[Date Prev][Date Next] [Thread Prev][Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

Re: GR Proposal: GFDL statement

On Fri, Jan 06, 2006 at 11:37:37AM +1000, Anthony Towns wrote:
> So, I've updated the wiki [0] in response to most of the suggestions
> on the list so far.

Okay, given the lack of further response (except for dato's alternate
proposal!), I've tweaked the wording one more time, and I think this
is the final version. Seconds appreciated.

I propose the Debian project release the following statement on the GFDL:


Why the GNU Free Documentation License is not suitable for Debian main


Within the Debian community there has been a significant amount of concern
about the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL), and whether it is, in
fact, a "free" license. This document attempts to explain why Debian's
answer is that it is not free enough for the Debian distribution.

It should be noted that this does not imply any hostility towards the
Free Software Foundation, and does not mean that GFDL documentation
should not be considered "free enough" by others. Debian itself will
continue distributing GFDL documentation in its "non-free" section,
which does not have such strict requirements.

This document covers the GFDL version 1.2, which is the most current
version at the time of writing. Earlier versions of the GFDL have similar,
related problems.  

What is the GFDL?

The GFDL is a license written by the Free Software Foundation, who
use it as a license for their own documentation and promote it to
others. Notably, it is also used as Wikipedia's license. The GFDL is a
"copyleft" license in that modifications to documentation made under the
GFDL must in turn be released under the GFDL, not some more restrictive

How does the GFDL fail to meet Debian's standards for Free Software?

The GFDL conflicts with Debian's traditional requirements for free
software in a variety of ways, some of which are expanded upon below. As
a copyleft license, one of the consequences of this is that it is not
possible to include content from GFDL documentation directly into free

The major conflicts are:

  Unmodifiable Sections

The most troublesome conflict concerns the class of unmodifiable sections
that, once included, may not be modified or removed from the documentation
in the future. These are Cover Texts, Dedications, Acknowledgements,
and Invariant Sections. Modifiability is a fundamental requirement of
the DFSG, which states:

    3. Derived Works

    The license must allow modifications and derived works, and must
    allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of
    the original software.

These components create particular problems in reusing small portions of
the work (since any invariant sections must be included also, however
large), and in making sure that documentation remains accurate and

  Transparent Copies

The second conflict is related to the GFDL's requirements for "transparent
copies" of documentation (that is, a copy of the documentation in a form
suitable for editing). In particular, Section 3 of the GFDL requires
that a transparent copy of the documentation be included with every
opaque copy distributed, or that a transparent copy be made available
for a year after the opaque copies are no longer being distributed.

For free software works, Debian expects that simply providing the source
(or transparent copy) alongside derivative works will be sufficient,
and that users need not be forced to obtain the source with every copy
of the binary they download, but this does not satisfy either clause of
the GFDL's requirements.  

  Digital Rights Management

The third conflict with the GFDL arises from the measures in Section 2
that attempt to overcome Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies. In
particular, the GFDL states that "You may not use technical measures
to obstruct or control the reading or further copying of the copies you
make or distribute". This inhibits freedom in three ways: it limits use
of the documentation as well as distribution, by covering all copies
made, as well as copies distributed; it rules out distributing copies
on DRM-protected media, even if done in such a way as to give users
full access to a transparent copy of the work; and, as written, it also
potentially disallows encrypting the documentation, or even storing
it on a system that provides user restrictions or file permissions for
the documentation.

Why does documentation need to be Free Software?

The question of "Why does software need free documentation?" has been
addressed in the past by the Free Software Foundation in the essay
_Free Software and Free Manuals_ [0].

[0] http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-doc.html

There are a number of obvious differences between programs and
documentation that often inspire people to ask "why not simply have
different standards for the two?" For example, books are often written
by individuals, while programs are written by teams, so proper credit
for a book might be more important than proper credit for a program.

On the other hand, free software is often written by a single person,
and free software documentation is often written by a larger group of
contributors. Even the line between what is documentation and what is
a program is not always so clear, as content from one is often needed
in the other (to provide online help, or to provide screenshots or
interactive tutorials, or to provide a more detailed explanation by
quoting some of the source code). Similarly, while not all programs
demonstrate creativity or could be considered "works of art", some can,
and trying to determine which is the case for all the software in Debian
would be a distraction from our goals.

In practice, then, particularly for Debian's purposes, documentation
simply isn't different enough to warrant different standards in the
freedoms we expect for our users: we still wish to provide source code
in the same manner as for programs, we still wish to be able to modify
and update documentation, we still wish to be able to reuse portions of
documentation elsewhere as conveniently as possible, and we still wish
to be able to provide our users with exactly the documentation they want,
without extraneous materials.  

How can this be fixed?

What, then, can documentation authors and others do about this?

An easy first step documentation authors can take toward resolving
the problems above is to not include any invariant sections in your
documentation, since they are not required by the license, but are simply
an option open to authors.

Unfortunately this alone is not enough, as other clauses of the GFDL
render all GFDL documentation unsuitable for Debian. As a consequence,
other licenses should be investigated; generally it is probably simplest
to use the same license for the documentation as for the software it
documents, or for documentation that doesn't come with a particular
piece of software, to choose either the GNU General Public License
(for a copyleft license) or one of the BSD or MIT licenses (for a
non-copyleft license).

As most GFDL documentation is made available under "the terms of the GNU
Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published
by the Free Software Foundation", the Free Software Foundation is able
to remedy these problems for a great many works by issuing a new version
of the license. The problems discussed above require relatively minor
changes to the GFDL -- allowing invariant sections to be removed, allowing
transparent copies to be made available concurrently, and moderating the
restrictions on technical measures. Unfortunately, while members of the
Debian Project have been in contact with the FSF about these concerns
since 2001, these negotiations have not come to any conclusion to date.


Attachment: signature.asc
Description: Digital signature

Reply to: