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Re: documentation x executable code

On Wed, Jan 05, 2005 at 04:02:38PM +1100, Craig Sanders wrote:
> sorry, but that argument is bogus.  convenience is NOT the same as freedom.
> more to the point, freedom does not require convenience.

This isn't a matter of convenience.  A "standard" which is explained as
a set of changes to a previous standard, which itself is a set of changes
to another, going down a chain of several old documents, is not inconvenient;
it's completely useless.  The only thing forcing me to make a choice between
"writing a standards diff that's too many generations down" versus "start
from scratch" is the license.

> personally, i think that:
> a) the utility value of RFCs and similar technical documentation,
> combined with 
> b) the fact that there is an established procedure for amending RFCs and
>    creating new ones which is *open to all*,
> AND 
> c) the fact that very few people (far less than one in a million readers) will
>    ever have any desire to modify them,
> is more than sufficient reason to be a bit more tolerant about freedom
> criteria for documents.

I disagree strongly.  b) is unsufficient, as I've already explained.  a)
is very weak; the utility of Netscape, back when it was important, was
very high for a massive number of users, and it was just as weak then.
c) is very weak; very few people will want to modify anything at all
in Debian: most users are not programmers (even if Debian is probably
biased high compared to other systems), and most programmers modify a tiny
percentage of the code installed on their machines.

> ps: the GPL itself is non-free.  you're not allowed to modify it, so it is

Actually, this is incorrect.  You can modify the GPL, but you have to remove
the preamble, and rename it to something other than the "GPL"[1].  However,
the preamble itself is an invariant text, so the question does apply (even
though it's been asked and answered many times before--as I suspect you're

(The misconception that the GPL can not be modified is usually a result
of #1: the "changing it is not allowed" text at the top of the GPL, but
the FSF grants that permission anyway at [1], and #2: [2], which is
confusingly written, which appears to really mean "no, you can't modify
the GPL, but if you rename it, it's no longer the GPL, so you can modify
it".  The FSF refuses to clarify this; I suspect it's a deliberate bit
of confusion to discourage people from forking the license, a goal which
I sympathize with but a method I do not.)

> non-free.  it must therefore be discarded from debian (or moved to non-free).
> furthermore, since GPL-licensed software requires that the license be
> distributed with the software, and we are unable to meet that requirement, all
> GPL-licensed software must likewise be discarded from debian.
> please explain why we should be willing to make an exception for the GPL text,
> but not for other texts.

We shouldn't be.  However, there is absolutely no choice but to include the
text of the GPL; it'd leave us with no operating system.  License texts
(when detached from an actual work) don't need to be invariant, but as
many important ones (unfortunately) are, we have no choice.

I'm not aware of any other non-free bits of data in Debian with the status
of "we have absolutely no choice", other than license texts, so nothing else
puts Debian in this position.  Attempting to use license texts as a lever
to shove other non-free stuff into Debian is not going to work (that's been
tried many times already).

With everything else, Debian has a choice--and GR 2004-003 shows that Debian
has, in fact, made that choice: to not include non-free standards documents.

[1] http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#ModifyGPL
[2] http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#GPLOmitPreamble

Glenn Maynard

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