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



A little over one week ago, I posted a survey[1] to the debian-legal
mailing list, requesting the opinion of subscribers regarding one of a
pair of related questions that have been asked with increasing frequency
on that list, and in a few other forums around the Internet.

Does the GNU Free Documentation License, in its current form, satisfy
the Debian Free Software Guidelines?

My survey included four possible answers to this question; they included
three answers that represented points of view that I have seen on the
debian-legal mailing list as the GNU FDL has been discussed over the
past two years, and a fourth option was included so that people whose
opinions were not represented could indicate their dissatisfaction with
the alternatives.

The four possible answers were:

1 The GNU Free Documentation License, version 1.2, as published by the
  Free Software Foundation, is not a license compatible with the Debian
  Free Software Guidelines.  Works under this license would require
  significant additional permission statements from the copyright
  holder(s) for a work under this license to be considered Free Software
  and thus eligible for inclusion in the Debian OS.

2 The GNU Free Documentation License, version 1.2, as published by the
  Free Software Foundation, is a license compatible with the Debian Free
  Software Guidelines.  In general, works under this license would
  require no additional permission statements from the copyright
  holder(s) for a work under this license to be considered Free Software
  and thus eligible for inclusion in the Debian OS.

3 The GNU Free Documentation License, version 1.2, as published by the
  Free Software Foundation, can be a license compatible with the Debian
  Free Software Guidelines, but only if certain restrictions stated in
  the license are not exercised by the copyright holder with respect to
  a given work.  Works under this license will have to be scrutinized on
  a case-by-case basis for us to determine whether the work can be be
  considered Free Software and thus eligible for inclusion in the Debian
  OS.

4 None of the above statements approximates my opinion.

The above answers can be crudely summarized as "no", "yes", "sometimes",
and "none of the above".

I also asked each respondent to indicate whether he was a Debian
Developer as described in the Debian Constitution as of the date of the
survey, and asked that people who so indicated GPG-sign their replies so
that I could verify this claim.

I originally neglected to announce when I would be tabulating results,
so I rectified that defect on 24 August[2], indicating that I'd "close
the polls" at Thursday, 28 August, 0500 UTC.  By that time, 63 responses
had been received.

Of course, since the responses are public, people can continue to reply,
and anyone may independently keep track of the survey's future progress.

Here are the results of the survey.

                                             possible     non-
                                 developers developers developers
-----------------------------------------------------------------
option 1 ("no")                     18          3         22
option 2 ("yes")                     1          0          1
option 3 ("sometimes")               8          4          4
option 4 ("none of the above")       1          0          1

Possible developers are people who claimed to be Debian Developers but
did not have a well-formed GPG signature on their responses, so I was
unable to verify their claims.  More information about these responses
is MIME-attached.

Possibly the most satisfying result for me personally is that so few
people selected option 4; I can have at least some hope that my survey
was not defective.

A recurring theme (the other of the "related questions" I mentioned
above) throughout recent discussions of the GNU FDL on the -legal
mailing list have been vigorous challenges to the notion that we, the
Debian Project, should bother to apply the Debian Free Software
Guidelines to "documentation" at all.  Advocates of this position
frequently note that clause one of the Debian Social Contract[3] refers
to "software", not "documentation".  These advocates also just as
frequently fail to indicate what alternative guidelines, if any, should
be used for evaluating licenses on works in the Debian GNU/Linux
Distribution that are not "software".  Bruce Perens, the primary author
of the Debian Social Contract and Debian Free Software Guidelines,
indicated in a recent message that he "intended for the entire contents
of that CD to be under the rights stated in the DFSG - be they software,
documentation, or data."

In my opinion, and in the opinion of several other people on the
debian-legal mailing list, if we are to deviate from the understanding
that "everything" in Debian main (apart from legal notices that we are
required to include where applicable) must satisfy the DFSG, then we, as
a Project, must draft a General Resolution to alter the Social Contract
and say what we mean.  If the best thing for the Debian Project to do is
not to apply the Debian Free Software Guidelines to all works in our
distribution, so that our distribution is not "100% Free Software", but
rather "a collection of Free Software and other works", then we should
draft and vote upon a General Resolution amending the Social Contract to
that effect.

