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

In message <20070417195908.GA4304@doctormoo.dyndns.org>, Nathanael Nerode <neroden@fastmail.fm> writes
MJ Ray wrote:
There may be a few licences that are buggy about this and to which we
want to grant a limited-time exception, but that is not unusual.  Use
a GR for only that, not a permanent foundation document edit.

Care to craft another solution? [...]

No, I've no interest
You just did craft another solution.  Thanks.

Alternate suggested GR text:
The Debian Project notes that many license texts are copyrighted works, licensed
only under meta-licenses which prohibit the creation of derivative license texts.

We consider this to be undesirable.  License texts are functional works; reusing
legal text from an earlier license makes a new license much easier to read and
interpret, while brand new legal text is likely to have unexpected results.
This is true even of preambles, which can have an effect on the interpretation of
the license.  We encourage all authors of license texts to allow the creation of
derivative license texts.

Currently several very important licenses for free software are licensed under
such restrictive meta-licenses.  These include the LaTeX Project Public License
and the GNU GPL version 2.  In addition, most license texts have no explicit
meta-licenses, which makes their legal situation unclear; the worst case
interpretation is that they have a restrictive meta-license.

We have promised that Debian will remain 100% free.  License texts which are
under restrictive meta-licenses are not 100% free.  While we could ship them
alongside Debian rather than in Debian, we do in fact ship them in Debian as a
matter of convenience.

We wish to clearly inform our users of this temporary exception to the promise
in our Social Contract.  We will do our best to resolve this issue.  Until this
problem no longer applies to major licenses, license texts applying to works in
Debian may be present in Debian even if they are not DFSG-free.  We believe that
this is the best choice to serve our users and the free software community.

Cue one unsolvable paradox, based on a total mis-understanding.

The GPL v2 is NOT licenced under such a restrictive meta-licence that can be a *temporary* exception.

Licence documents MUST be invariant. They are legal documents, with legal force, and you're trying to give the recipient the right to mess about with them!

And I believe the copyright licence governing the GPL *DOES* allow you to mess about with the text, copy it, etc etc (which you're falsely claiming it doesn't, I believe). What the GPL does NOT grant you is the right to use name "GPL" or refer to the FSF. Which is fine, because they are trademarks or company names, so the copyright licence on the GPL basically says "do what you like, provided you don't commit the offence of 'passing off' ".

Basically, your argument is coming over more and more as "I want to rewrite licences to remove all the inconvenient conditions I don't like". Which is only going to lay you open to criminal charges for fraud, copyright piracy, passing off, or other serious offences like that.

Just look at what you're actually going to achieve. You're going to get loads of "rights" which are worthless because they're illegal. What's the point?

Anthony W. Youngman - anthony@thewolery.demon.co.uk

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