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Re: Which license for a dictionary or GFDL with clause == free?

[CCed to Andrew McMillan; please see item 3 below.  Feel free to ignore
the rest of the message.]

Eddy Petrisor wrote:
> I need an advice regarding a licensing issue.
> The story is:
> There is this dictionary on line for my native language(Romanian). This
> is not just a dictionary that contains a  word list, but an explainatory
> dictionary which contains definitions for every word that exists in
> Romanian (or at least 99%). Currently the dictionary is licensed under
> the GFDL license, which, as all of us know, is non-free.
> As the dictionary is so complete I intend to expand the aspell, ispell,
> *spell -ro dictionaries with words extracted from the afore mentioned
> dictionary.

Sounds like a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

> Now comes in the tricky part:
> The copyright holder believes in free software, but he doesn't want his
> work to be used in proprietary projects. So he wants some sort of
> license that would be simillar to GPL, but fitted for a dictionary.

OK; that goal is definitely doable, through the use of a copyleft Free
Software license.

Please note that the GPL doesn't need to be "fitted" to different
classes of works.  It can apply to programs, documentation, literature,
images, sounds, videos, 3d models, and any other form of material.  It
can most definitely apply to a dictionary, and this would be an
excellent choice.

Also note that almost all copyleft licenses are incompatible by nature,
so the GPL is most likely the only good copyleft license which is
GPL-compatible, which is a good property to have for such a work, as it
is likely to be combined with other works in various ways.

> 1. What kind of license should I use in order to be able to expand the
> spelling dictionaries?

Any Free Software license will support this goal.

> 2. Would GPL with a clarification clause would suffice?

The GPL alone, without a clarification clause, should suffice.

[Andrew: this is the part I CCed you about.]
> 3. Would GFDL with a clause would suffice?
> (Note: I am asking because I found this in whereami.8 man page:
>>        This   manual  page  was  written  by  Andrew  McMillan
>> <debian@mcmil-
>>        lan.net.nz> for the Debian GNU/Linux system (but may be  used
>> by  oth-
>>        ers).   Permission  is  granted  to copy, distribute and/or
>> modify this
>>        document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License,
>> Version
>>        1.1; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no
>> Back-Cover
>>        Texts.

This is not a free license.  This text is boilerplate from an old Debian
manpage template, from before we realized the issues with the GFDL, and
we are still dealing with the problems caused by that unfortunate
template.  This template has since been revised to use the GPL, and we
have been contacting the authors of manpages licensed under the GFDL to
get them to relicense.  I have CCed Andrew McMillan for this purpose;
Andrew, would you have any objections to relicensing this manual page
(and any others you may have written that are licensed under the GFDL)
under the GNU General Public License, version 2?

It is theoretically possible to take the GFDL and rescind all the
problematic clauses making it non-free.  However, nobody has written
such an exception statement, and such a statement would probably be
moderately complex.  In addition, the resulting license would be quite
cumbersome, as well as incompatible with the GPL.  Furthermore, assuming
the author does not make use of the non-free features of Invariant
Sections or Cover Texts, they are not really using any GFDL-specific
license features anyway, so there is little point in using the GFDL.

If the author is concerned about compatibility with the GFDL, he can
certainly dual-license the dictionary under *both* the GPL and the GFDL.

> 4. Is it possible for him to release periodical wordlists under another
> type of license, like the creative commons? (I feel that he cares more
> for the words' definitions than the word list itself)

He can certainly release wordlists under a separate license.  As the
sole copyright holder (which I assume he is), he can license his works
under any license or set of licenses that he chooses.

However, the Creative Commons licenses are not currently a DFSG-Free
choice, due to a few minor license issues which Debian is attempting to
resolve with Creative Commons.  We hope that they will become DFSG-Free
licenses in the future, but for now a wordlist under one of these
licenses would not solve the problem at hand.

If he releases the entire dictionary under a Free Software license such
as the GPL, there is no need to go to the additional effort of licensing
the words separately, unless he wishes to grant additional permissions
to the wordlist that he does not grant over the dictionary.

(It is also useful to note that raw lists of words with no definition
may not be copyrightable at all, depending on the creativity put into
the selection of which words to list.  It sounds like the author is
goinng for a complete list of all words, which is most likely not

> 5. Is there a suited license for wordlists (that keeps the list
> non-proprietary)? Is there a suited license
> for an explainatory dictionary?

See above; the GPL should work just fine for a wordlist and for a

Hope this helps,

- Josh Triplett

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