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Re: On the definition of source [Was: Re: generated source files, GPL and DFSG]

Don Armstrong <don@debian.org> wrote:
> On Wed, 20 Jul 2005, Matthew Garrett wrote:
>> Don Armstrong <don@debian.org> wrote:
>> > As of yet, no one has put forward a better definition of source code.
>> "Anything that allows a form of practical modification consistent
>> with the functionality of the resulting work",
> What does that mean?
> That definition brings up two huge questions in itself:
> 1) What is a practical modification?

A modification that can practically be carried out (trivial modification
of a binary, rather more in-depth modification of non-obfuscated C
source, that sort of thing). This is, obviously, something that would be
applied on a case by case basis.

> 2) What does "consistent with the functionality of the resulting work"
> mean, anyway?

If I have something that compiles into a picture, it is not reasonable
to demand that I be able to modify it into a piece of executable code or
a piece of music. However, it is vital that I be able to modify it into
a different picture.

>> "Preferred form of modification" doesn't always cut it - the
>> author's preferred form of modification may not match anyone else on
>> the planet's.
> This may be true, but if the author uses a specific form to modify the
> work, surely that's good enough for us?[1] It seems to me that any
> definition of source that does not include the form that the author
> actually uses to create the work is fundamentally flawed.[2]

No. We don't ask for the freedom to modify because we think it's a kind
of neat idea. We ask for the freedom to modify because we want people
who receive the software to have the ability to create different works
based upon it. If someone spends their life writing a kernel with a hex
editor, I utterly reject the idea that the resulting work can be
considered free software. It infringes the first of the FSF's four

But yes, in almost every case the author's preferred form of
modification is going to be source. My assertion is that there are other
forms that may also be source. A bitmap file containing the output from
a 3D renderer is modifiable in a smaller number of ways than the scene
and models that the renderer used, but the same is true of a driver in
the absence of full documentation for the hardware. 

But again, if you believe that source means "Preferred form of
modification", I suggest that you file a bug asking for the nvidia
driver to be removed from main. It quite plainly doesn't meet that

Matthew Garrett | mjg59-chiark.mail.debian.legal@srcf.ucam.org

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