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Re: debian-legal review of licenses

On Sat, Jan 24, 2004 at 11:17:26AM -0800, Daniel Quinlan wrote:
> However, while debian-legal is a useful forum for discussing the merits
> of licenses and possible incompatibilities, an outside group like Apache
> doesn't seem to be able to get a definitive opinion about licenses under
> development.  This puts Debian in contrast to other groups such as the
> OSI and the FSF.

There are a lot of things that are different between Debian and the other
two groups you mention.

> In the end, this seems to undermine Debian's ability to express a
> collective opinion and influence the licensing of free software.  I

We have an opinion - the DFSG.  Anything beyond that is mere noise. 

> Specifically, I suggest:
>  1. a single place where review requests should be sent

FTP masters and debian-legal.

>  2. review requests are posted to debian-legal for general discussion

As above.

>  3. an official entity, either a committee or a trusted individual who is
>     able to gauge consensus sufficiently effectively assembles
>     discussion, drafts a response which can be posted here for review
>     prior to returning it

Hoo boy.  I don't know how closely you follow other debian-legal
discussions, but saying "we have consensus" is nothing more than a trigger
for the fringe dwellers to prove that we don't by making as much noise as
humanly possible.

>  4. response is returned within 30 days of submission

*That* is going to be awfully hard to mandate.

OK, the basic process as I fathom it for licence review in Debian is:

1) Package with potentially dodgy licence is submitted for entry into the

2) FTP masters look at licence, say "looks dodgy" and pass it over to

3) d-legal throw it around for a while, FTP masters look at discussion and
come up with some sort of decision.

If that is accurate (I'm not in the FTP master cabal, so I may not have all
the details) then we already have basically what you're proposing.  The FTP
masters.  Now, I'm quite sure that they don't particularly *want* the job of
vetting licences - so they toss it over here.  That's fine.  What you can
probably take away from this is that if the wizened hacks on d-legal say
it's OK, then it's likely that FTP masters will let it through.  Of course, 
knowing who the wizened hacks are and who are the fringe-dwellers might not
be the easiest thing to do...

> It would be laughably tragic if Debian ends up deciding that future
> license revisions like Apache or any other free software project must
> end up in non-free.

I like the conclusion you've quietly hidden away in there - by referring to
"free software project" and "non-free" in there, you're commenting that
Debian must somehow be mislabelling.  Cute.

There is one fairly easy way to make sure a licence will be accepted - read
the DFSG, and don't try to sail at the edge of wind.  Make it unequivocally
DFSG-free, and there won't be any problems.

To address your initial request, the problem with trying to find someone to
make the final choice is you're not likely to find anyone willing to stick
the target on their back, and finding someone who'd be well-trusted enough
by *all* developers.  There are several d-legal denizens I'd trust, but I
know that a lot of other people think they're total loons.  What that says
about me...

If you really want a delegate for the position, though, feel free to ask
leader@debian.org.  Nobody else in the project (AFAICT) has the authority to
make that decision.

- Matt

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