in February, Stefano Zacchiroli added a document titled "Debian
Position on Software Patents" to our website: http://www.debian.org/legal/patent
This document includes both a position and a policy regarding
software patents. It states:
Debian will not knowingly distribute software encumbered by
patents; Debian contributors should not package or
distribute software they know to infringe a patent.
Debian will not accept a patent license that is
inconsistent with the Debian Social
Contract or Debian
Free Software Guidelines.
Unless communications related to patents are subject to
attorney-client privilege, community members may be forced
to produce them in a lawsuit. Also, patent concerns
expressed publicly may turn out to be unfounded but create a
good deal of fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the meantime.
Therefore, please refrain from posting patent concerns
publicly or discussing patents outside of communication with
legal counsel, where they are subject to attorney-client
Patent risks affect the entire community. If you are
concerned about a specific patent, please do not keep it to
yourself — notify legal counsel.
All communication related to specific patent risk should be
directed to firstname.lastname@example.org,
which is maintained under the rules of attorney-client
privilege. The risk will be evaluated and any necessary
response will be made directly to affected parties.
As far as I know, this document was not publically discussed before
being published (see http://anonscm.debian.org/viewvc/webwml/webwml/english/legal/patent.wml?view=log
I see this as amounting to:
- A message to both users and contributors that patent
infringement in Debian is unwanted.
- A message to both users and contributors that Debian will only
accept to ship software covered by patents if the patents
concerned were licensed free of restrictions (DFSG-like
- A request to share specific patent concerns.
- An indication that a private contact point for sharing
specific patent concerns exists.
- A request/demand that people concerned with specific patent
issues do not share their concerns, except with the contact
point mentioned in 3.
1. is fairly obvious. 2. is welcome, although I suppose this is
just officializing a stance we were already taking. 3. can be
considered a specific case of our pretty obvious desire to have
our bugs reported. 4. is excellent news. 5. is, however,
anti-transparency, and IMO against our ethics. Such a position
statement cannot be made prior to discussion. Since it looks like
this wasn't discussed yet, I am hereby lauching a public
discussion on 5. This is not a poll, but I'd like to see the
opinions of others on it. and whether it is unanimous or not.
Leaving the validity of 5. aside, I find that this document is
very confusing. It's not just a policy, and it's talking to
several groups. I suggest:
- To separe 1. , 3. and 4. from the rest. These could be grouped
in a document on intellectual property explaining that Debian
takes into account both copyright and patents and offering
contact points for reporting/discussing specific IP issues.
- To consider merging 2. with the social contract: http://www.debian.org/social_contract
The free software guidelines could be modified to specify that
our freedom requirements apply not only to copyright licenses,
but also to patent licenses.
A modification of a Foundation Document requires a 3:1 majority,
but I don't think this would be hard to reach.
Thanks to MJ Ray for his reply when I asked about this document's