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Re: Affero General Public License

Thanks, Josh. This was a pretty cogent and helpful explication.

<quote who="Josh Triplett" date="Mon, Feb 06, 2006 at 11:02:20PM -0800">
> There are two separate, mostly-independent issues with the AGPL:
> 1) The issue of whether this type of clause is OK at all.  This is
> certainly an open issue.  I lean towards saying that it is
> theoretically possible for such a clause to be free but that no such
> clause has been written in an existing license.  I think the most
> likely way to achieve a free clause of this type would be to base it
> on the GPL and phrase it in such a way as to impose exactly the same
> clauses which apply to distribution, along with all the proposed
> alternatives.

Would you be willing to work on drafting an example of such language
for the GPLv3?

> 2) The specific clause written in the AGPL.  Even if the answer to
> (1) is that such clauses are fine in general, the particular clause
> in the AGPL makes restrictions pertaining to particular
> technologies.  It is not possible to modify AGPLed software in such
> a way that it no longer contains an HTTP server.  This seems quite
> obviously non-free.
> I believe issue 1 merits further discussion.  However, regarding
> issue 2, I don't believe the clause in the AGPL is anywhere near
> free, and I don't see how any possible reading of the DFSG could
> permit it.

This is a increasingly convincing argument. Clearly, the FSF also
found issue with it as they've changed and generalized the language
quite a bit in the GPL.

> > As it turns out, I tend to be of the opinion that it is important
> > enough that users be able to have access to the source code of the
> > programs they use that we can probably sustain a strictly
> > targeted and flexibly defined limit on modification that serves
> > only to protect this freedom.
> Are you suggesting that such restrictions are acceptable under the
> DFSG, or are you suggesting that such restrictions might be
> beneficial and thus we should adapt the DFSG to permit them?

I firmly believe that the former is true. GPLv3 Affero-style clauses
provide a minor restriction on modification that is designed to
provide the users of software with source code and the ability to
modify that code. This is in the spirit of the DFSG and IMHO fully in
line with the methods of the GPL and other licenses we've
accepted. It, like unmodifiable licenses, copyright statements,
blurbs, etc, are a net positive for freedom and need not be built on
the back on any principle-sacrificing loss of freedom.

If a majority believe that the DFSG does not permit these and should,
we should adapt the DFSG. I think that's unnecessary. They're
guidelines after all.

> > We did something similar both for copyleft in general
> True.  However, note that copyleft seems to be specifically permitted by
> the DFSG, since it only requires that modifications and derived works be
> distributable "under the same terms as the license of the original
> software".

My point is that one could make a very strict-interpretation based
argument against it but, since it seems clearly in line with the
principles that the DFSG is attempting to represent, we're interpret
the DFSG accordingly.

> > and for GPLv2(2)(c) in particular.
> Bad example; if that clause were in any other license, it probably would
> have been declared non-free a long time ago.

I don't doubt that. I also don't believe that copyleft, if it were
unveiled in the GPLv3 two weeks, would stand a chance of making it
into Debian.

I'm of the belief that DFSG10 exists as a test to see if our
interpretation of the first nine is broken. I think statements like
this show that it might be.


Benjamin Mako Hill

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