It would appear at present, though, that the GNU FDL is not regarded as
a license that can easily satisfy the Debian Free Software Guidelines,
if at all.  The consensus among developers is approximately 2:1
(slightly more if the unvalidated votes don't count, slightly less if
they do) that the GNU FDL cannot be rendered DFSG-compliant with respect
to a given work unless the copyright holder is willing to extend
significant additional permissions.  Even the "sometimes" votes among
our Developers do not indicate that we should stamp all GNU FDL-licensed
works as DFSG-free without a second glance.  Instead, their responses
indicate that we must give GNU FDL-licensed works heightened scrutiny --
with even more care and diligence than we normally give the works we
include in our distribution.  It may be the case that none of the GNU
FDL-licensed works currently distributed in Debian main satisfy even the
more (presumably) generous criteria that the Debian developer minority
would apply.  More consideration is needed in this area.

Interestingly, it may be the case that our users, whom we claim to
prioritize co-equally with Free Software in clause four of Social
Contract, are asking us by an even larger supermajority than we can
muster, *not* to overlook the defects in the GNU Free Documentation
License on their behalf.  The non-Debian Developers who replied to the
survey expressed strong opposition (greater than 3:1) to the notion that
the GNU FDL is a DFSG-compliant license.  I personally find this data
significant.  We may be doing our users *and* the Free Software
community a disservice by continuing to distribute GNU FDL-licensed
works in Debian main.

Thanks for your attention.

[1] http://lists.debian.org/debian-legal/2003/debian-legal-200308/msg01031.html
[2] http://lists.debian.org/debian-legal/2003/debian-legal-200308/msg01214.html
[3] http://www.debian.org/social_contract

-- 
G. Branden Robinson                |    Ambition: an overmastering desire
Debian GNU/Linux                   |    to be vilified by enemies while
branden@debian.org                 |    living and ridiculed by friends
http://people.debian.org/~branden/ |    when dead.        -- Ambrose Bierce
Unsigned responses
------------------

From: "Giacomo A. Catenazzi" <cate@debian.org>
Message-ID: <3F447BC6.8030408@debian.org>

From: John Goerzen <jgoerzen@complete.org>
Message-ID: <20030821150720.GB16122@wile.excelhustler.com>

From: Matthew Garrett <mgarrett@chiark.greenend.org.uk>
Message-Id: <E19po2j-0000BP-00@chiark.greenend.org.uk>

From: christophe barbe <christophe.barbe@ufies.org>
Message-ID: <20030821181540.GA20945@cattlegrid.net>

From: "Marcelo E. Magallon" <mmagallo@debian.org>
Message-ID: <20030822090547.GA28469@debian.org>

Other problems
--------------

From: MJ Ray <markj@cloaked.freeserve.co.uk>
Message-ID: <b99de0a951c8ca30237118286e7c5e49@Bouncing>
    gpg: Signature made Thu Aug 21 17:52:57 2003 EST using DSA key ID E142E6F4
    gpg: Good signature from "MJ Ray (Work) <mjr@ttllp.co.uk>"
    gpg:                 aka "MJ Ray <mjr@towers.org.uk>"
    gpg:                 aka "MJ Ray <markj@tsw.org.uk>"
    gpg:                 aka "MJ Ray <markj@luminas.co.uk>"
    gpg:                 aka "MJ Ray <markj@cloaked.freeserve.co.uk>"
    gpg: Note: This key has expired!

From: Jeremy Malcolm <Jeremy@Malcolm.id.au>
Message-ID: <pan.2003.08.27.00.20.54.174310@Malcolm.id.au>
    gpg: Signature made Tue Aug 26 19:19:47 2003 EST using DSA key ID D2AB2220
    gpg: DSA requires the use of a 160 bit hash algorithm
    gpg: Can't check signature: general error

Attachment: pgpx7YeQqa7tN.pgp
Description: PGP signature


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