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Re: Request for GR: clarifying the license text licensing / freeness issue

On Thu, 2007-04-26 at 16:32 -0700, Ken Arromdee wrote:
> What are you talking about?

Unless I'm mistaken, the topic is to consider a request for a GR that
would add language to the DFSG saying that licenses need not be
modifiable. :)

> If by "legal composition of copyright" you mean "license texts are copyrighted,
> so they cannot be DFSG-free", that's false.  We include plenty of copyrighted
> materials which are DFSG-free.
> If by "legal composition of copyright" you mean "license texts are used to
> indicate how other things are copyrighted, and cannot do that if they are
> modified", that's wrong.  You're assuming that "modifying a license" means 
> "trying to relicense the thing the license is attached to".  That's incorrect.
> One might want to modify a license in order to reuse the license somewhere
> else.  Modifying a license in this way has no bearing on the licensing of
> the work to which the license was originally attached, and the copyright of
> the work does not restrict modifying the license this way.

Neither of the two options above are what I'm talking about. Obviously,
the first option is totally self-evident. All the copyrighted material
in Debian main is DFSG-free. The DFSG deals with the licenses of
copyrighted material. That's the whole point of the DFSG.

The second option also has nothing to do with this GR request. I'm not
assuming that changing the license text with the purpose of reusing it
somewhere else will magically allow anyone to relicense the work to
which it was originally applied under terms of their own choosing. I'm
also not saying that creating a derivative license should necessarily be
prohibited. It's not without complication, though. For example, subtly
changing a license text (as a work) might lead to a recipient of another
work licensed under the original license mistaking the modified license
for the real one. It is in the interests of both the copyright holder of
the work and all recipients of it to prevent such confusion. (For
example, the GPL suggests to state that a work under the GPL is licensed
under "The GNU General Public License, as published by the Free Software
Foundation", in addition to FSF requiring a name change on

What I'm saying is that the DFSG can only be applied to a certain point.
We can require that license terms applied to works are DFSG-free. We can
require that license terms applied to those licenses-as-works are
DFSG-free. We can require that the license terms applied to those
licenses-as-works are DFSG-free and so on, "moving up the chain", until
we hit bare copyright law at the top of the chain (meaning that there
are no specified additional terms to apply; the license-as-a-work at
that point has no explicit license). We would then need to add an
"exception" for copyright law, because what we originally set out to do
was to claim consistency under a certain (flawed, IMO) interpretation,
because the consistency would stop at that last link in the chain, and
because there is no way we can affect the existence or nature of
copyright law by simply changing words in the DFSG.

We could try to avoid "moving up the chain" by requiring that all
licenses for licenses-as-works be recursive, but then we would be
requiring a stricter set of requirements for these licenses than those
that we require for other works in the DFSG -- and we would be
inconsistent again. (Because we wanted the same freedom requirements for
everything.) Plus, we are unlikely to achieve this in practise, because
this interpretation goes against that of most copyright holders, who get
to choose the license for their works.

This is what I mean by saying that the "legal composition of copyright"
results in the distinction between a license and a work in the language
of the SC and DFSG, as in any document dealing with copyright.

Do you think this is nitpicking and that the "license chain" line of
thought is splitting hairs? I do -- the same kind of nitpicking,
hairsplitting and overinterpretation that led us into this discussion in
the first place. We can try to shift the problematic step to any place
in the "chain", but we can never get away from the fact that it's there,
and that the only way to understand its implications is to draw a line
beyond which the DFSG doesn't apply. Refusing to do so means creating a
confusing grey area, specific to Debian, and prone to misunderstanding
because it is unconventional in the domain of copyright.

It's usually assumed, as I said in a previous message, that works and
licenses belong to different domains and that licenses form the line
beyond which the DFSG doesn't apply. The DFSG seems to be drafted on
this principle, and there is therefore no contradiction that needs to be
clarified or given explicit exception. Not starting to "move up the
chain" spares us from approaching the slippery slope of mistakes that
others in this thread have brought up.

So let's not pursue this GR.

Fabian Fagerholm <fabbe@paniq.net>

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