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Re: Request for GR: clarifying the license text licensing / freeness issue

On Mon, 16 Apr 2007 09:11:52 +0100 (BST) MJ Ray wrote:

> Nathanael Nerode <neroden@fastmail.fm> wrote: [...]
> > Without this exception, if the DFSG were followed literally, most 
> > license texts could not be shipped in Debian and would have to be 
> > shipped alongside Debian instead, which would be very annoying.
> Most?  I thought most licence texts were covered by themselves, being
> shipped as part of the software, but we can't modify the ones shipped
> in debian because we need to accurately pass on the permissions given
> to users.

That's an interpretation I've never heard before.
I'm not convinced that it would hold up in court...

> AFAIK, the few which have different terms for modifying the licence
> rather than the rest of the software (such as the GPL) come with
> explicit permission to modify.

The GNU GPL is perhaps the most notably and non-negligible example of
license having a meta-license[1] very different from itself.

[1] hereafter the term "meta-license" means license for a license text

The GNU GPL v2 starts up as follows:

|                    GNU GENERAL PUBLIC LICENSE
|                       Version 2, June 1991
| Copyright (C) 1989, 1991 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
|     59 Temple Place, Suite 330, Boston, MA  02111-1307  USA
| Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies
| of this license document, but changing it is not allowed.
|                            Preamble

This is clearly structured as

 * title
 * version
 * copyright notice
 * meta-license (which clearly forbids modifications)
 * preamble
 * ...

Separately from this accompanying meta-license, the FSF has stated[2]
that you can modify the terms of the GNU GPL in order to create a
derived license.
But this grant of permission has a name-change requirement (which, BTW,
is DFSG-free, but GPL-incompatible!), some consistency requirements for
the instructions-for-use (I didn't think hard to check whether they meet
the DFSG) and a requirement to not mention GNU in those instructions
(mmmh, smells as non-free!).
Moreover, you _must_ purge the preamble: there's no permission to modify
it, in any way; there's not even the permission to keep it bundled with
your license derived from the GPL!

[2] http://www.fsf.org/licensing/licenses/gpl-faq.html#ModifyGPL

> > Historically, this exception has been an unwritten assumption; [...]
> Has it?  I've seen a few people write down this assumption, but I've
> usually disagreed with them.

I'm afraid you then think that you have to purge every GPLv2 preamble
from Debian main.  As a consequence, you have to purge every GPLv2
licensed package from Debian main, since you cannot distribute a GPLv2
licensed work, without accompanying it with a copy of the GPLv2 text
(see GPLv2, section 1).  I'm not sure a Debian OS could survive this
kind of "cleaning" from GPL'd packages, at present: I would say it
cannot survive, since at least a toolchain for C and C++ is needed... 

> We don't need this exception.  It would allow another way for people
> to argue for including non-free software in debian ('but it's part of
> the licence'), just like some use the current non-free logo licences
> to argue for inclusion of their non-free logos.

I'm afraid you need it, even though I would be much happier should I be
proved wrong!  ;-)

 Need to read a Debian etch installation walk-through?
..................................................... Francesco Poli .
 GnuPG key fpr == C979 F34B 27CE 5CD8 DC12  31B5 78F4 279B DD6D FCF4

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