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Re: [all candidates] Debian as an FSF Free Software Distribution

On 2013-03-14 19:21, Paul Tagliamonte wrote:
What work will you be doing to continue Zach's efforts to negotiate with
the FSF over Debian's status as a Free Software Distribution?

Will you treat this issue as a priority? Can we expect continued open
dialogue with the FSF on this issue? Would you be willing to help find
the right concessions on both sides to collaborate?

I already commented in another message, talking about challenges for free software: "- Divisions. When we take free software as an ideological/political position, it is natural for us to defend our principles even against divergent views from others who believe in free software. For example, we have had significant disagreements with the FSF. However, factionalism damages our cause, and makes it harder for outsiders to hear the viewpoints that we share."

On 2013-03-15 06:05, Michael Gilbert wrote:
I am more curious what the candidates think should or can be done in
light of the FSF's absenteeism in that discussion (so far).  What (if
anything) can actually be accomplished without even a
partially-defined path from their perspective?


Clearly it is hard for negotiations to progress if one or both partners are happier with the status quo. As overall projects, I suspect that both Debian and the FSF are probably currently happier to be seen to be standing solidly by their principles than to receive the other's support.

(At the same time I would point out that the DFSG themselves contain some concession to existing licences. Indeed, it's quite plausible that if the GPL had come after the DFSG, we would have counted it as non-free, but I don't think that that would have been a good thing.)

Even if the FSF were ready, for real negotiations, the negotiators from each camp need to be empowered with flexibility, and to have red lines that are weaker than the existing public positions -- it's not clear how we could achieve that in Debian. If a good dialogue was achieved, the most realistic outcome might be for the involved people to draw up a proposal for subsequent Debian approval, but there is a risk that *any* concession would just be voted down.

From my perspective, the main thing we can do in the short term is to discourage either side from digging into its position further -- this makes it much harder for concessions to be made later on. If possible, agreeing a list of unresolved differences would indeed be useful, and might show some people who saw big disagreements that the differences are not that large. However, there is a danger that by publishing this list, the items will become more strongly group identifiers and points of pride by being stated more clearly. Equally, we should the temptation to avoid counting it against the FSF that it isn't negotiating now, and using that as an argument to discredit negotiation later.

More general thoughts

I certainly don't think that Debian should make negotiations to resolve differences of opinion a precondition for closer cooperation with the FSF.

Instead, I would recommend that we attempt to pursue an "ecumenical" approach.[1]

We already mean the same thing by free software, and agree with them that it is important, and that we would like all software to be free. We should recognise that this makes our positions extremely close. We share many of the same supporters, and many contributors. Some key differences are matters of terminology: we count documentation included in Debian as software; they count non-free software advertised for download from Debian servers as part of Debian.

If we continue to attempt to cooperate on more issues, this may make our minor differences seem less important to both sides, and may be more likely to lead either side to make concessions than detailed discussion of why we hold our different positions.


[1] If anyone is interested, I could give a talk some time about how similar this all is to church history, with licences in place of creeds.

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