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

I was mildly confused with Branden's response to my message, and I've
been asked by two other people privately what the conclusion of the
"debate" was, so I'll just summarise quickly here the discussion Branden
and myself had on IRC. I checked with Branden, and he's perfectly happy
with the summary below.

Regardless of whether he agrees or disagrees with a change log
requirement, it's not appropriate to the essay. The essay is not
intended to go into specific applications and restrictions, but is
rather an attempt to broadly define our freedoms such that we may apply
its principles when making day-to-day decisions about licensing.

, specifically:

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

Now that I understand the goal of the essay, I certainly agree with him
:) Regardless of whether the specific application of the principles
involved gives us a "yea" or a "nay" on the change log issue, it's not
appropriate for the essay. However, some people (myself included) wanted
to ensure that we understood Branden's position with respect to change
log requirements, so I asked him and he kindly explained.

Basically, he is not averse to a change log requirement - we both agree
that it is a reasonable restriction of the "public domain" so to speak
(the public domain being the most "truly free" form a work can be
released as, the user being able to do absolutely anything they want
with no obligations, responsibilities, or restrictions). Its utility
(providing an audit trail, a history, and ensuring that those complying
with the license don't release something under somebody else's name with
all the problems involved in that) outweighs the fact that it's an added

However, he feels that the text within the GPL which deals with this
issue is out of date - it requires the nature of the changes and the
dates of the changes to be documented within the changed source file
itself. This is very rarely done, and it has been replaced with the
common practice of keeping a ChangeLog file of some form. It also
doesn't take into account the revision control situation, where if you
distribute a source tree via a revision control system, those change
logs are typically available from the revision control system and don't
necessarily need to be included in the downloaded data itself.

I certainly agree there as well, and would feel a more generic paragraph
would be more useful. Obviously the current one is worse than useless,
since so many people aren't in compliance with the license.

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