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Re: the presence of GNU FDL-licensed works in sarge

On Tue, Oct 21, 2003 at 12:32:11AM +1000, Martin Michlmayr - Debian Project Leader wrote:
> I think that since the time when you've made your original posting
> there has been tremendous progress in the discussions about changing
> the GFDL.  A committee has been created to foster a solid discussion
> on this matter.  I was very sad to see the heated discussions on
> -legal which didn't do any good at all, and I'm very delighted to
> finally see a productive discussion on this topic.

I'm disappointed to hear you characterize the discussions on -legal

The "tremendous progress" you cite was only made because there were
people on the -legal list willing to study the GNU FDL's text (which you
agreed elsewhere is "very problematic"), enumerate problems, and propose
solutions (which were usually just the simple removal of provisions in
the license which conflicted with the DFSG).

That certain people on the debian-legal list had violently negative
reactions to criticism of the GNU FDL is unfortunate.  That patient
efforts at persuation with some of those people failed is also
unfortunate.  But without the concrete demonstration of problems with
the GNU FDL, and without the failure of "direct diplomacy", as it were,
there'd have been no cause for Bruce Perens to step forward and
establish the committee that is carrying forward with these "solid

In fact, I suspect (though I can't be sure, as I'm not involved) that if
you were to ask the participatants in this commitee about it, they'd
agree that the discussions on -legal were instrumental in helping to
identify not just areas of contention, but areas of common ground as

The FDL is a large and complex license with some innovative ideas in it,
just as the GNU GPL was over a decade ago.  It doesn't surprise me at
all that it has taken some time for people to develop an understanding
of it.[1]

In sum, I think the two-year gestation process on debian-legal was
necessary to give this joint committee of Debian and the FSF a tractable
task to deal with.  It's vastly superior to a dialogue which runs
"Debian's got some problems with the FDL." "Oh yeah?  What are they?"
"Uh, I don't know.  It's kinda not DFSG-free or something.  Can you
change it?"...to which the answer would be quite predictable, and

> And, by the way, while I think that Debian fulfils this role much
> better than many other organizations, we have never been perfect
> either.  I'd just like to remind you that we had a fair number of
> GPLed packages linked against SSL and we even released with those
> packages.

I'm afraid I don't see the relevance of this line of argument; I know of
no one who has advocated retroactively changing already-released
versions of Debian to come into conformance with our present-day
understanding of license problems, nor of anyone who holds us to a
superhuman standard of compliance with the Social Contract (superhuman
in that we demand omniscience of ourselves).

> However, I don't want to use this example to justify further
> violations; I'm also not happy that some people think the current GFDL
> discussion might imply that all issues about non-freeness can be
> treated as "sarge-ignore".  This is certainly not the case!

If you or the Release Manager (or his helpers) could provide some idea
of what the rough criteria for "sarge-ignore" are, that would be
helpful, I suspect.

[1] Were I the FSF, I would have tried the FDL out on a few works first
and given it time to gel, instead of replacing nearly every occurence of
any other documentation license in GNU software with it, but that's
water under the bridge now.

G. Branden Robinson                |      There's no trick to being a
Debian GNU/Linux                   |      humorist when you have the whole
branden@debian.org                 |      government working for you.
http://people.debian.org/~branden/ |      -- Will Rogers

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