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Re: GFDL GR, vote please!

On Sun, 12 Feb 2006 22:10:19 +0200, Anton Zinoviev <anton@lml.bas.bg> said:

> On Sat, Feb 11, 2006 at 02:31:30PM -0700, Hubert Chan wrote:
>>> If my opinion is not the same as yours I am allowed to express my
>>> opinion in additional invariant section.  Or if I think your opinion
>>> is misleading the readers I can object your opinion in footnotes.
>> I think you completely missed my point.

> Yes, I missed it, albeit not completely. ;-)

> Your essay serves two purposes: 1. to support some of your ideas and
> 2. to represent your way of thinking up to the smallest details.

(Some people don't care about 2. and would happily accept help in
expressing their ideas.  But I would hate to try to write a license that
only protects 1. without protecting 2.  And personally, I generally
don't really care to protect 2.  I generally just do 2. for my own
personal enjoyment, and if someone can do 1. in a more coherent way,
that's generally fine with me.)

> The invariant sections are the way for you to ensure that both 1. and
> 2. will be satisfied all the time (albeit not in the best possible
> way).  It would not be possible to protect 2. if the license permited
> modifications of your essay.

Yes.  That is true.

But the question is not whether or not I am allowed to protect 2.  The
question is whether or not that document is free.

If I want to protect all the nuances in my original text, and prevent
people from making modifications, I am allowed to do that, and it is my
choice under copyright law.  However, Debian has decided that everything
that is in Debian must be free according to the DFSG.  So if I want my
work to be in Debian, and my license is not free, then I can either
change my license so that it is free, or I can pass a resolution
changing the SC to say that documentation or essays are not required to
be free.  But I cannot try to get it in by saying that my license is
free, because it is not.

>> This has *nothing* to do with expressing a different opinion.  This
>> is about expressing my opinion in a better, more coherent way.  This
>> is all about taking what I wrote, keeping the useful bits, and
>> *making improvements* where needed.  This is about creating a better
>> essay from the one I wrote without having to start from scratch --
>> something that you could give to someone else, and convince them of
>> my views.  It is completely useless to give someone else my original
>> essay, plus your modifications -- it would just be too painful to
>> read.

> Yes, you are right -- I am not allowed to improve 1. in a ways that
> would invalidate 2.  If you think that 2. is not important for you,
> then in the copyright notice you can give to the users additional
> permission to modify your essay under certain conditions.

And so the GFDL is non-free, if it does not allow you, on its own,
without additional permission granted, to make useful modifications.

And if my license requires you to obtain additional permission (or dual
licensing) in order to make useful modifications, then I can't see how
the original license can be considered free.

>> (And no, you are not allowed to object to my opinion in footnotes,
>> because then you would be modifying the invariant section.  The only
>> way you can object is to add another section.)

> The text of GFDL says that you have to "preserve all the Invariant
> Sections of the Document, unaltered in their text and in their
> titles".  This means you are allowed to use footnotes - the text will
> still be unaltered.

I consider footnotes to be part of the text.  If I write a text and
include my own footnotes, and I release my text under a no-modification
license, I would be extremely angry if anyone modified my footnotes.  To
me, a footnote is just as much a part of the text as punctuation, or the
words that I use.  And so, to me, adding footnotes is adding to the

> Very often the publishers are adding footnotes without permission to
> modify the author's text.  In translated texts the footnotes are even
> more often (again without explicit permission from the authors).

Well, I consider translations to be a different matter.  Footnotes are
sometimes needed to clarify the translation, because a single
translation will not suffice, and so the footnote is part of the
translation process.

>> The question is whether or not useful modification is being
>> prevented.  My license prevents you from taking my text and modifying
>> it to be more useful.  That makes it non-free.

> I see.  I can answer that there are other ways to achieve the seeking
> result but I must admit that if you don't give me explicit permission
> to modify your section the result will not be the best possible.

I would say that in some cases, the result may be completely useless for
your purposes, depending on what you want to do.  Which to me means that
it makes useful modifications impossible, which means non-free.

It seems to me that you have either two choices.  Either you distribute
your work as "my original plus modifications" (but as I said above:
>> It is completely useless to give someone else my original essay,
>> plus your modifications -- it would just be too painful to read.
), or you start all over from scratch.  But the whole point of free
software is that you don't have to start all over from scratch, and that
you can reuse what other people have created.

>> If it is not difficult, then please show how *my particular* example
>> prevents useful modifications.

> It makes impossible to adapt your code to another programming
> language.  However ... [read below]

[read below]

>> OK, fine.  Then instead of saying that the variable "invariant" is
>> unmodifiable, I just say that you must cause the resulting binary to
>> include that text, unmodified.  Is such a license free?

> This probably means that the final result of your code has to be
> executable binary.  However:

Now you know why I don't write licenses.  I don't want to have to think
of every possibility. ;) [1]

OK, so if it's in a compiled language, then my text has to be in the
resulting object code, unmodified.  If it's an interpreted language,
then my text must appear in the source code.  Is that free?

(Just a recap, because this whole thread is getting extremely confusing:
the reason I'm bringing up this hypothetical license is because it was
asserted that there did not exist free software licenses with invariant
sections.  I'm not actually claiming that this license is or is not

(BTW, I didn't say, previously, "executable binary".  I just said
"binary", to allow for the possibility for ripping out my code and
putting it into a library.  But I did forget about porting to
interpreted languages.)

[1] Criticizing is easier than creating -- it's easier to find bugs in
the GFDL than to write a good documentation license.  I appreciate the
FSF's work on the GFDL, and I hope that some of the issues ("bugs") that
are raised will be addressed in a future version.

> Suppose your license contains the following rule:

>    If the modified program normally reads commands interactively when
> run, you must cause it, when started running for such interactive use
> in the most ordinary way, to print or display the following text: YOUR

> Notice that this requirement is very similar to section 2c of GPL.  Do
> we consider such a license free?

Nobody has cared enough about that restriction (in the GPL) to complain
about it yet.  If we go by the "useful modifications" reading of the
DFSG (and I'm not sure whether I agree with the "useful modifications"
or "arbitrary modifications" reading), it does not seem to have
prevented useful modifications so far.

> My personal opinion is that this depends of what exactly the license
> requires to be printed.  However I am unable to give any precise
> rules.

OK, fair enough.

My own feeling is that a requirement for a section of text to be copied
verbatim (i.e. "you must display exactly this text: ...") would be less
acceptable to me than just guidelines on the type of information to be
displayed.  (Which fall under the categories that I refer internally as
"hard barriers" and "soft barriers".)

It would also depend on whether or not what is to be printed is useful
to be distributed separately and improved as a work on its own.
(e.g. if it prevents someone from taking my included free software essay
and improving it.)

In general, I would look upon such licenses with suspicion.  (And yes,
I'm not too happy with GPL 2c, but considering that it's been there for
15 years, and that it's a rather mild restriction and hasn't really
caused anyone any problems as far as I can tell, I'm not sure that it's
worth fighting over.  But anyone is free to bring forward a GR that says
that the GPL is non-free.)

Hubert Chan <hubert@uhoreg.ca> - http://www.uhoreg.ca/
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