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Re: one of the many reasons why removing non-free is a dumb idea

On Tue, Jan 06, 2004 at 12:02:45PM +1100, Craig Sanders wrote:
> One thing that all of the advocates for dumping non-free have in common is a
> complete disregard for the actual contents of non-free.  they like to pretend
> that it's all proprietary software, that it doesn't even come close to free,
> that source-code isn't available.

As a long-time advocate for dumping non-free software, and someone that
has maintained a package in non-free, I can readily disprove that by
stating that your statement does not describe my beliefs.

> Aside from the convenience for our users, this has also been useful in
> motivating some software authors to get their programs out of the non-free
> ghetto by changing the license to one that is truly free.  there have been
> numerous examples of this happening over the years.

If non-free is as useful as you and others claim, I have no doubt that
an alternative non-free repository will spring up very soon after Debian
stops hosting non-free.  Consider the number of repositories on

As to the motivation factor -- I believe that motivation comes from
being excluded from Debian main, and has nothing to do with whose FTP
site non-free is hosted on.

> This non-free data & documentation can still be used and even modifed by the
> end-user, however, and the fact that modified versions can not be redistributed
> really makes NO PRACTICAL DIFFERENCE to anyone at all.  no one really needs to
> modify doc-linux-nonfree-text, or povray-doc.....any possible need to modify
> can easily be worked around with an errata sheet, or by submitting a change to
> the authors.

This sounds like an argument for keeping these files in main rather than
an argument for keeping non-free.  Perhaps you should propose a DFSG or
social contract modification that would permit that?

However, I'm not sure you're right, even given that.  Why should someone
be able to freely modify software but have to rewrite documentation from
scratch?  How could that documentation really be free if it can't be
used, in a practical sense, at least as liberally as the accompanying

> ditto for data sets like the 'yale' star catalog.  this is the sort of data
> that end-users don't need to change and, more importantly, where changes should
> be managed by qualified experts.   for some data sets it is a Good Thing that
> there is only one official, authoritative (preferably peer-reviewed) source.

And yet, restrictive licenses means that if you disagree and think it's
a Bad Thing, you have no choice in the matter.  The hood is still welded
shut, even though most might prefer it that way.

> a far better use of everyone's time would be to:
>  - write DSFG replacements for non-free software (or encourage & assist others
>    to do the same).

Which has already been done for numerous packages.

>  - try (politely!) to convince the non-free authors to change to a DFSG-free
>    licence.

That has also been done, though again it's not always successful.

>  - get a life and stop worrying about what other people run on their own
>    computers.

That has nothing at all to do with why I support removing non-free from
Debian's mirror network.

I have non-free software on a Mac (it runs MacOS X).  I'm not seeking to
prevent people from running non-free software on their machines.

I do believe that Debian should not be distributing non-free software in
any way.  Our project is about Free Software, and that is how it should
remain.  I do believe that Free Software is the right way to go, but
removing non-free from the FTP site does not force that belief on
others.  At worst, it may cause them to consider the question briefly.

-- John

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