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

On Wed, Apr 16, 2003 at 10:52:55AM +0200, Georg C. F. Greve wrote:
> I'm sorry, but if somebody wrote something into a document that was
> important to him and you didn't like it and removed it to distribute
> that as a newer version of the document, you'd be violating that
> persons Copyright. GNU Free Documentation License or no.

Yes, that's how copyright works. You're not allowed to change things without

*Free* licenses give you that permission. The GNU "Free" Documentation
License specifically *does not* give you that permission when invariant
sections are involved.

In particular, in the case of GPLed software, you _can_ take
any small part of the program and reuse it without any significant
encumberance. Sure, you might have to GPL your work, and sure, you might
have to display a copyright notice when run interactively, but you can do it.

For example, without violating copyright or hoping that some exception
applies, I can't excerpt:

]   GDB can do four main kinds of things (plus other things in support of
] these) to help you catch bugs in the act:
]    * Start your program, specifying anything that might affect its
]      behavior.
]    * Make your program stop on specified conditions.
]    * Examine what has happened, when your program has stopped.
]    * Change things in your program, so you can experiment with
]      correcting the effects of one bug and go on to learn about another.
]    You can use GDB to debug programs written in C and C++.  For more
] information, see *Note Supported languages: Support.  For more
] information, see *Note C and C++: C.

from the current GDB manual without also including the full, and
completely irrelevant, "Free Software Needs Free Documentation" diatribe.

> Again that has nothing to do with the GFDL.

To reiterate. Copyright allows you a very high degree of control over
what modifications may be made to your work. Copyright licenses allow you
to exercise that control. Free licenses, that is, licenses that match the
DFSG which is how Debian defines "free", allow you to make a wide range of
modifications that don't necessarily preserve the original authors intent.

> However: If it was under GFDL without making use of invariant
> sections, you'd be safe to use it the way you described.

Documents licensed under the GFDL that don't make use of invariant
sections, or front/back-cover texts, or the other loopholes to allow
non-free additions to the documentation, are DFSG-free.

> If somebody doesn't like the GPL and tells me: "All I wanted were
> these few lines, why should I adhere to the GPL because of that?"

No. The generalisation is "All I wanted was these few lines, why should
I have to take this whole chunk of irrelevant garbage as well?", and the
analogy is to licenses that say "You can do whatever you want with this
software -- distribute it, modify it, whatever, as long as it always
meets standard Foo". Such licenses are non-free.

> In my eyes the GFDL is clearly a free license. 

Good for you.

> Of course technical manuals require change. So it may be possible that
> authors use invariant sections in an unwise way, covering parts that
> need to be changed to keep the manual useful. In that case such
> manuals should maybe be put into contrib.

The only way a freely licensed document would go into contrib is if it
were in a format that was only readable using non-free software. If a
document is in itself not free, it goes in non-free.

It sets a disappointing example that the Free Software Foundation does not
trust free licenses (that allow modification by anyone in almost any way)
to protect the intent and history of some of their most precious works,
including the GPL itself and the GNU Manifesto. For comparison:

	* The Debian Constitution <http://www.debian.org/devel/constitution>
	  is made available under the Open Publication License

	* The Debian Developers Reference and Debian Policy are made available
	  under the GPL

	* The Debian Social Contract and Debian Free Software Guidelines
	  <http://www.debian.org/social_contract> are made available
	  under the OPL and "Other organizations may derive from and build
	  on this document. Please give credit to the Debian project
	  if you do." Derived works include the Open Source Definition,
	  the Open Directory Project Social Contract, the Gentoo Linux
	  Social Contract, presumably the MusicBrainz Social Contract,
	  and possibly the Free University Project Social Contract.

It's hard to see, from here, how allowing people to derive from your
core documents is a bad thing -- even when you're focussed on letting
people derive from the software you produce.

Anyway, to answer your original question, "GFDL = non-free" is not an
official Debian position simply because we haven't written up a proper
explanation of why, and haven't gone through the GFDL documents in main
to see which ones need removing.


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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