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Re: GR proposal: the AGPL does not meet the DFSG

On Thu, Mar 19, 2009 at 12:50:45AM +0100, Bill Allombert wrote:

> RATIONALE (to be amended if necessary):

> 2. This clause is incompatible with section 3. of the Debian Free Software
> Guideline:

> 2.1 This clause restricts how you can modify the software.
>     Doing a simple modification to a AGPL-covered software can require you to
>     write a substantial amount of extra code to comply with this
>     clause.

No, it does not. Merely modifying the software does not trigger the
clause. It is triggered only if you offer a service to third parties
using your modified version, or distribute it to others that do. The
latter part (distribute to others that do) is unfortunate; I expect it
is not the intention of the AGPL writers. Distribution is the same
trigger than what triggers the "copyleft" clauses of the ordinary GPL;
so that trigger cannot in itself be a problem for DFSG freedom.

Even if the clause is triggered, the most additional "extra amount of
code" you have to write is provide a link to a download
location. Adding exactly one string in a relatively prominent
place. That's not "a substantial amount", especially as typically an
AGPL-covered software will already have the download link or
mechanism, you only have to change the URL or something like that. I'd
be sympathetic to a statement along the lines of:

 Software licensed under the AGPL, that does not itself provide an
 "opportunity to receive the Corresponding Source" in the meaning of
 clause 13, or is structured such that changing this opportunity to
 the source of modified version is not easy, is non DFSG-free, if it
 is not free for other reasons (e.g. dual license BSD / AGPL).

> 2.2 This clause forces the developer modifying the software to incur the cost
>     of providing access to the Corresponding Source from a network server
>     as long as at least one person is using the software and this for
>     all published modifications, even long after the developer stopped using
>     the software.

Ah, I see. That's probably unfortunate wording; the onus should be on
the person providing a service to third parties through the software,
not the developer having made the modification. But indeed, the latter
seems to be what the license is technically saying.

> 3. This clause is incompatible with section 6. of the Debian Free Software
>    Guideline.

> 3.1 This clause does not allow you to modify the software to perform tasks
>     where complying with it is not technically feasible.

I have difficulties imagining a scenario where "complying with it is
not technically feasible"; also, it seems similar to the GPL's
mechanism of "if you cannot legally obey both the GPL and patent law /
a contract you have signed / ..., then you are not allowed to
distribute at all".


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