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

John Goerzen wrote:
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.

Nope; this problem exists even with things generally agreed to be programs. Look at shell scripts, perl scripts, or bascially anything intended to be run by an interpreter. No clear differentiation between source code and compiled form.

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
In fact, this is not at all true; many program translators have been written, the most famous of which is probably f2c. Perhaps you mean to refer to "lossless, fully reversible automated conversion"? This is indeed more likely to be possible with documentation than with programs, but it usually isn't possible with documentation either.

   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).
This should be a requirement for programs as well.

3. Tool depencies.
   Is a document free if it requires non-free software to read?
Provided that is a *technical* requirement and not a *legal* requirement, it's free, but must go in 'contrib'. Just like free programs which require non-free programs to function. (If it's a *legal* requirement, it's non-free, but I've never heard of such a case.)

   Is a document free if non-free software reads it best, but
   free software is available to do a "reasonable" job?
The document is free. The question is whether it needs to go in 'contrib' or can go in 'main'.

   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.
Not always. "It compiles with GCJ, but I'm not sure how reliable it is" is not an uncommon complaint.

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?

It's free. Whether it can go in 'main' is really a matter of whether the document, viewed in 'mswordview', is considered of sufficient quality to be released as part of Debian (by the maintainer, the RM, etc.).

I guess I'm saying that all these issues come up with programs as well, and so are not convincing reasons to treat electronic documentation differently from other software. Of course, they may be good reasons to add additional clauses to the DFSG. :-)

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