Re: The debate on Invariant sections (long)
> The Wikipedia used the GFDL because it was recommended by the FSF.
> They used it in its natural way. And then they got burnt.
> I fetched those pages, anxious that they might have had a serious
> problem, but when I saw the contents I was relieved. They were just
> discussing whether they are better off using or not using invariant
> sections, and how to use them. Words like "burnt" do not fit the
I'm not sure if the gravity of the situation really conveyed itself.
With their invariant stuff, the encyclopedia was much less useful. So
they had to remove it. But they already had lots and lots of entries,
all licensed with that invariant text.
In order to just remove it, technically speaking they needed
permission from EVERY SINGLE CONTRIBUTOR, since all the contributions
had been made using the with-invariant license and needed to be
re-licensed with the modified sans-invariant license. If they
couldn't get in touch with someone, or that person didn't want to give
permission, they should have removed that person's text. If multiple
people worked on the same entry they would have had to remove the
whole entry, even if it was really long, if they were unable to get in
touch with just one person, even if that person's contribution to that
entry was relatively minor. Note that their web-based interface makes
adding or editing text very easy, for anyone in the world. So they
had an army of contributors, and people often fixed typos or added
sentences to many many entries. This is the very power of their
approach - but it makes contacting everyone, or removing one person's
contributions without removing a great deal of adjacent material,
Instead they took a third route: they removed the invariant section
without getting everyone's permission. This I'm sure you'll agree is
of dubious legality! It is something I'm sure the FSF would not
To summarize: they had a choice.
(a) start over
(b) contact everyone, maybe have to remove & rewrite large fraction
(c) just ignore the legalities and relicense without permission
If (a) or (b) don't count as getting burned, I don't know what would.
Option (c), which is what they took, is not exactly comforting!
The FSF has also been in the position of having to modify the
invariant clauses of a GFDL document, due to an error. You have the
luxury of just re-licensing it though, because you have copyright
assignment. You can modify an outdated essay, or remove an invariant
section that is no longer useful. But you should be aware that
holding all the copyrights gives the FSF a practically unique
position. Others without that position also want to contribute to,
maintain, and develop free documents. The genius of the GPL is that
it allowed this - everyone could use it without fear. This is not
true of the GFDL.