Honesty in Debian (was Re: Amendment to GR on GFDL, and the changes to the Social Contract
This belongs somewhere else. Directing followups to -project.
Glenn Maynard wrote:
> On Fri, Feb 10, 2006 at 02:31:43AM -0500, Nathanael Nerode wrote:
> > Incidentally, if I ever become a DD, I will immediately propose a GR to
> > amend the Social Contract to explicitly allow unmodifiable license texts
> > Debian, since it technically doesn't, but everyone agrees that it
> > I'd welcome someone else beating me to it.
> Then people will start saying things like "the GFDL is free, if the
> sections happen to be license texts!"
Not if we do it my way: see below.
>  As an extra-aside, see
> http://lists.debian.org/debian-devel/2004/04/msg02344.html for an
> about the difference between "license texts" and "license terms",
> and how one really could apply the DFSG to texts, but not terms,
> and end up with something
> reasonable. Not really a worthy fight, of course, but if you want to
> formalize an exception, then I think knowing the difference is important.
Trust me, I know the difference; I'm one of the people who originally
described the difference and explained how it mattered to the people
drafting the Apache license version 2. The problem is quite specifically
that we have unmodifiable license texts, not unmodifiable license terms.
These texts are in Debian, making it technically untrue that "Debian will
remain 100% free."
This is approximately how I would write an exception:
"Debian will remain 100% free. (With one exception for license texts,
noted below.) ...."
"Works in Debian are usually made available under specific licenses. For
convenience, we include these (and only these) licenses directly in the
Debian system, and we do not require that the texts of these licenses be
Free. However, we promise that all such non-free legal texts will be placed
in a few specific, well-documented locations, and nowhere else in the
This could probably be improved, but it gets the point across very clearly.
The reason I would do this is the same reason I often get so vocal and
sometimes angry about these matters: the issue of honesty. I feel that the
current situation is one in which Debian is using its Social Contract to
lie to its users, and that that has been going on for a long time.
The Social Contract used to say "Debian will remain 100% free software."
Someone recently said that he thought a valid intepretation of this was "The
sotware in Debian will remain 100% free." Well, that is *not* a valid
interpretation of the English language sentence "Debian will remain 100%
free software". Users expecting Debian to adhere to its Social Contract
would be sorely disappointed by that misinterpretation, as I was.
To clarify why this is not a valid interpretation:
Suppose a public transport agency said "Our transportation fleet will remain
100% eco-friendly trolleybuses." Then suppose they bought a whole lot of
diesel buses, and claimed that their promise simply meant "The trolleybuses
in our transportation fleet will remain 100% eco-friendly." That's not a
valid interpretation, and you'd be right to feel cheated.
Suppose I told my homeowner's association, "My front yard will remain 100%
green grass." Suppose I then planted half the front yard in myrtle (not a
type of grass, FYI). Then suppose I claimed that my promise meant "100% of
the grass in my front yard will remain green." That's not a valid
interpretation. The homeowner's association would rightly complain that I
had lied to them.
Suppose I said "These thirty acres will remain 100% organic farmland."
Suppose I then built condos on half of them, and said "Well, what my
promise meant was that the farmland in those thirty acres would remain 100%
organic." You'd call me a liar, and you'd be right.
The "Social Contract" is supposed to be a promise to the users of Debian.
Now, it is only a promise that Debian will make its best effort to satisfy
its side of the contract; it obviously is not a warranty, and doesn't cover
accidents or stuff nobody noticed. But if it is to mean anything, it must
mean that Debian will make its best effort to give the users what it
There is an honest way to allow non-modifiable essays and other works which
do not satisfy the DFSG into Debian main. That is to amend the Social
Contract to say what you want it to say: "The programs in Debian will
remain 100% free." Nobody has tried to do that yet. If that was done, I
would *happily* go along with it. I might not personally think it was the
best choice for Debian, but I wouldn't really care that much, because it
would mean Debian was being honest about what it did. So propose
the GR just to shut me up, if nothing else, OK? :-)
However, there is also a dishonest way. That is to leave the Social
Contract claiming that everything in Debian is free (or "free software",
doesn't matter) according to the DFSG, but then to go ahead and put
DFSG-non-free stuff into Debian. And that is just not right.
This is also why I would like to make the Social Contract clear on non-free
license texts. Currently Debian is in technical violation of the Social
Contract regarding these. They are such a tiny proportion of the Debian
system that it's not a very large violation (in contrast to the other
non-modifiable stuff). But it would clearly be more honest to admit openly
to the users -- the other half of the Social Contract -- that they *are* an
It may be worth noting that I didn't really care (and still don't care)
whether the "remove non-free" ballot passed or not. Either way, Debian is
*honest* about non-free.
I know honesty is not popular these days, but I still care very strongly
about it. I think many people who do care about honesty do not realize that
this is an issue of Debian's honesty to its users. I do, and perhaps that
explains where I'm coming from. I care about software freedom -- but I
care far more about honesty.