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The purpose of debian-legal

>>>>> "MJ" == MJ Ray <mjr@dsl.pipex.com> writes:

    MJ> I will not reply to your grandstanding about our needs, other
    MJ> than to note that the default for unlicensed software is
    MJ> roughly "all rights reserved", so we must get clear
    MJ> permissions.

We are not a court.  We do not pursue licensing rigorously enough that
we are sure that everything we do will stand up in court.
It's not clear to me exactly what our purpose is, but I suspect it includes:

1) Minimizing the probability that Debian, that or contributers to Debian will be involved in legal action arising from Debian's distribution or modification of software.

2) Making sure that our users' expectation that all software in Debian
   meets the terms of the DFSG is met.  IN particular, our users
   expect than when they read a license in Debian, they will be able
   to find a way to able to find a way to do all the things that the
   DFSG says they will be able to do.  They also expect that  they will not be prohibited from doing things like using software in a particular field.

3) Trying to meet our obligation to the free software community not to label things as DFSG free that turn out not to be DFSG free.

I'd be interested in any other purposes you believe this list serves.

I'll point out that all of these purposes are probabilistic.  We
cannot know and do not pretend to know what the outcome of a court
case would be should such a case happen.  We can work the minimize the
risk that we will fail to meet our obligations, but we have to balance
a lot to do that.

For example, in cases where we have found incorrectly licensed code
such as mplayer, we have been much more strict than we are in cases
where we believe a project is under a well understood DFSG-free

Similarly, when we find we have violated the GPL, we fix the
violation.  However, we do not stop distributing the software until we
have renegotiated a license with the original author.  This is true
even though we are aware of a legal argument
(http://www.gnu.org/press/mysql-affidavit.html ) that says our GPL
rights are terminated whenever we violate the GPL and that we must
renegotiate the license.  Perhaps this is because we believe we
understand the law better than the FSF's lawyer.  I hope not; rather I
think we believe that the chance that someone will actually take legal
action against us is very low and that since the risk is acceptable,
our users' needs are better served by our current approach.

In conclusion, I think it is reasonable for me to ask us to consider
what the purpose and effect of our actions are if I wish to examine
whether our approach to a particular situation is correct.  I do not
consider it grand standing to refer back to the Social Contract--a
document which the developers here have agreed will guide their
actions within the project--in order to evaluate our purposes and to
measure those purposes.  I do realize that there are factors beyond
the Social Contract, like legal risk to the project that must be

Respectfully yours,


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