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Re: LZW patented file left in .orig.tar source package?

Branden Robinson <branden@debian.org>:

> Debian should not be shipping -- in source or binary form -- anything in
> "main" that isn't DFSG-free, because unless we make a good-faith effort
> to ensure that everyting in main is DFSG-free, our users cannot make a
> good-faith assumption that they can exercise certain freedoms with the
> software on their Debian systems without reading every word of every
> copyright license.

Does a patent make code non-DFSG-free?

Perhaps Debian says "yes", but I don't quite understand the logic.

Firstly, Debian cannot possibly guarantee that none of the code it
distributes infringes on any patent in any country. So users in any
case cannot "make a good-faith assumption" that they are free to use
the code in their country. In which case, why throw out code that
definitely is patented in the US? Why not just add a comment warning
about the problem?

Secondly, one of the desirable characteristics of free software is
that it cannot later be withdrawn by the owner and become non-free. If
a patent makes a program non-free then this characteristic no longer
applies to "DFSG-free": submarine patents can surface years later,
forgotten patents can be rediscovered, and, most threateningly,
governments can broaden existing and enforce new forms of so called
"intellectual property".

Thirdly, it is rather difficult to decide whether a program itself
infringes a patent or only the use or certain uses of the program. For
example, there may be a patent in the EU on using a database to
catalogue a stamp collection. In which, case should Debian stop
distributing database software? Obviously not, but there are less
clear cases. In general, it doesn't philosophically make sense to
declare a program to be non-DFSG-free just because certain
applications of the (perhaps modified) program are illegal in certain

Fourthly, since any program can be modified so as to infringe any
software patent, the only way Debian can fully protect its users from
infringing patents is to only distribute software that does not allow

So, I think you fulfill the social contract better by warning users
about possible patent problems rather than removing the code in cases
where you are not actually forced to do so by some repressive


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