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Re: Questions to candidates: what is source?

On Sat, Mar 05, 2005 at 10:49:26PM +0900, Seo Sanghyeon wrote:
> The Debian Free Software Guidelines states that "The program must
> include source code".
> 1. How do you define "source code" yourself?

Any definition of source code, to be useful to the Debian Project in
applying our Free Software Guidelines, has to be broadly applicable.

I consider "source code" to be the form of a work of authorship which is
used for making authorial changes in the digital domain.  I add the final
qualifier because Debian is not set up to distribute anything that can't be
represented as a bit stream.

I'm not sure that things that don't have authors are appopriately subject
to so-called "intellectual property" laws, such as copyrights and patents.
Things like the set of all 100-digit prime numbers are not authored, merely

> 2. I think that people have different ideas of what "source code" means.
>    Do you agree? Are there significant disagreements regarding this
>    issue within the Debian Project?

Yes, I agree that people have different ideas of what source code means.
I'm not sure how significant those disagreements are in the general case;
most of the time, in my experience, when someone advocates a definition of
source code for which the practical consequences are at variance with those
of my own (or the FSF's "The source code for a work means the preferred
form of the work for making modifications to it."[1]), that person is
attempting to reason backwards from a desired end, such as as "I want
package foobar 1.2.3 in Debian main", rather than forward from a principle
such as "We promise to keep the Debian GNU/Linux Distribution entirely free

> 3. (If you answered "yes" to 2) Is that a problem?

Not in general.  It could become one if a sufficient number of people adopt
a view that has large-scale divergent consequences, such as a definition of
source code that would somehow lead to a substantial blurring or
elimination of the distintion between DFSG-free and DFSG-non-free software.

> 4. (If you answered "yes" to 3) Is it necessary to amend DFSG?

Only if the criterion set down in my previous response holds.  It may be
desirable to amend the DFSG in other ways, for other reasons, however.

> 5. (If you answered "yes" to 4) How it should be amended?

I think for the majority of cases, Debian Developers have a fairly
consistent intuitive notion of what source code is.  So, no, I don't feel
it's imperative right now to amend the DFSG to add a definition of "source

We might want to do so to head off future disagreements.  If so, I would
submit my definition for consideration as one means of clarifying the

> 6. Which of the following satisfies DFSG #2? What is the general
>    principle? Or should it be case-by-case?

I expressed my general principle above, and would prefer to permit the
debian-legal mailing list (or a similar body) to grapple with the details
of applying that principle on a case-by-case basis rather than granting
some pre-prepared list my imprimatur, in the event I am elected.

The devil is almost always in the details.  The most destructive conduct
I've seen on the debian-legal mailing list comes from people blowing a
disagreement over detail into some kind of colossal threat to the viability
of the Debian Project.

It's no shame to maintain a package that is not in Debian main.  I do so

[1] http://www.fsf.org/licensing/licenses/gpl.txt
[2] http://www.debian.org/social_contract
[3] http://packages.debian.org/unstable/otherosfs/xtrs

G. Branden Robinson                |      Religion is excellent stuff for
Debian GNU/Linux                   |      keeping common people quiet.
branden@debian.org                 |      -- Napoleon Bonaparte
http://people.debian.org/~branden/ |

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