitled "History", and its title, and add to
>     it an item stating at least the title, year, new authors, and
>     publisher of the Modified Version as given on the Title Page.  If
> -   there is no section entitled "History" in the Document, create one
> +   there is no section Entitled "History" in the Document, create one
>     stating the title, year, authors, and publisher of the Document as
>     given on its Title Page, then add an item describing the Modified
>     Version as stated in the previous sentence.
> @@ -189,17 +212,18 @@
>     You may omit a network location for a work that was published at
>     least four years before the Document itself, or if the original
>     publisher of the version it refers to gives permission.
> -K. In any section entitled "Acknowledgements" or "Dedications",
> +K. In any section Entitled "Acknowledgements" or "Dedications",
>     preserve the section's title, and preserve in the section all the
>     substance and tone of each of the contributor acknowledgements
>     and/or dedications given therein.
>  L. Preserve all the Invariant Sections of the Document,
>     unaltered in their text and in their titles.  Section numbers
>     or the equivalent are not considered part of the section titles.
> -M. Delete any section entitled "Endorsements".  Such a section
> +M. Delete any section Entitled "Endorsements".  Such a section
>     may not be included in the Modified Version.
> -N. Do not retitle any existing section as "Endorsements"
> +N. Do not retitle any existing section to be Entitled "Endorsements"
>     or to conflict in title with any Invariant Section.
> +O. Preserve any Warranty Disclaimers.

No objections to the above.

>  If the Modified Version includes new front-matter sections or
>  appendices that qualify as Secondary Sections and contain no material
> @@ -208,7 +232,7 @@
>  list of Invariant Sections in the Modified Version's license notice.
>  These titles must be distinct from any other section titles.
> -You may add a section entitled "Endorsements", provided it contains
> +You may add a section Entitled "Endorsements", provided it contains
>  nothing but endorsements of your Modified Version by various
>  parties--for example, statements of peer review or that the text has
>  been approved by an organization as the authoritative definition of a
> @@ -236,7 +260,7 @@
>  versions, provided that you include in the combination all of the
>  Invariant Sections of all of the original documents, unmodified, and
>  list them all as Invariant Sections of your combined work in its
> -license notice.
> +license notice, and that you preserve all their Warranty Disclaimers.
>  The combined work need only contain one copy of this License, and
>  multiple identical Invariant Sections may be replaced with a single
> @@ -247,11 +271,11 @@
>  Make the same adjustment to the section titles in the list of
>  Invariant Sections in the license notice of the combined work.
> -In the combination, you must combine any sections entitled "History"
> -in the various original documents, forming one section entitled
> -"History"; likewise combine any sections entitled "Acknowledgements",
> +In the combination, you must combine any sections Entitled "History"
> +in the various original documents, forming one section Entitled
> +"History"; likewise combine any sections Entitled "Acknowledgements",
>  and any sections entitled "Dedications".  You must delete all sections
> -entitled "Endorsements."
> +Entitled "Endorsements".

No objections to the above.

> @@ -272,15 +296,15 @@
>  A compilation of the Document or its derivatives with other separate
>  and independent documents or works, in or on a volume of a storage or
> -distribution medium, does not as a whole count as a Modified Version
> -of the Document, provided no compilation copyright is claimed for the
> -compilation.  Such a compilation is called an "aggregate", and this
> -License does not apply to the other self-contained works thus compiled
> -with the Document, on account of their being thus compiled, if they
> -are not themselves derivative works of the Document.
> +distribution medium, is called an "aggregate" if the copyright
> +resulting from the compilation is not used to limit the legal rights
> +of the compilation's users beyond what the individual works permit.
> +When the Document is included an aggregate, this License does not
> +apply to the other works in the aggregate which are not themselves
> +derivative works of the Document.
>  If the Cover Text requirement of section 3 is applicable to these
> -copies of the Document, then if the Document is less than one quarter
> +copies of the Document, then if the Document is less than one half
>  of the entire aggregate, the Document's Cover Texts may be placed on
>  covers that surround only the Document within the aggregate.
>  Otherwise they must appear on covers around the whole aggregate.
> @@ -294,10 +318,16 @@
>  permission from their copyright holders, but you may include
>  translations of some or all Invariant Sections in addition to the
>  original versions of these Invariant Sections.  You may include a
> -translation of this License provided that you also include the
> -original English version of this License.  In case of a disagreement
> -between the translation and the original English version of this
> -License, the original English version will prevail.
> +translation of this License, and all the license notices in the
> +Document, and any Warranty Disclaimers, provided that you also include
> +the original English version of this License and the original versions
> +of those notices and disclaimers.  In case of a disagreement between
> +the translation and the original version of this License or a notice
> +or disclaimer, the original version will prevail.
> +
> +If a section in the Document is Entitled "Acknowledgements",
> +"Dedications", or "History", the requirement to preserve its title
> +(section 4) will typically require an altered title (section 1).

