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acceptable restrictions on modification (was: proposed licence change for moodle)

On Wed, Jan 22, 2003 at 02:12:49PM -0500, David Turner wrote:
> Unfortunately, DFSG doesn't discuss what sorts of modifications can be
> restricted.

Implicitly, no sort of restriction on modification is permitted, except
those already mandated by copyright law (removing someone's copyright
notices can infringe their copyright, and usually does according to the
terms of most copyright licenses).

Restrictions on modifications that already happen to exist in the
licenses that the DFSG already explicitly identifies as satisfying
meeting Debian's definition of "Free Software" also are implicitly
regarded as acceptable.

> The Apache license restricts modifications that *don't* also modify
> the name.

Yes, and in my opinion this is a defect in the license.

> The GPL forbids removing code from interactive programs which displays
> copyright notices.

Yes, and in my opinion this is a defect in the license.

> The AGPL forbids removing code which makes the source code available
> to users of the software. 

Yes, and in my opinion this is a defect in the license.

> The Microsoft Word EULA forbids all changes.

Yes, and in my opinion this is a defect in the license.

> Which of these are acceptable depends on where you want to draw the
> line.  I would argue that any restriction on modification must serve a
> compelling Free Software interest unrelated to restrictions on
> modification, and be the least restrictive means possible of
> accomplishing its goal.  I know that this is a rather American way of
> putting it, but it's hard to overcome my upbringing.

The judgement of what is and is not a "compelling Free software
interest" is quite subjective and slippery.  RMS apparently feels that
the Invariant Sections mentioned in the GNU FDL serve a compelling Free
Software interest.  As much feedback during the FSF's public comment
period on GNU FDL 1.2 revealed, there are many people who disagree with
his calculus.

> Letting users of software get at the source code (which is the aim of
> the AGPL's (2)(d)) is certainly such a compelling interest.

Certainly, but placing shackles on people's freedom to reuse the source
code is perhaps not the best way to achieve such an end.  The GNU GPL
itself demonstrates other ways to serve this particular end, such that
compelling every Free Software program to be a quine is demonstrably

> If Xpdf had enshrined its DRM code with licensing, due to its stated
> goal of following the intent of the author (rather than the law or the
> goals of the user), this would not be such a compelling interest.

That's your personal judgement.  That I happen to agree with this
specific point doesn't establish much.

> If the AGPL had forbidden modification completely to the subsection
> which delivers the source code (rather than requiring the equivalent
> functionality), this would have been a more restrictive means than
> necessary.

And what of people who feel that FSF itself publishes licenses that
employ more restrictive means that necessary?  Are they to be dismissed
out of hand, or shall we attempt to understand what metrics are being
used to evaluate the strength of a "compelling Free Software interest"
vis-a-vis particular licensing contrivances intended to serve those

> Keep in mind, here, that I'm not speaking for the FSF, which doesn't
> think about the DFSG at all.

If it is a point of principle for the FSF to practice a sort of
ideological isolationism[1], the FSF should not begrudge other
organizations their own isolationism, and should not be surprised if the
Debian Project in particular practices it.

[1] note that I don't imply that this is necessarily a bad thing

G. Branden Robinson                |      Intellectual property is neither
Debian GNU/Linux                   |      intellectual nor property.
branden@debian.org                 |      Discuss.
http://people.debian.org/~branden/ |      -- Linda Richman

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