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Re: Aspell-en license Once again.

On Sun, Nov 03, 2002 at 11:15:36PM -0500, Kevin Atkinson wrote:
> Thus I will repeat my argument once again.  But, this time I would like I 
> response to the points I made and by the end of our debate I would like a 
> definite answer on what should be done, if anything, to resolve the 
> problem.

In a nutshell, there are two problems; one is Debian's and one might be
yours, if Aspell-en is an official GNU project.

1) Several European Debian Developers insist that an alphabetized list
of English words is inherently a copyrightable thing, and/or has
intellectual property protection under some other scheme, presumably
designed to ensure the marketability of collections of facts or other

2) As I understand it, Aspell is a GNU Project, and therefore falls
under the aegis of the Free Software Foundation.  RMS is of the opinion
that "word lists are copyrightable"[1], but he also says that he is just
expression his opinion[2].

I don't know if Aspell-en is part of the Aspell project, or a discrete
thing.  If the former, could you get an official opinion from the FSF's
legal eagles regarding this issue?  Such an opinion would carry a lot of
weight with Debian, even if it wouldn't be determinative.

> I also have a felling that this is how many of the Ispell/Aspell
> dictionaries are created for other languages.  So you better remove
> every single Ispell/Aspell dictionary from the Debian distribution
> because you could be violating some one else's copyright.

I mostly agree.  Where the history is unclear, we would have to do so.
The history is probably unclear for all ispell/aspell dictionaries in
Debian because people have historically labored under the common-sense
belief that alphabetized lists of common words in a language are not
subject to any sort of legal encumbrances, at least in free societies.

> The point is that if I did not list my sources it will be virtually
> imposable for some one to prove in court that I violated a copyright of
> one of the word lists used in the DEC word list.  Thus even if I did
> violate a copyright it will virtually be unenforceable due to the very
> indirect nature which I used the word lists.

Well, intent is important in the law, and these words would be used
against you in the unlikely event that someone ever tried to take you to
court for infringing the copyright on the word list.

> Also note that the DEC Word List is used in the linux.words package which
> the author claims is free of any copyright.  This word list has been used
> any many distributes including Debian's as "text/wenglish".  So if you are
> going to be anneal about Aspell word lists you should also remove this
> package.

Probably, yes.  I have decried again and again the absurdity of some of
our European developers' opinion (and that of RMS) when it is logically
and consistently applied.  They apparently don't want to hear any of it.

> Thus I will remove the DEC word list only if 1) Debian will refuse to
> include the English word list due to questionable copyright on some of the 
> sources that DEC uses and 2) the wenglish package is also removed from 
> future debian distributions since it also contains the same word lost.
> But If I remove the DEC word list I will make a note on the reason
> why it is removed which will include a statement by me which more or less
> states that I think Durban-legal is being completely anneal about the
> matter.

I don't understand your last sentence; are "Debian" and "anal" not words
in the word lists you've used to spell check your message?

Anyway, please don't tar the entire Debian Project with this brush.  It
is a noisy few developers, apparently convinced of the supremacy of
European law over the rest of the world[1], that is causing this problem.
It doesn't help that Richard Stallman happens to agree with them.

> If the DEC word list author was not so careful to list all of his sources 
> this issue would never have come up.

Probably.  I've tried to argue that it's impossible to plagiarize that
which is unoriginal, such as the enumeration of all the possible
combinations that come up when one tosses a pair of dice.  But my
opponents in this argument will have none of it.  Their conception of
intellectual property is that you can declare anything you want to be
your intellectual property as long as no one else has yet.  They appear
to have no concept of the public domain.

So, please; I share your frustration, but please don't ascribe the
asinine attitudes of a few Debian developers to the whole Project.
Please approach the FSF for their opinion on this subject.  If they
agree with the European People's Front for Propertization of Everything,
then I suppose Debian can create a "non-eu" section to complement its
"non-us" section, and European developers and users can perhaps be thus
educated that it isn't just the United States that passes bad laws.

[1] the same sort of unilaterialist hubris that George W. Bush is
rightfully accused of

G. Branden Robinson                |    To Republicans, limited government
Debian GNU/Linux                   |    means not assisting people they
branden@debian.org                 |    would sooner see shoveled into mass
http://people.debian.org/~branden/ |    graves.          -- Kenneth R. Kahn

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