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text of my letter to B&H regarding Luxi font licensing

On Sat, Aug 17, 2002 at 05:29:44PM +0200, Juliusz Chroboczek wrote:
> Branden's letter was fairly long, and Charles did reply, but only to
> say that he'll read it in full when he has some free time.  As usually
> happens in such situations, the free time never materialised.

So that other folks can read it, here it is, MIME-attached.

G. Branden Robinson                |          Measure with micrometer,
Debian GNU/Linux                   |          mark with chalk,
branden@debian.org                 |          cut with axe,
http://people.debian.org/~branden/ |          hope like hell.
From branden@debian.org Thu Nov  1 09:33:28 2001
Date: Thu, 1 Nov 2001 09:33:28 -0500
From: Branden Robinson <branden@debian.org>
To: bandh@usinter.net
Cc: Juliusz Chroboczek <jec@dcs.ed.ac.uk>
Subject: Luxi font licensing
Message-ID: <20011101093328.C25488@deadbeast.net>
References: <dh37kuano6k.fsf@glory.dcs.ed.ac.uk> <20011005190004.H7421@deadbeast.net> <dh3r8s4am45.fsf@glory.dcs.ed.ac.uk>
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Mr. Bigelow,

Hello, my name is Branden Robinson and I package XFree86 for the Debian
GNU/Linux distribution.

At Juliusz Chroboczek's urging I am writing you to share with you my
thoughts on the licensing of the Luxi (n=E9e Lucidux) fonts that are
distributed with XFree86, which Debian has had to remove from our
packaging of XFree86 because they -- just barely -- fail to meet our
guidelines for "Free Software" (which, incidentally, form the basis of
and are practically identical to the "Open Source Definition" as
promulgated by the Open Source Initiative, of which you may have heard),
and we are committed to distributing only Free Software as part of
Debian proper.

I understand that you may be apprehensive about hearing from some
proselytizing zealot, so let me pre-emptively clear the air by saying
that I respect the right of B&H to license the fruits of their labor
under whatever terms they wish.  I am personally content to live and let
live as far as the Luxi fonts go, since B&H has business demands to
meet, and Debian, while not a traditional organization, nevertheless has
its own firm principles under which it must operate.

However, since Juliusz has asked me to write you, I thought I would
attempt to explore options that may work to our mutual benefit.

The only part of the Lucidux/Luxi font license that poses a problem for
Debian is the following:

> The Font Software may not be modified, altered, or added to, and in
> particular the designs of glyphs or characters in the Fonts may not be
> modified nor may additional glyphs or characters be added to the
> Fonts, except that composite characters composed of two or more
> characters in the Fonts may be created using the seac (Standard
> Encoding Accented Character) Type 1 operator.

Specifically, this clause cannot be reconciled with point 3 of the
Debian Free Software Guidelines, which says:

> Derived Works
> The license must allow modifications and derived works, and must allow
> them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the
> original software.

Now, while striking the paragraph at issue from the Lucidux/Luxi font
license would be conceptually the simplest approach, I doubt that
solution would be acceptable to B&H, else your company wouldn't have
gone to the trouble of writing it in the first place.  What may be less
obvious is that there are other ways, I think, to achieve the end B&H
has in mind with this clause, and still satisfy DFSG 3, such that
everybody wins.


As I understand it, B&H has applied for and received trademark
protection for the word "Luxi" as applied to digital fonts.  (I have
been told this; I have not tried to verify it myself with the USPTO.)
This provides an avenue for protection of the integrity of the digital
font(s) as B&H knows it, while still granting freedom to others to
modify the font.  For example, you could require that and such modified
font be required to change its name to something other than "Luxi", or,
alternatively, to append a word to the name of the font so as to reflect
both its origin, and its modified status, e.g., "Luxi Modified", "Luxi
Unofficial", or "Luxi Impure".

Since B&H has trademark protection in the term "Luxi", it has wide
latitude to enforce this requirement.  In actual fact, not only do I
suspect that the overwhelming majority of the Free Software community
will have no trouble respecting this request (for instance, take the
example of the Artistic License, used by Larry Wall's Perl language --
the Artistic License requires that "forks" of the software be renamed),
I also think it is unlikely that anyone in the Free Software community
will bother to distribute a modified version of the Luxi font, and
almost certainly not one that would meet with B&H's disapproval.  (Most
Free Software font geeks I know of are primarily concerned with
increasing the glyph count, so the composite character exception already
granted in the license may be the only de facto modification you are
likely to see.)  Again, see the example of the Perl programming
language; being itself written in a conventional programming language,
with which many more Free Software enthusiasts are familiar than the
nuances of digital typography, it nevertheless is practically
universally accepted in the form it is distributed by its author.  I, at
least, have never heard of a "forked" version of Perl.

You may wonder why the Free Software community, and Debian in
particular, insists upon recognition of a liberty that may in fact never
be exercised with respect to a given piece of software.  I liken it to
an insurance policy; the users of Free Software want to have the freedom
to deviate from a bit of software orthodoxy, if the institution behind
it does something abhorrent.  In practice I think most users simply want
nice fonts that don't hurt their eyes.  The likelihood of somebody
"forking" the Luxi font, and enjoying significant adoption of their
modified version is, in my assessment, about as likely as B&H electing
to make all the glyphs in Luxi undifferentiated boxes.  (And in the
event some enthusiastic individual does come up with a super-enhanced
version of the Luxi font that wows and amazes people, and starts to
displace Luxi in the marketplace, you may end up wanting to incorporate
his changes -- since the source form of Luxi is the same as the
distributed form, this is quite straightforward -- and/or giving him a
job instead of trying to suppress the modified version.)

Thanks very much for your attention (and patience); I apologize for the
length of this mail.  Please do not hesitate to contact me in the event
you have any questions or require any clarifications about the Debian
Project, the Debian Free Software Guidelines, or any other subject I am
competent to address.


The Debian Project

The Debian Social Contract and Free Software Guidelines

Background on Debian

Debian is 2nd Most Popular Linux Distribution according to Linux Journal

G. Branden Robinson                |          Measure with micrometer,
Debian GNU/Linux                   |          mark with chalk,
branden@debian.org                 |          cut with axe,
http://people.debian.org/~branden/ |          hope like hell.

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