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Re: The debate on Invariant sections (long)

On Tue, May 20, 2003 at 09:53:25PM -0400, Richard Stallman wrote:
> The GNU FDL does many other things, but you raised the issue of
> invariant sections, so my response focused on that issue.

Just so you know, the Debian Project is also concerned about:

1) Cover Texts[1]
2) Acknowledgements and Dedications sections, which share the same
   problem as Invariant Sections
3) the restrictions on copying in quantity; would similar restrictions
   on copying of software be Free, in your view?
4) the restriction that "You may not use technical measures to obstruct
   or control the reading or further copying of the copies you make or

> I therefore did not mention other points about the GFDL which are not
> relevant to that issue.  When you criticize those omissions, you are
> in effect criticizing me for doing what you asked me to do.

I apologize if I gave the impression that Invariant Sections were the
only trait of the GNU FDL that the Debian Project finds problematic.
This is not the case.

Debian has spent much of the last month preparing a document that more
exhaustively documents our concerns with the license.

>     Could you offer me some criteria for evaluating the terms "pedantic" and
>     "minor"?
> That would be an unnecessary digression.  I used those words to make a
> particular point, and I think my point was clear enough.  I've
> provided several examples of the pattern of argument I am talking
> about.  (Two in the last message, one above, and this one.)  The
> pattern should be clear.  Another applicable term is "quibbling".
> I'm not going to respond to the quibbles.

Well, all right, but this makes it more difficult for me to dismiss
substantive objections from dismissive or belittling remarks.

> I don't think invariant sections are wrong, and you haven't convinced
> me they are wrong.

I daresay that's not the issue.  Debian doesn't care whether invariant
sections are "wrong", per se; we primarily care whether or not they are

Our answer to date is a pretty confident "no".

> People have cited inconveniences, and I agree they are inconveniences,
> but not major ones.  This is not enough to make the license non-free.

You must understand that Debian hears this same sort of argument from
all sorts of people who want to get non-free licenses approved as
DFSG-free by the Debian Project, and I feel confident that the FSF has
no shortage of experience with such assertions as well.  "Oh, sure, it's
a little inconvenient, but it's not incovenient enough to matter".

Could you share with us your criteria for what constitutes an onerous,
freedom-impairing inconvenience from a non-onerous,
non-freedom-impairing one?  If you could that would remove a lot of
subjectivity from this sort of analysis.

> I hope Debian won't adopt your views, but if it does, it won't be the
> first disagreement between Debian and the FSF.  Debian wrote its own
> definition of free software which is different from ours.

I must correct you there.  As a long flamewar between the Debian Project
and the Open Source Initiative made clear, the Debian Project doesn't
explicitly have a definition of Free Software at all.  What we have are
Free Software *guidelines* -- a set of propositions, if you will, which
we evaluate in the context of a given license.  If a proposition fails,
the license is probably not Free.  However, even if all the propositions
succeed, the license still may not be Free.  It may be unfree in a way
we didn't think of when drafting the DFSG.

The Debian Social Contract is explicit about this approach: "We promise
to keep the Debian GNU/Linux Distribution entirely free software. As
there are many definitions of free software, we include the guidelines
we use to determine if software is "free" below."[3]

The Debian Project does not explicitly endorse any particular
*definition* of Free Software, however I have argued in the past that
the FSF's definition of it is highly useful.  I don't know of a more
compelling one, though perhaps someday one may be developed.

> We also disagree about Debian's practice of distributing and
> recommending non-free software.

A lot of people within the Debian Project disagree with it as well.
Debian is not a monolithic entity.  There have been efforts over the
years to try to eliminate the non-free section from our archives, but to
date those efforts have failed.

If it turns out that the FSF is unwilling to hold its documentation
to the same standards of freedom to which it holds its software, some
GNU manuals may be moved to the non-free section, which will, I feel
sure, not do anything to help the cause of those who'd rather the Debian
Project stopped distributing that section.

[1] http://lists.debian.org/debian-legal/2003/debian-legal-200304/msg00460.html
[2] http://lists.debian.org/debian-legal/2002/debian-legal-200212/msg00061.html
[3] http://www.debian.org/social_contract

G. Branden Robinson                |
Debian GNU/Linux                   |           If existence exists,
branden@debian.org                 |           why create a creator?
http://people.debian.org/~branden/ |

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