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Re: "object code" in the GPL and printed copies

Jeremy Hankins <nowan@nowan.org> wrote:

> Frank Küster <frank@debian.org> writes:
>> since I couldn't find it in the archive, I have to ask here: Has it been
>> discussed, and if yes to what end, whether a printed version (of a
>> GPL'ed document) would be "object code" as treated in section 3,
> Typically that's the presumption (since object code is "not source"),
> but that's really a question of law rather than the DFSG (i.e., get a
> lawyer if it's important to you).

It's important to me as a maintainer of a Debian package with some
documents licensed with non-free licenses (GFDL, CC "Attribution
non-commercial blabla") - naturally I'd rather persuade the authors to
relicense their documentation than remove it.  But I need a thorough
understanding of the problems of documentation licensing to be able to
do this.  And of course I can't afford a lawyer, but an opinion of a
couple of people more acquainted to law stuff than I am would maybe also
help.  Maybe I should ask the FSF...

> As for the DFSG, I don't see how a
> license that did not permit distribution of paper copies could be free.
> Whether it's source or object code, it's still a version of the work,
> and so the freedoms of the DFSG are still important (possibly with the
> string of source distribution attached).

I don't think that this is entirely clear.  Of course it's still a
version of the work.  But the DFSG (and Debian generally) are about
software.  It has been discussed and decided that documentation should
not be treated differently from software (and agree with that), however
this has always been discussed in the context of creating a Software
distribution, of distributing stuff on CD's, via ftp or http, and the
like - generally in digital form.

I have not yet made up my mind on this, so I'm just writing down some
thoughts here:

- Some people view intellectual property as "bad" (unethical, hindering
  development, or whatever) in any field, but other Free Software people
  do not claim this.  For them, it's rather the particular field of
  "computer usage", with software, documentation, and possibly hardware
  that makes "Freeness" so important - be it for ethical or for
  practical reasons - while in other fields - like arts or literature -
  copyright is acceptable or even welcome.

  Since Debian and the DFSG are about Software, we cannot assume that
  everybody is of the first type.

- Software and its documentation is "work in progress" most of the time.
  While an author might be willing to release a computer-related
  documentation to the public in its current form, this does not imply
  that they in fact think the work is fit for publicaton in form of a
  book, which is much more static, and which many people expect to be
  much better proof-read, typographically optimized etc. than is usual
  for a documentation PDF generated from texinfo, xml or the like.

  Furthermore, it's often not clear from the typeset text who is
  responsible for which content (only available in the CVS/SVN/... log
  and in source files), a point that might be deemed crucial by authors
  who have a reputation to loose.  If I start contributing to a widely
  used documentation project *because* I find its present state
  inacceptable, I'd rather not see the intermediate product published as
  a book with my name (among others) on it...

  I doubt that we would be violating the spirit of the DFSG if we
  allowed authors to restrict printing because of such considerations.

> Generally the concern with documents goes the other way: folks want to
> make sure that paper copies can be distributed in classroom environments
> and the like, where source distribution might be a significant
> inconvenience.

That wouldn't be a problem with the GPL and a "written offer", and
perhaps the concerns I raised are not important to people whom I need to
persuade to switch away from the GFDL.  But for people who chose some
license forbidding commercial use (#345604, the license text in the
initial bug report is outdated), it may be the major concern.

Regards, Frank
Frank Küster
Single Molecule Spectroscopy, Protein Folding @ Inst. f. Biochemie, Univ. Zürich
Debian Developer (teTeX)

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