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Re: Proposed: Debian's Five Freedoms for Free Works

On Fri, Jun 13, 2003 at 01:10:23AM +0100, Andrew Suffield wrote:
> On Thu, Jun 12, 2003 at 04:21:35PM -0500, Branden Robinson wrote:
> > 4) The freedom to change the Work for any purpose[1], to distribute
> >    one's changes, and to distribute the Work in modified form.  Access
> >    to the form of the work which is preferred for making modifications,
> >    if applicable, is a precondition for this.
> I find the second sentence here to be prejudicial and
> inaccurate. Mostly it leads to debates over what "the preferred form
> for modification" is, much like we've had debates over what "source
> code" is.

Well, the concept is borrowed straight from the GNU GPL...

> Firstly, it deals with preferences. The problem here is that different
> people have different preferences, and it is not inconceivable that
> they might prefer different forms for modification. Take a document as
> an example; do you prefer latex source, or a word document? Given your
> answer, would you contend that everybody shares this preference?[0]

I would say that the controlling preference is that of the person who
last modified the Work and distributed it in that modified form.  Anyone
downstream from that person would have to keep the "source" in that form
and the "binary" together.

Unfortunately I can see an easy way to abuse this: Malicious proprieteer
"A" takes a Free Work and modifies its Source extensively.  "A" then
distributes the modified Work and Source to complicit agent "B", who
converts the Source into a less useful format and makes a trivial
change.  Agent "B" then distributes the modified Work along with the
Source in the hobbled form he can -- with some legitimacy -- claim to be
his "preferred form for modifying the work".

We could alter our requirements such that any form ever used for
"preferential" modification be transmitted downstream to recipients, but
there are pathological cases there.  (If some loon writes something in
INTERCAL and another person translates it to C, should the original
INTERCAL source be inflicted on the whole world?)

It may be that it is impossible to nail down the appropriate balance in
exact language.  Even a Definition of Free Software will likely not give
one the mathematical certainty that the Open Source Initiative appears
to seek.

> Secondly, it implicitly states, through use of the definite article,
> that there is only one such form. This is needlessly confusing, not to
> mention often wrong.

Yes, you seem to have been thinking along the same lines as I was in my
second pathological case above.

> I contemplated a few ways to rephrase it, but whenever I tried, I
> found myself arriving back at the first sentence again[1]. As such, I
> think it'd be best to remove the second one outright; the freedom is
> already adequetely described by the first. *Any* form which allows you
> to modify the work for any purpose, is good enough.

You may be right.  The Debian Project can apply tests (like the Desert
Island or Chinese Dissident tests) to Works and their licenses that may
not be appropriate for encapsulation in a definition of Free Works.

In other words, it may not be *necessary* to ensure that a definition of
Free Software obviously prohibits distribution of .i or .s files in lieu
of commented source code.  If institutions like Debian, the FSF, and OSI
call bullshit on such practices, it may be enough.

We should only attempt to play lawyer's games up to a point (that being
the point where the costs outweigh the benefits).

G. Branden Robinson                |    To Republicans, limited government
Debian GNU/Linux                   |    means not assisting people they
branden@debian.org                 |    would sooner see shoveled into mass
http://people.debian.org/~branden/ |    graves.          -- Kenneth R. Kahn

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