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Re: query from Georg Greve of GNU about Debian's opinion of the FDL

On Mon, Apr 14, 2003 at 06:21:11PM +0200, Georg C. F. Greve wrote:
>  || On Mon, 14 Apr 2003 10:18:10 -0500
>  || Steve Langasek <vorlon@netexpress.net> wrote: 
>  sl> The perceived goal of the GPL is to establish a creative commons
>  sl> for the mutual benefit of all in the community.  
> I would agree to the sentiment, but I must say that I have some issues
> using the commons example and terminology as commons are traditionally
> established by sharing limited resources.

Skilled programmers are limited resources, and as such their output
is also limited. But in any event, it's not whether it's limited or
not that's the important factor in a commons -- it's that it's freely
usable by all. There's no conceptual difficulty with a commons that is
arbitrarily large.

> But unlike prose, most software derives its justification to exist
> From its function, not its aesthetics.

A lot of prose does the same -- it's written to persuade or to explain
or to record, rather than to entertain or amaze. Conversely, substantial
amounts of software derive its justification from aesthetics and it's
Debian's opinion that computer games should be free to go into main too.

> If I have a single word processor that I like, I usually have all the
> word processors that I need, only very few people will use more than
> one.
> If I have one piece of prose that I like, I usually do not have all
> the prose I need/want. The same goes for documentation or music. In
> fact hearing some piece of music usually motivates me to get more.

If you have a single rendition of Shakespeare's Hamlet, you usually have
all the copies of it you need/want. Sometimes you don't -- sometimes
you're an English professor and need to get some modernised versions,
or versions with commentary, or maybe a modern retelling.

Sometimes a single word-processor isn't enough either, and you need to
have access to a few to see how different features are accessed, or if
different documents are rendered differently, or to see which is more
accessible to your staff, or as some source material so you can get ideas
on how to implement some new program you want to write.

> So the patterns of distribution of software are mutually exclusive, [...]

Then you'll presumably have no problem with us treating the distribution
of GFDL documentation and free software as being mutually exclusive.

> From knowing the people who worked on it, I know that creating such a
> "commons" -- I will use your word despite its shortcomings I explained
> above -- is exactly what they had and still have in mind.

It's not what they've achieved. For a commons to exist, anything built
on that commons must be readily accessible to everyone to use or enhance
as they see fit. But the ability to arbitrarily add invariant sections
that no one else can remove stymies any chance of that happening, in
both a technical sense (you can't excerpt from the covered work), and a
political sense (you can be forced to distribute irrelevent, outdated
or highly disagreeable manifestos). These problems have already been
encountered by the wikipedia and FOLDOC folks, see [0,1].


[0] http://www.wikipedia.org/pipermail/wikipedia-l/2002-June/002238.html
[1] http://www.wikipedia.org/pipermail/wikipedia-l/2001-October/000624.html

Anthony Towns <aj@humbug.org.au> <http://azure.humbug.org.au/~aj/>
I don't speak for anyone save myself. GPG signed mail preferred.

  ``Dear Anthony Towns: [...] Congratulations -- 
        you are now certified as a Red Hat Certified Engineer!''

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