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Re: DFSG FAQ (draft)

Scripsit Florian Weimer <fw@deneb.enyo.de>

> I'd like suggest a further question and anser:

> X.  If some software is free according to Debian's standards, do I
>     still face legal risks when I use, modify or distribute it?

I can see the point, but I think the answer you propose sounds too
much like automatic CYA-legalese. In particular, I have to disagree
with the ending:

> As a result, Debian's claim that a particular computer program is free
> software is a *political* statement, not a statement of legal
> relevance on which you can rely, be it as a user, software developer
> or distributor.

In my opinion we actually try our damnedest to make sure, to the best
of our knowledge, that people *can* rely of having the DFSG freedoms
when they use software from Debian. To claim that we're doing all of
this solely to make a political statement would be dishonest in the
extreme, in addition to being a great joke considering the differences
in political views among d-l regular that occasionally escalate into

I'd be more comfortable with an ending that called a spade a space,
perhaps something like

  In short, while we try our best to include only free software in
  Debian, we can and do make mistakes on occasion. When that happens
  and is found out, we shall be immensely embarrassed, but we cannot
  be liable legally to users or distributors who, trusting our
  judgement, suffered losses because of the mistake.

  We expect our users and distributors to understand that the
  existence of some software in Debian does not constitue any
  guarantee that it is free. It merely means that either we have not
  yet become aware of any reasons why it is not free, or that we have
  found such reasons but have not yet taken action on them. [1]

  Users and distributors must understand that they alone must bear the
  legal risk inherent in relying on information that they got for free
  from a self-appointed team of mostly unknown unpaid volunteers who
  gathered it in their own time and using their own, mostly lay,
  knowledge. If you cannot accept that risk yourself, we must advise
  you either not to use or distribute Debian, or to hire a lawyer for
  yourself and have him/her research the legal state of each piece of
  software indicidually.

[1] Perhaps then there should also be a follow-up question along the
lines of

  Q. How can I find out if there are known doubts about the freedom of
     a particular package in Debian but for some reason they have not
     yet led to it being removed from the archive?

  A. If someone becomes sufficiently convinced that a package already
     in Debian is not free after all, they will file a
     release-critical bug against the package, so your first step
     would be to search our bug-tracking database at

     It is common for such bugs staying open for several weeks or
     months without the package actually being removed, for example
     because the Debian maintainer hopes to be able to reslove the
     situation through dialogue with the upstream author.

     If you want to track even preliminary suspicions that have not
     yet reached that degree of certainty, you will need to follow
     debian-legal or read its archives.

except that I don't know if that can say with a straight face that
such RC bugs will always filed if the maintainer acknowledges the
problem and is working with upstream to get the license changed or

Henning Makholm                                      "Punctuation, is? fun!"

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