No objections to the above.  I'll note for the debian-legal audience
that the Cover Texts requirement has been made looser here, not tighter.
(Previously, if I had a GNU FDL-licensed document that comprised
one-third of the total volume of a work, I had to put the Cover Texts on
the exterior surfaces of the document.  Now, I can just put the Cover
Texts inside.) I had to read the changed sentence a few times to be sure
I had the sense of it correct.

I'll observe for the hell of it that, given two GNU FDL-licensed works
of equal size, I can combine them into a collection, and any additional
text I write, no matter how trivial,  will serve to shove each document
below the 50% threshold of this requirement.  Of course, the chances of
any given two manuals being of equal size are low, so any publisher
seeking to avoid requirement will have to do some math and write an
appropriate quantity of filler text to offset the difference.

> @@ -311,7 +341,14 @@
>  parties remain in full compliance.
> +
> +The Document may state other notices to disclaim warranty or limit
> +liability; they are considered to be included by reference as
> +part of this license.
> +
> +
>  The Free Software Foundation may publish new, revised versions
>  of the GNU Free Documentation License from time to time.  Such new

No objections to the above.

> @@ -339,17 +376,26 @@
>        Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document
>        under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1
>        or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation;
> -      with the Invariant Sections being LIST THEIR TITLES, with the
> -      Front-Cover Texts being LIST, and with the Back-Cover Texts being LIST.
> +    with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.
>        A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU
>        Free Documentation License".
> -If you have no Invariant Sections, write "with no Invariant Sections"
> -instead of saying which ones are invariant.  If you have no
> -Front-Cover Texts, write "no Front-Cover Texts" instead of
> -"Front-Cover Texts being LIST"; likewise for Back-Cover Texts.
> +If you have Invariant Sections, Front-Cover Texts and Back-Cover Texts,
> +replace the "with...Texts." line with this:
> +
> +    with the Invariant Sections being LIST THEIR TITLES, with the
> +    Front-Cover Texts being LIST, and with the Back-Cover Texts being LIST.
> +
> +If you have Invariant Sections without Cover Texts, or some other
> +combination of the three, merge those two alternatives to suit the
> +situation.

I would like to see an explicit statement within the License that
failure to identify (or explicitly state the absence of) any Invariant
Sections or Cover Texts either:

A) Means that there are no Invariant Sections or Cover Texts; or
B) Renders the GNU FDL inapplicable to the document.

When Debian recently audited packages using the GNU FDL, we found
several failures to properly identify Invariant Sections and Cover
Texts.  This is an important failure because it left the licensing
ambiguous.  I would like the GNU FDL to more strongly encourage its
users to not leave such things open to question.

>  If your document contains nontrivial examples of program code, we
>  recommend releasing these examples in parallel under your choice of
>  free software license, such as the GNU General Public License,
>  to permit their use in free software.
> +
> +
> +    *draft* GNU Free Documentation License *draft*   January 2002
> +    This version is circulated as a draft and has no legal force.
> +

Obviously, no objection to the draft statement.

General thoughts:

1) I concur with the general tenor of the updates to the GNU FDL.  I am
concerned about the expansion of applicability of Section 3, however.
If left unaddressed or unchanged, this will be a serious issue of
concern for the Debian Project.

2) One or persons was responsible for authoring these changes, but their
identities are not presently known.  Either they should be identified so
that questions may be directed to them, or rationale statements for each
change should be published somewhere.  On a couple of occasions I found
myself wondering what the motivation for a particular change was.

3) Thanks for subjecting this draft to an open and public review
process.  I think it would be interesting if you published all the
(non-spam) feedback you receive on this Draft.

G. Branden Robinson                |     Communism is just one step on the
Debian GNU/Linux                   |     long road from capitalism to
branden@debian.org                 |     capitalism.
http://people.debian.org/~branden/ |     -- Russian saying

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