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Re: summary of software licenses in non-free

[Cc:ed to debian-legal, as the detailed examination of licenses is more
on-topic for that list; d-l folks, feel free to drop the reference to
d-vote if further nitpicking is required ;)]


On Sat, Jan 10, 2004 at 06:57:09PM +1100, Craig Sanders wrote:

> some people expressed doubt about the claims i made regarding the actual
> contents of non-free.  i said that very few packages were proprietary, that
> almost all were 'almost-free' (aka 'semi-free').

> since no-one else has bothered to answer this question, i did it myself.  a
> classification of every non-free package that was in my debian mirror.  a total
> of 273 packages, but only 259 packages had a 'copyright' file (odd, i thought
> there were more...about 350 or so.  we must have got rid of a lot of non-free
> packages).

> the facts conclusively support my claims.  out of all the packages in non-free,
> only 9 are binary-only/proprietary.  the rest are almost-free (actually, there
> are a handful of mis-classified packages which seem to qualify as DFSG-free)

> btw, note that 273 non-free packages is miniscule compared to the ~13,000
> packages in main.  only 2% of the total package pool.  it's amazing what a huge
> fuss is being made over such a tiny number of packages.

Thanks for taking the time to do this; having more information here
can't be a bad thing.

FWIW, our handling of the 3270 code doesn't seem undue caution; the same
principle applies to angband, AIUI -- we *think* the copyright holders
would be ok with the work being distributed under a free license, but if
we try it and it turns out we're wrong, we have no legal protection.
Since copyrights can be bought and sold, consider the worst case
scenario of somebody like SCO getting ahold of these rights for
offensive purposes.

OTOH, this does point out some potentially "low-hanging fruit" in
non-free -- packages that, with a bit of effort on someone's part, might
be eligible for inclusion in main.

> -----------------
> edict           seems like it may be free. long & complicated license. strange
>                 requirement to make every effort to only distribute
>                 latest version. explicitly mentions personal use but
>                 does not prohibit non-personal use, in fact doesn't
>                 prohibit much at all. IMO, maintainer may be overly
>                 cautious about license...although i've only spent a few
>                 minutes looking at it.

"Make every effort" is probably a lot more than we're doing right now.
Not only is this not free enough for main, I'm concerned about the
potential liability we could incur by distributing it at all given how
little effort the project as a whole spends paying attention to this
requirement.  This doesn't make it non-distributable, but it does make
me want to avoid distributing it.

> mmix-src        part GPL. part Donald Knuth license - modified files must be
>                 renamed and clearly identified. why is this in non-free?

Probably non-distributable in binary form, but probably ok in source
form (as this is).

> mocka           BSD-style license with noxious advertising clause. why is this
>                 in non-free?

This does look like a mistaken categorization to me; to my eye, the
license looks just like the 4-clause BSD.

> molphy          very simple license says it is "free software". fails to have
>                 an explicit clause allowing modification. clarification
>                 would be good, but IMO there is no compelling reason why
>                 this can't go in main.

Lack of permission to modify is itself a compelling reason.  In the
absence of an explicit grant of permission, all rights are reserved (as
the copyright file for this package says).  The use of the phrase "free
software" in the copyright statement provides no protection to any of
our users who, seeing that this package is in main, assume that they can
safely modify it and redistribute the result.

> mwavem          says license is GPL. why is this in non-free? does it contain
>                 binary-only driver or something??

Relevant bug from the changelog is 192270.  The copyright file says GPL,
but it contains DSP binaries that don't come with source (certainly a
disputed topic).  AFAICT, the conclusion in that bug report was "hmm, we
don't seem to have an explicit license for these binaries at all" --
which would make this package non-distributable, not non-free.

> sgb             modified files must be renamed and clearly identified.  why is this in
>                 non-free?

ISTR this license element came up for discussion in the context of the
LaTeX license; I /thought/ the conclusion was that requiring changes to
filenames in the source was ok, but that requiring changes to filenames
in the binary package was not.  Debian-legal, please correct me if I'm

> sl-modem-daemon looks like BSD-style license with noxious advertising clause.
>                 why is this in non-free?
> sl-modem-source looks like BSD-style license with noxious advertising clause.
>                 why is this in non-free?

Hmm, I can't find anything in the list archives or in the package
history to explain why this is in non-free.  I agree that this appears
to belong in main.

> -----------

My only comment here is that, to use this definition of "almost" free,
if Microsoft gave permission to redistribute as part of its Shared
Source initiative, that source code would also be "almost free".

But though I disagree with your subjective assessment of the nature of
non-free, I again want to thank you for what is clearly one of the most
worthwhile posts to this thread so far.

Steve Langasek
postmodern programmer

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