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Re: [Discussioni] OSD && DFSG convergence

Scripsit Russell Nelson <nelson@crynwr.com>

> This seems to be a sticking point with a lot of people.  Essentially,
> everyone seems to be defending their right to arbitrarily exclude
> software from Debian.  But that is a right you don't have.

We sure do have. Debian is a volunteer organzation that basically do
thing for our own sake (namely, for having part of the good karma it
earns to produce a good free OS).

If we, as a project, decide to pull out, say, GNU Emacs, from Debian
because one of its C source files has an MD5 sum that happens to be
"JESUS LIVES!" in EBCDIC spelled backwards and we don't want to force
evangelization on non-Cristian users, exactly zero people outside the
project will have any way to hold us accountable for that decision.

The only thing we're accountable to is our own idea of our user's
needs, and what we've promised the users. That's what the DFSG is: We
promise our users that, to the best of our ability, we'll strive not
to include any software that doesn't have the freedoms we think free
software should have. We've written down the DFSG so that users will
have an idea what we're promising them, and also to remind ourselves
what it was that we promised.

However, the *only* ill that could befall Debian for arbitrarily
excluding something is that some of our users will be disappointed with
not having it, and that they will start using another OS if it
disappoints them enough. Nobody can sue us for not including their
favorite software. Nobody can sue us for not including software they
wrote. It's a decision that lies with us, and if we were to choose to
make our decisions by tossing dice, the world's sole remedy would be
to ignore us.

(Of course we do incur some liability when we choose to do distribute
something, because we need to have the copyright holder's permission
to do so. But that is another matter).

> Well... what is wrong with amending the DFSG so it incorporates the
> case law? Because it's hard?  Shit, coding is *hard* and we do it
> anyway.

There's nothing *wrong* per se with making the DFSG more explicit (as
long as nobody begins to claim it to be an objective touchstone that
does not require judgement in applying it). However, being nothing
wrong with is not always a sufficient reason to do something.

I don't know you, but I assume you wouldn't have made it to the OSI
board without quite some experience with the social dynamics of the
free software movement. Therefore is puzzles me that you apparently
don't see the enormity of what you're asking.

Just logistically, changing the DFSG is not a simple matter. It is not
enough simply to reach a consensus on a new wording on debian-legal
(which probably would be possible). In order to be accepted as the new
DFSG by the whole Debian community would require at least a vote among
all developers. In fact, as there is not even a procedure in place for
changing the Social Contract (of which the DFSG are part), multiple
votes would be needed, the first ones to decide how and why the later
ones can have force. A lot of people will oppose those procedural
changes on principle, not because they have anything against the
concrete clarifications proposed, but because they fear that the mere
precedent of amending the DFSG will open the door for other changes
they don't want (say, relating to the treatment of non-programs in
relation to the DFSG). There will be a major flamewar, likely lasting
months, before things settle down.

So if someone were to set out amending the DFSG, that someone would
need to be a rather senior and respected member of the Debian
community, or he'd not have a snowball's chance in hell of succeeding.
Even then, he'd *also* have to commit himself to using several hundred
hours of his time to waging the necessary flamewars. Time that could
have been used for coding things that would actually be helpful for

Now you come and demand (no, suggesting politely) that one of us takes
that much trouble upon himself to do that. What one asks oneself then,
is: Why should I? Just because you ask nicely? Or because it will
solve some problem that has been costing, or is likely to cost, the
project actual griveance? The former is (apparently!) not going to
impress anyone, and as for the latter we're not convinced it's
true. Remember, we're the people in the line of fire, we're the ones
who know from actual experience how much or little hassle it is to
explain to upstream authors and developers how to read correctly
between the lines of the current text.

It seems that most of the debian-legal regulars have decided for
themselves that, sure there are things that might be said clearer, but
it's not broken enough to turn the Constitution upside down to fix it.

I suspect your real agenda is something like: The OSD is not
unambiguous enough for the purposes the OSI is putting it to, so you
want our help in fixing it. If you had come to us and said, please
help us make the OSD better, I suspect you'd have gotten quite a
different reaction. In fact, we'd probably have been flattered,
because we like to entertain the self-important notion that
debian-legal is one of the more influental and respected license
discussion forums in the free-software world.

But what you actually seem to say is: We have these two documents that
except for a few places are identical; please make a lot of changes to
yours so that we can have them "converge".  That doesn't make much
sense to me, except if there's some internal OSI politics going on
(such as a fraction that insists on not making any further
clarification unless Debian makes them first, or similar silliness).

[And to the rest of debian-legal: I apologize for using "we" and "us"
as indiscriminately as I do above even though I'm not technically a
member of the constituency I'm speaking about. I'll defend myself on
request, by waving hands and saying nice things about communities and
getting one's point across].

Henning Makholm               "... not one has been remembered from the time
                         when the author studied freshman physics. Quite the
            contrary: he merely remembers that such and such is true, and to
          explain it he invents a demonstration at the moment it is needed."

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