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Re: policy for file headers

On Mon, Dec 03, 2007 at 05:20:32PM +0100, David Bremner wrote:
> Can someone point me to policy about file headers?

For license information, there is no Debian policy, because this is not
up to Debian to change.  The copyright holder may distribute code with a
license.  How she does that is up to her.

> I am currently
> looking at a package with a GPL copyright file in the top directory,
> and a terse statment "copyright X, released under the GPL" in most,
> but not all files.

The GPL itself suggests (just after the "END OF TERMS AND CONDITIONS"):

	It is safest to attach [the notices] to the start of each source
	file to most effectively state the exclusion of warranty; and
	each file should have at least the "copyright" line and a
	pointer to where the full notice is found.

This is legal advice (IANAL, but they are ;-) ) about how to apply the
license to a program.  However, that is just "safest".  It is quite
acceptable to just mention somewhere in the distribution "all files are
copyrighted by John Doe and licensed under the GNU GPL (see COPYING)",
or something.

> I think the files without copyright are non-essential, and could in
> principle be removed. There seems to be nothing reasonable to do as a
> packager about the lack of the usual gpl boilerplate.

Normally, there is no reason to remove them.  Only if you have reason to
believe they are not distributed under a free license, should you remove
them.  Merely missing the GPL header is no reason to believe this (if
there are statements about the license of the whole package in other

If things are unclear, but you think the intention of upstream is to
have things GPL licensed, you should ask them to clarify.  If they don't
make a new release with better statements soon (because they don't
really have anything to release, for example), just quoting their
response in debian/copyright is also a valid way to show the license.

> I understand that the best practice is to have a copyright statement
> and a clear statement of license in every file of the source code.

Yes, this is what the GPL advises, and I can't remember ever hearing
anyone contradict it.

> What I don't know is if
> 1) This is a MUST dictated by policy as well as a SHOULD from best-practice?
> 2) Supposing it is a SHOULD, is the collective wisdom of the mentors
> that if I want to get the package sponsored, I should get it fixed
> anyway?  We could call this MENTORS-MUST :-).

None of the above.  For upstream, it is advisable.  Debian doesn't have
much to do with it, except that things must be clear enough that we know
it really is free software.  The packager doesn't need to change
anything.  It is a good idea to pass the GPL's advise on to upstream if
they seem to have missed it, though. :-)  Since most people aren't fond
of writing license headers, a patch would likely be appreciated.


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