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Re: Validity of DFSG #10

On Sat, Jan 05, 2013 at 08:35:00PM +0530, Vasudev Kamath wrote:
> Just to give a background as part of my NM process me and my AM
> (intrigeri) started a discussion on ambiguity in DFSG #10 which
> specifies example of DFSG free license as BSD, GPL and Artistic.

Heya, thanks for pointing this out here and all the best for your NM
process! :-)

> In brief Jakub Wilk wanted to get rid of DFSG #10 as it is creating
> ambiguous situation by pointing to licenses which have multiple
> variants. rather than rephrasing him I'm attaching his mail with his
> permission to this.
> In my opinion DFSG #10 is not a guideline but a statement giving example
> compared to other DFSG's so even I feel it is better to drop DFSG
> #10. So I would like to formally start a discussion on this topic
> here. Please share your suggestions.

Sure enough, DFSG §10 is doomed to be outdated and it's already quite
misleading in the BSD case. It could even get worse if, say, future
*versions* of licenses that are listed there and that we currently
consider free, won't be considered free anymore.

So, sure, we could drop it. (Note that this isn't entirely trivial, as
it will require a GR with a 3:1 majority, given that the DFSG is one of
our foundation documents.) But I doubt we will gain much in clarity by
*only* doing that. We need an extra step: an authoritative and
maintained lists of licenses that the Debian Project considers free. (We
currently only have approximations of this, more details below.)

The rationale is that when considering licenses many people look at
Debian and at our choices. They will surely also look at other sources,
like FSF and OSI, but people do look at what we do. In a sense, we are a
well established moral and political authority in defining what free
software *is*. (In passing, we are among the very few that considers
"software" in its broadest meaning of "content". As a consequence we
also encompass free culture, something that others don't do as
prominently as we do.)

Unfortunately, we are not doing a particularly good job at documenting
our choices --- in particular: which licenses do we consider free ---
and at explaining the rationales behind them.

This has been discussed in various occasions. A recent one within the
project is the question time of my talk at DebConf12 [1], thanks to
input by Steve Langasek. But our flaws on this matter are being
discussed also outside the project border; see for instance the
interesting talk "The Tragedy of the Commons Gatekeepers" by Richard
Fontana at LinuxCon North America last year [2,3].

[1]: http://penta.debconf.org/dc12_schedule/events/881.en.html
[2]: http://faif.us/cast/2012/oct/10/0x33/
[3]: http://linuxcon2012-fontana.rhcloud.com/

I agree with Richard that, modulo some notable exception like FTP
masters' "ruling" about the Ubuntu Font License [4], we are not doing a
good job at documenting and explaining our choices. The best
approximations we have are either non-authoritative, or not maintained,
or both. The net result is that by searching the web license names and
Debian one will likely end up on debian-legal discussions, that are not
the official project stance on license free-ness.

[4]: https://lists.debian.org/debian-devel/2011/04/msg01239.html
[5]: http://www.debian.org/legal/licenses/
[6]: http://wiki.debian.org/DFSGLicenses

Bottom line: I'd be very much in favor of dropping DFSG §10 as long as
we replace it with a (pointer to a) place where we maintain an
authoritative list of licenses we consider free, together with (pointers
to) explanation of why it is so.  I'm quite sure the explanations do
exist already, but we do need people that do the work of finding them
and documenting them in a central place. For the place in itself, [5]
would be perfectly fine, but needs to be turned in something
authoritative (and maintained) as opposed to something that is only

Stefano Zacchiroli  . . . . . . .  zack@upsilon.cc . . . . o . . . o . o
Maître de conférences . . . . . http://upsilon.cc/zack . . . o . . . o o
Debian Project Leader . . . . . . @zack on identi.ca . . o o o . . . o .
« the first rule of tautology club is the first rule of tautology club »

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