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Re: [DISCUSSION] SURVEY: Is the GNU FDL a DFSG-free license?

On Fri, Aug 22, 2003 at 12:06:26PM -0400, Jeremy Hankins wrote:
> Unless I've missed something, so far there hasn't been anyone arguing
> that the DFSG should not apply to documentation.  What there has been

I would hold that position.  But I caution people reading this to not assume
that this means I believe documentation deserves lower standards.

There are some properties of documentation that make it a fundamentally
different beast from the software we deal with.  Some are:

1. Lack of a clear differentiation between source code and compiled form.

   This is, in my opinion, the largest problem with applying DFSG to

   As an example, I worked on a book in LyX, writing most of the code there,
   and generating LaTeX code from it to print.  Many would say the LyX
   document is the source and LaTeX is "compiled", and that I must then
   distribute the LyX.

   But after a point, LyX became not versatile enough, so I generated LaTeX
   from it, threw out the LyX code, and hacked on the LaTeX from then on.

   As a second example:

   Somebody may take a HTML document, import it into Word, and modify it
   there.  Is the Word document the new source?  What's the compiled one?

2. Automated or nearly-automated conversion from one format to another. 
   Converting, say, a Python program into a C version is not really possible
   save by rewriting the entire program.  But it's trivial to convert
   documentation between all sorts of formats -- and formats that some may
   think are hideous (ie, the HTML output from sgml2html or PostScript)
   others may see as preferred.

   One thing that I see as a requirement for free documentation is that it
   must not place a restriction on formats (save for restricting those
   formats that prevent free copying or modification).

   DFSG doesn't have any real rule to apply here.  Some might cite
   "derived works", but if you just reformat it, it's not really derived.
   A license could exploit this loophole.

3. Tool depencies.
   Is a document free if it requires non-free software to read?

   Is a document free if non-free software reads it best, but
   free software is available to do a "reasonable" job?

   How far does "reasonable" go?

   We have seen this problem with software, for instance with Java-based
   software.  But there we have a clear idea of whether it works with,
   say, Kaffe or not.  It's not so clear here.  If, say, mswordview was
   the only option, but it deleted every table in the documentation, is
   the documentation still free?

Having said all that, I think that DFSG clauses 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 will
apply, though should possibly be strengthened as I mentioned above.

-- John

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