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Proposal: The DFSG do not require source code for data, including firmware

Hi folks,

Ever since the sarge release, an ongoing question has been: what do the DFSG
require for works that are not "programs" as previously understood in
Debian?  Several rounds of general resolutions have now given us answers for
some subclasses of non-program works, but debate still rages regarding one
particularly important class: firmware for peripheral devices.

Andi Barth and I have discussed how we think the DFSG requirements apply to
firmware and have fairly similar views on the subject, but we also know that
there are other viewpoints within the project, so we're reluctant to make a
unilateral decision about firmware handling for the etch release policy
without finding out how the project as a whole feels about it.  In the
meantime, the ongoing discussions within the kernel team and without have
shed, as they say, more heat than light on the subject, so I feel it's time
to answer this question so we can stop being paralyzed by these differences
of opinion, agree to disagree, and move forward with the work that needs to
be done for etch -- whichever set of work we decide that is.

So below is a proposal that I'm seeking seconds on to establish how DFSG#2
should be understood to apply to firmware -- i.e., that for Debian's
purposes firmware should be considered data, not programs, and along with
other data we should only encourage, not require, source code for firmware
included in main.  This GR is a position statement, not an amendment to the
foundation documents, which means a couple of things.  First, it's my
understanding that there is no 3:1 supermajority requirement here; while the
Project Secretary has the procedural authority to require a supermajority
for the vote, I'm likely to consider a GR that fails with > 50% of the vote
to be an endorsement by the project and proceed accordingly for etch. 
Second, if developers disagree with this resolution, they are free to ignore
it and follow the demands of their own conscience in their Debian work -- no
one is ever *required* to ship a work in main that they believe is not free
enough for Debian -- they'll just have a statement that the release team,
and a majority of voting developers in Debian, disagree with them attempting
to impose this opinion on others.

It's my hope that this strikes a reasonable balance between respecting the
views of individual developers and advancing a viable policy for the project
so that we can move forward together on the goal of making each Debian
release a first-class, free operating system.

So, without further ado:

         The application of DFSG#2 to firmware and other data

The Debian Project recognizes that access to source code for a work of
software is very important for software freedom, but at the same time
"source" is often not a well-defined concept for works other than those
traditionally considered "programs".  The most commonly cited definition is
that found in version 2 of the GNU GPL, "the preferred form of the work for
making modifications to it," but for non-program works, it is not always
clear that requiring this "source" as a precondition of inclusion in main
is in the best interest of our users or advances the cause of Free Software:

  - The author's preferred form for modification may require non-free tools
    in order to be converted into its final "binary" form; e.g., some
    device firmware, videos, and graphics.
  - The preferred form for modification may be orders of magnitude larger
    than the final "binary" form, resulting in prohibitive mirror space
    requirements out of proportion to the benefits of making this source
    universally available; e.g., some videos.
  - The "binary" and "source" forms of a work may be interconvertible with no
    data loss, and each may be the preferred form for modification by
    different users with different tools at their disposal; e.g., some

While the Debian Free Software Guidelines assert that source code is a
paramount requirement for programs, they do not state that this is the case
for non-program works, which permits us to consider whether one of the above
points justifies a pragmatic concession to the larger context within which
Free Software operates.


        1. reaffirms its dedication to providing a 100% free system to our
users according to our Social Contract and the DFSG; and

        2. encourages authors of all works to make those works available not
only under licenses that permit modification, but also in forms that make
such modifications practical; and

        3. supports the decision of the Release Team to require works such as
images, video, and fonts to be licensed in compliance with the DFSG without
requiring source code for these works under DFSG #2; and

        4. determines that for the purposes of DFSG #2, device firmware
shall also not be considered a program.


Steve Langasek                   Give me a lever long enough and a Free OS
Debian Developer                   to set it on, and I can move the world.
vorlon@debian.org                                   http://www.debian.org/

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