(DRAFT 4) FAQ on documentation licensing
After suggestions by Glenn Maynard, I rewrote most of the document to make
it simpler and remove redundancies that were repeated over and over ;-))))
I repeat my point: repeated exposure to American legal texts is bad for
non-native speakers ;-)))
The first two questions were merged into a single one. The question about
credits was deleted as it is probably too hard to answer in a FAQ (and it is
not frequent at all, anyway). The end-result is two questions shorter than
the original, and much easier to read (I hope).
I'm still unhappy with the length of the second question (the question
itself, not the answer).
The current text: http://jacobo.tarrio.org/Documentation_licensing_FAQ
Full document history is available by clicking on the "historial" tab, in
case you want to compare or recover something. If you do not understand
Spanish, you can use the Wikipedia page as a reference (the software I use
is Wikimedia). You cannot edit any pages; direct your comments here.
Q: Why does Debian apply the DFSG to documents?
A: Debian applies the same standards of freedom to all works it distributes;
some of these standards are written down in the DFSG. No good reasons have
been provided to use a different standard with documents than with programs.
Even if we were to treat software and documentation differently, first we
would need to have a clear way to tell documentation apart from software.
Many works, like source code annotated with Javadoc comments or Postscript
files, are software and documentation at the same time, so it is easy to see
that there is no such clear division.
Q: Some documents need to have some parts which must not be modified. For
example, RFC or other standards documents should not be modifiable at all.
Or a piece may contain the author's opinion on something, and nobody should
be allowed to misrepresent the author's position by modifying that piece.
Isn't this a restriction that should be allowed in documents and not in
A: Mainly, for three reasons: such a restriction is unnecessary, it is
useless and it is not true that it would be less appropriate for software
than for documentation.
First, misrepresentation can be prevented without forbidding anyone to
modify the work, by requiring all modified works to not claim that they are
the original work or that they were written by the original work.
Furthermore, a clause in a copyright license would not stop anyone from
misrepresenting the work or its authors. For example, I might create a new,
original document titled "RFC 2821, Simple Mail Transfer Protocol" with a
distorted description of SMTP, and with this action I would not be
contravening the license of the IETF's RFC 2821. The proper defense against
this are the various laws dealing with libel, fraud and impersonation.
Finally, if there were any reasons to allow such a restriction in documents,
these reasons would allow it in programs too. For example, qmail's license
forbids distributing modified versions of it, since its author believes that
his reputation might suffer if someone distributed a version of qmail with
bugs not introduced by him. If restrictions on modification of documents
were allowed to save an author's reputation, they would be allowed on
programs; this would make qmail free, but due to the DFSG it isn't, so these
restrictions cannot be allowed.
Q: I think that some "Debian Free Documentation Guidelines" should be
created as an alternative to the DFSG for documentation. What should I do to
have them adopted?
A: First, you must write them; most people never manage this part.
Next, for every license restriction permitted by your new guidelines that
isn't allowed by the DFSG, you must give satisfactory answers to these three
1. How do we distinguish between packages where this restriction should
and should not be allowed?
2. Why should the restriction be allowed in for these packages?
3. Why shouldn't the restriction be allowed in for every other package?
Note that the answers to (2) and (3) should not involve special pleading or
otherwise be contradictory. "Because it's documentation" is not a valid
answer, and the answer to (3) should not apply to the packages in question.
You'll need to discuss your proposal on debian-legal and debian-project to
work out any problems with your proposal and to gather support for it.
Finally, you'll have to propose a General Resolution to amend the Social
Contract, and convince a 3:1 supermajority of your fellow Debian developers
to vote for it.
Q: If the DFSG are to be applied to documents as well as to programs, why is
the text of the GPL included in Debian, if it says that it cannot be
modified at all?
A: Because the verbatim text of the license must be distributed with any
work licensed under its terms. This is not specific to the GPL; almost all
free licenses require that their text be included verbatim with the work. As
a compromise, Debian distributes copies of the GPL and other licenses under
which the components of Debian are covered. This compromise will not be
extended to other types of works.
(Note that according to the FSF, which is the author of the GPL, you're
actually allowed to modify the text of the GPL and create a derived license
if you remove the preamble and you do not call the results "General Public
License". See the GNU GPL FAQ
(http://www.fsf.org/licensing/licenses/gpl-faq.html#ModifyGPL) for more
Contributors to this FAQ
Jacobo Tarrío, Andrew Suffield, Doug Jensen, Francesco Poli, Anthony
DeRobertis, Raul Miller, Evan Prodromou, Ben Finney and Glenn Maynard.
Jacobo Tarrío | http://jacobo.tarrio.org/