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Re: the FSF's GPLv3 launch conference

On Thu, 5 Jan 2006 12:31:45 -0500 Branden Robinson / Debian Project
Leader wrote:

> Howdy legal mavens,

Hi!  :)

> Don Armstrong and I are going to be at the FSF's GPLv3 launch
> conference[1] in Boston, Massachusetts on 16 and 17 January.

That's really good news, as I hope you'll be able to bring Debian
concerns and desires to FSF's attention...

> To that end, I want to be as good a representative as I can be of the
> Debian Project's views on the GPL -- what's good about it, what's not
> so good, and what we'd like to see in a future revision.  I have
> therefore created a page on our Wiki where our developers and users
> can share there thoughts[3].
> Please take the time to visit
>   http://wiki.debian.org/GPL_v3_Launch_Comments
> in the next week or so and share your ideas.

Since I do not have a Debian wiki account, I would like to comment here
about the GNU GPL version 2.

    * What are the current GPL's strengths?

Its general structure, main goals and spirit.
Many implementation details (see below).

    * What are the current GPL's deficiencies?

Some US-centric phrasing which makes it a little less easy to apply in
other jurisdictions.
Some implementation details (see below).

    * Are there significant threats to software freedom that the current
      GPL does not address?

Probably, but, IMHO, they cannot be successfully addressed by a license.
For instance, we cannot use a license to nuke software patents: we can
take them into account in the license text (as the GPLv2 already does),
but only political lobbying and public protests will be able to make
them history.

    * Should a new GPL attempt to explicitly broaden its applicability
      to works other than computer programs (e.g., image, sound, or
      music files; documentation; dictionaries; encyclopedias)?

I think so.
But very few changes are required, IMHO.

First of all, the term "Program" is defined in clause 0 as "any program
or other work which contains a notice [...]".
This is misleading and actually confuses many many people into thinking
the GPL can only be applied to computer programs.
They read "Program" and say "Look! The GPL is obviously not suitable for
works that are not computer programs!".
A more neutral term (such as "Work") would help clarify that the GPL
*can* be applied to works of authorship that are not (obviously)
computer programs.

Another area where some improvement is possibly needed is "public
performance" and "broadcast" rights. These are, AFAICT, exclusive rights
of the copyright holder which are relevant for several non-programs
(such as music files, novels, poems, movies, ...). They are not
mentioned in the GPLv2 text, AFAICS, and thus no permission is granted
in this area (or am I wrong?).
Clause 0 states, in part, "Activities other than copying, distribution
and modification are not covered by this License; they are outside its
Does it mean I have no permission to broadcast, unless a separate grant
is provided?
This should be discussed and some clause could turn up to be needed in
order to grant permission to do things such as streaming an
Ogg-Vorbis-encoded GPL'd song through an Internet radio.

    * What parts of the GPL are difficult to understand?

...once you've read the text for the tenth time or more!!!   ^__^

    * What part of the current GPL would you most like to see preserved

Clause 1, which seems to be fine.

Clause 3a, which requires machine-readable source code (for instance
source printed on paper is not useful in most cases) and use of common
software interchange mechanisms.

The definition of source code (found in clause 3), which is the best
such definition I'm aware of.

Clause 9 is very relevant in these days!  :)
I think that two key features are important enough to be preserved as
they are: first, "Such new versions will be similar in spirit to the
present version" (I hope the FSF are going to keep their promise!),
secondly, the fact that the license version is not automatically
upgradeable, but only if the copyright holder so decides (IOW, I would
like to be able to license under "GPLv3 only", if I want to).

    * What part of the current GPL would you most like to see changed?

The preamble, despite being well-phrased, is unmodifiable.
I don't like unmodifiable parts, even in a license.
This is not a Freeness issue for works licensed under the GPL, but
rather a Freeness issue for the GPL text itself. Thus it's a secondary
issue, but noteworthy anyway IMHO.

Clause 0 defines a "work based on the Program" as "either the Program or
any derivative work under copyright law". Then tries to restate this
definition by expanding what "derivative work" is supposed to mean under
copyright law.
This is troublesome, since in the opinion of several people with legal
expertise, the restatement is flawed and fails to actually mean the same
as the real definition.
Moreover, what is actually a derivative work under copyright law is
subject to change in time (laws can be updated) and could even be
jurisdiction-dependent in some corner cases (despite the Berne
Linking the definition of "work based on the Program" to definitions
found in copyright law can be a good thing to keep, but then the license
text should avoid hard-coding a particular meaning the referred-to legal
concepts are supposed to have...

Clause 2c is an inconvenience and border-line with respect to
I would rather not see licenses that restrict how I can modify what an
interactive program does when run.
Consequently I would like to see clause 2c dropped.

Clause 4 and clause 5 fail to mention "fair use" and similar rights that
copyright laws may grant to the public. Depending on the jurisdiction,
these rights vary wildly, but nonetheless they exist and may authorize
some operations without the need for a license. These "fair use"
operations should not terminate the license (as they are legal anyway,
they cannot constitute license violation) or indicate license

Clause 8 is problematic, even though I cannot remember any case where it
was exercised. I would like to see the clause dropped, since I think a
geografically restricted work would not pass DFSG#5.

    * Is the time ripe for revising the GPL?

For some corrections and minor enhancements, probably.
For a major change, I don't think so.

    * On balance, has the GPL been a benefit or a detriment to the
      Debian Project?

Definetely a benefit.

    * Which things do you think the FSF would like to change about
      Debian, and how do you feel about these ?

AFAIK, the FSF would like Debian to drop the non-free section of its
official repositories.
There have been a GR to do this, but it didn't pass.
Personally, while I agree that in an ideal world we would not need
non-free or contrib (sure! no proprietary software would exist in an
ideal world!), I think that from a pragmatic standpoint, non-free is
useful anyway.
It works as a temporary area where DDs can move their packages (when
they are found to not comply with the DFSG) until the issue is solved
for the best and the package can move back to main.
While I personally tend to avoid using non-free in the systems I
administer, I know of several people who would never use Debian if the
non-free section did not exist. Once they installed Debian, they can
gradually be enlightened on the superiority of free software and
eventually drop non-free from their sources.list.

    :-(   This Universe is buggy! Where's the Creator's BTS?   ;-)
  Francesco Poli                             GnuPG Key ID = DD6DFCF4
 Key fingerprint = C979 F34B 27CE 5CD8 DC12  31B5 78F4 279B DD6D FCF4

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