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Re: TeX Licenses & teTeX (Was: Re: forwarded message from Jeff Licquia)

On Mon, Aug 05, 2002 at 11:04:56AM -0400, Boris Veytsman wrote:
> I cannot claim to understand *all* intricacies of Don's great brain,
> but I always understood his intentions with respect to TeX and friends
> in the following way:
> 1. As a true CS professor, Knuth distinguishes between the program
>    (i.e. the code of the program) and the name of the program (file
>    name of the code for systems with file naming conventions).

You have an unhealthy obsession with filenames.  A filename is no more
representative of the name of a work than the page number of a book is
representative of the book's title.

If your assertion that the "name" means "file name of the code for
systems with file naming conventions", then Knuth would have no problem
with people selling a derivative of TeX that failed his conformance
tests, referring to this derivative as "TeX" in its documentation and on
the external labelling of the product, but called the executable
something else, like "/usr/bin/bandersnatch".

I personally would not be willing to lay money on this interpretation.
Clearly, your mileage varies.

The name of a copyrighted work is the name of a copyrighted work.  This
is a legal construct with legal meaning, and is interpreted by humans
for human purposes.  The name of a file is a technological mechanism,
and is interpreted by computers (note that some user interfaces permit
the manipulation of files without the user ever having to know the names
of the files upon which he is operating; the possibility that most of us
may use good old-fashioned shell prompts and other command-line
interfaces may obscure this fact, but it remains true).  They are not in
any meaningful sense the same thing.

> 2. The code is in the public domain. Anybody can do anything with it.
> 3. The associated set of names is *not*. 

Unless Professor Knuth applies for trademark protection in the names
"TeX", "METAFONT", and "Computer Modern", the only tool (as far as I
know) he has at his disposal to *legally* enforce his wishes is
copyright law.

Therefore, it is safe to assume that Professor Knuth is in fact
retaining copyright on TeX, METAFONT, and Computer Modern so as to
enforce the restriction on usage of the names of these works.

An unscrupulous and impolite person who felt confident of winning a
possible court battle with Knuth might take a different stance.  Such a
person might claim that since Knuth has not filed for trademark
protection in "TeX", "METAFONT", and "Computer Modern", and has also
said that the works he authored and refers to by these names are "in the
public domain", that he can reuse the works of Knuth's just like any
other public domain work (say, the plays of Shakespeare or the novels of
Melville), and pay no heed to Knuth's
renaming-on-incompatible-modification requirement, because it has no
legal teeth.  Such a person would also have no problem asserting that
under his interpretation, TeX, METAFONT, and Computer Modern are DFSG,
and it would be consistent of him to make that assertion, since public
domain works are in fact DFSG-free.

However, you cannot count on the Debian Project to employ this legal
theory as a means of regarding TeX, METAFONT, and Computer Modern as
DFSG-free.  Firstly, I don't think of us have anything but respect for
Professor Knuth's incredible contributions to computer science; we
therefore would not be likely to seek to personally offend him, and we
will respect any reasonable requests of his as a matter of courtesy.
Moreover, Debian is not interested in going to court with anyone over
any particular piece of software.  (I cannot promise that that will
remain true, however, as more and more draconian laws like the DMCA are

If a copyright holder makes it clear to Debian that we will be taken to
court if we exercise the freedoms enumerated in the Debian Free Software
Guidelines, then the work is not DFSG-free in practice regardless of
what the license says.

File renaming requirements are not DFSG-free.  Neither DFSG 3 nor DFSG 4
permit them.  Only a requirement to rename the *work* is permitted.

> Whether these conditions are DGSG-free or not, is a subject of a
> heated discussion on the debian-legal. My personal opinion is that
> either they are or, if not, they should be grandfathered: TeX used to
> be the greatest example of free software for decades, and it would be
> a shame to lose this.

I disagree.  Debian has never grandfathered anything before, as far as I
know.  We have a DFSG for the protection of our users; it ensures (not
100%, but as best we can) that they have certain rights to use, modify,
and redistribute the contents of our distribution.  It saves our users
the trouble of having to vet every single license to determine their

If Debian begins grandfathering works, our users lose that assurance.

TeX is indeed great software; whether it's free or not in Debian's view
is up to the copyright holder.  I asked Frank Mittelbach which of the
many statements about licensing that Prof. Knuth has made we should
regard as binding.  Since Prof. Knuth is so busy and presumably has a
high degree of trust in the TeX community, I personally am willing to
regard Frank as a proxy for Knuth in this respect.  Hopefully the TeX
community can reach a consensus that Frank can communicate to us in good
conscience.  I would be very disappointed if Prof. Knuth had to be
interrupted -- even briefly -- from his work on TAOCP to disambiguate
this issue.  (I guess this is just an example of how silly, labyrinthine
intellectual property laws can do more to impede the progress of human
intellect than they do to promote it...but there is no one with a mind
like Knuth's working for Disney, so we're probably stuck with lousy laws
until there are fires in the streets.)

Does anyone know if Prof. Knuth has appointed an attorney-in-fact to
handle any legal issues with TeX, METAFONT, and Computer Modern that
might crop up?

G. Branden Robinson                |    If you make people think they're
Debian GNU/Linux                   |    thinking, they'll love you; but if
branden@debian.org                 |    you really make them think, they'll
http://people.debian.org/~branden/ |    hate you.

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