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

On Thu, 21 Jul 2005, Matthew Garrett wrote:
> Don Armstrong <don@debian.org> wrote:
> > On Wed, 20 Jul 2005, Matthew Garrett wrote:
> > > "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

Err... that's just a rephrasing of the question.

> This is, obviously, something that would be applied on a case by
> case basis.

That's my primary problem with it, because I don't yet know how to
apply it.

> > 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.

Why not? It may be non-trivial to do so; but that's hardly the fault
of the original author. [I'm reminded of Aphex Twin here, where he has
literally turned pictures into music.]

> > > "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.

Exactly. But if we've got all the freedom that the original author
has, why is it important to demand more?

It seems to me that this line of argument could just as easily apply
to any language that doesn't have significant adoption or a perceived
lack of readability. [Some people could decide that dpkg-source didn't
qualify as source code because it was written in rather unruly perl.]

> 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 freedoms.

ITYM Freedom 1 (the second) or possibly Freedom 3 (the last). In
either case, in this situation, you've got everything that the
original author has to be able to modify the work. You're not being
restrained by information that the author could theoretically convey,
but hasn't. [If you are, then I submit that you haven't been given the
prefered form for modification.]

To me, the FOSS movement is about giving everyone the same information
that the author has; in this way everyone has the same ability to
modify the work. When that is the case, the prefered form of
modification has really been distributed.

> 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.

So you're saying that commented assembly output, which is modifiable
in a smaller number of ways than the actual C source would also be

Or that the ogg file that is the output of a Lilypond file run through
timidity would also be source?

I'm frankly at a loss to reconcile these examples with your statements
above about modifiability. Since modification is so important, why
should we accept as source forms that capriciously limit the
modifications we can perform, merely because we are not the original

> I suggest that you file a bug asking for the nvidia driver to be
> removed from main.

Which nvidia driver are we talking about here?

I briefly looked at the source for the nv driver in X, and the same
code that happens to be in the kernel; while there was a lot of
non-copyrightable magic numbers being shot around, everything else
appeared to be source to me... but admittedly, I don't write device
drivers, which is why I had elided it in the previous message.

Don Armstrong

"A one-question geek test. If you get the joke, you're a geek: Seen on
a California license plate on a VW Beetle: 'FEATURE'..."
 -- Joshua D. Wachs - Natural Intelligence, Inc.

http://www.donarmstrong.com              http://rzlab.ucr.edu

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