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Re: latex2html license: "A Letter to Leeds University", round 2

Hi Branden,

thanks for your suggestions.

Tue, 13 Jan 2004 15:12:07 -0500, Branden Robinson wrote:
> If it's not too late, I have a suggestion.
> Change:
> Changing the license terms would allow the program to return to our
> main distribution and facilitate the already large user base of
> To:
> Changing the license terms would allow the program to return to our
> main distribution and potentially further expand the already large user
> base of LaTeX2HTML.

I hesitated writing something like this because "expansion" possibly
shouldn't be the primary reason for someone who initially wanted to
prevent certain uses of the software.

> "facilitate" is not the correct term.

OK. Since your proposal still has the emphasis on the "large user base",
I will do the change if nobody else objects (also on the LaTeX2HTML
mailing list).

> Also, I am not sure that a
> copyright "vests" in a work.  It may do many things, but I am not sure
> that "vesting" is one of them.  OTOH, after dict(1)ing, I could be
> wrong.

Right, I also had to dict myself. :) But it seems to be OK.

> I finally suggest that the wording of these sorts of letters be
> discussed in plain text, and their near-final form reached before
> rendering them in TeX format.  It's much easier to discuss plain text on
> a mailing list.  Nevertheless you get style points for using LaTeX
> to write a relicensing request letter to the copyright holders of
> LaTeX-related software.  :)

Right. :) The current plain text version is:

Roland Stigge
Debian Developer
[address placeholder]

University of Leeds
Computer Based Learning Unit
United Kingdom

Subject: The license of LaTeX2HTML

Dear Sir or Madam,

I'm a developer of the Free Software / Open Source project called
Debian (See http://www.debian.org/) and personally maintain the popular
package LaTeX2HTML (http://www.latex2html.org/) for it. This
conversion tool, designed to translate from the LaTeX publishing format to
HTML, was initially written in 1993 by Mr Nikos Drakos during his work with the
Computer Based Learning Unit at the University of Leeds.

The reason I am writing to you is that there is some uncertainty about the
ownership of the copyright that vests in LaTeX2HTML. Mr Drakos has signalled a
willingness to change the licensing terms for LaTeX2HTML but wonders if he
needs your permission or support to do so due to the fact that he was employed
by the University at the time of creating the software.  As a precaution, we
would like your written agreement to change the license terms for LaTeX2HTML
from its current license to the GNU General Public License (GPL)
(Verbatim copies of these two licenses are enclosed.).

The current license for LaTeX2HTML was unquestionably written as a Free
Software / Open Source license, however one aspect of the license causes the
Debian project difficulties.  The second clause reads:

   No fees or compensation are charged for use, copies, or
   access to this software. You may charge a nominal
   distribution fee for the physical act of transferring a
   copy, but you may not charge for the program itself.

This violates our self-imposed "Debian Free Software Guidelines"
(DFSG, http://www.de.debian.org/social_contract#guidelines), because
it doesn't allow the software to be sold. Debian is actually one of the least
commercial system distributions (not even directly providing physical CDs, DVDs
or support contracts) and is a wholly volunteer project as e.g. Linux itself.
However, a common way for users to acquire the Debian system is to purchase it
on CD or DVD from an independent vendor.

For this reason, the Debian Project has concluded that the current license does
not comply with our Guidelines
and follow-ups) and LaTeX2HTML has been removed from Debian's main
distribution. Changing the license terms would allow the program to return to
our main distribution and potentially further expand the already existing large
user base of LaTeX2HTML.

There are a number of arguments in favour of changing the license:

* The original author of the package, Mr Drakos, has signalled some
  willingness to change the license, and only wonders if he needs the support
  of the University of Leeds, which was his employer at the time he created it.
  Ross Moore, the current maintainer of LaTeX2HTML, also expressed willingness
  to cooperate.
* The GPL is a popular license in the area of Free Software / Open Source.
  In contrast to individual licenses like the current one for LaTeX2HTML, it is
  well known around the world and under constant review by the user and
  developer base to prevent legal problems (possibly like the one in question).
* As you will see in the current license itself, some parts of LaTeX2HTML
  are already licensed under the protection of the GPL. This probably means
  that the whole package should be licensed under the GPL anyway.
* Debian is not the only project distributing LaTeX2HTML. Other 
  distributions of the popular GNU/Linux system like RedHat and SuSE and
  different BSD derivates also use LaTeX2HTML and probably have the same
* The change would protect the investment of the University of Leeds in the
  Free Software community by ensuring further widespread use of LaTeX2HTML.

If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact me.  I look forward
to your reply. Thanks in advance.


Roland Stigge
Debian Developer

I will send it in 7 days from now when no other change occurs.


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