More on DFSG

This was expected. One of the most radical Debianer (Mj Ray) tried to contradict the arguments I gave in my previous post about the original meaning of point #8 of the DFSG. And clearly without historical background, the interpretation of that point can lead to confusion. (Hint for Matthew: That’s why arguing with him is worthless right now.)

Can we then try to correct the formulation of the DFSG to avoid problems like the one we have now ?

I don’t have a patch ready for proposal but I can explain quickly what I have in mind. And if I get some support I may even try to draft a general resolution…

Contents (possibly non-free) which would serve the purpose of a free work and which are freely redistributable could be accepted into main together with the free work in question.

Of course the limitations of those “contents” would be documented in the copyright file of the package.

This idea solves all our current problems :

  • with trademarked names and logo : we can use them;
  • with firmwares : clearly firmware are non-free contents that serve the purpose of free drivers;
  • with GFDL document with invariant section : the invariant section is non-free content serving the purpose of the free software documented.

Would this exception be a disservice to our users ? I don’t think so.

For the pragmatic point of view it’s clearly a win, we can keep the names of well-branded software, we can have drivers working out of the box and we can keep the most valuable documentation we actually have.

From the philisophical point of view it may look like a step backwards, but it’s not. Non-free content is only accepted if it serves the purpose of a free work. And I used the term “content” on purpose, a “program” would not qualify as “content”. Otherwise a non-free software enhancing a free software could have been accepted. But clearly that’s a no-no. We’re about “free software” and that’s what matter for us, so we do our best to spread them and this may require to distribute them together with useful non-free contents.

We probably also need to write a special documentation describing in more length the spirit in which each point of the DFSG has been written and clarify with recent history what is commonly accepted behing each buzzword (i.e. “work” can be program, textual content, multimedia content. and other points like this one). But that’s for later I bet.

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Comments

  1. Andrew Saunders says:

    If you believe that putting non-free stuff into main is in keeping with the spirit of the DFSG, how do you explain Bruce Perens’s statement (http://lists.debian.org/debian-legal/2003/08/msg00690.html) that, when designing them, he “intended for the entire contents of that CD to be under the rights stated in the DSFG – be they software, documentation, or data.”? The “historical background” you’re appealing to appears to prove you wrong in this instance…

    In addition, requiring that the content only be “legally redistributable” would severely inconvenience our distributors (e.g. CD/DVD vendors). As is currently the case with non-free, they’d have to manually check each and every copyright file to see exactly what rights they have with respect to each individual package. Unless the Project undertakes to provide this vetting process itself (in which case the honest thing would be to do this *before* attempting to pass this change, rather than simply promising to do so at a later date) they’d basically have to choose between simply ignoring the problem and risking infringement, or else ship only a “known-good” subset of the archive that they’ve vetted the license terms of. Of course, without central co-ordination, said subset is likely to vary from vendor to vendor. I’m not sure we’d be doing our users that great a service by reducing the availability of Debian in such a fashion.

  2. When I referred to historical background, I was referring to point #8 of the DFSG. However I checked in the archives of debian-private and point #8 has not been much discussed … the only rewording (from the initial draft of Bruce) was about avoiding a contradiction with point 1. So without a statement of Bruce, there’s no historical background on this point.

    But I never said that my current proposition was the real intent of Bruce when he wrote the DFSG !! Please stay accurate.

    Concerning the distributors, there would be no problems. The non-free content accepted on main would be legally redistributable along with the software that it enhances. That’s enough for distributors… the real problem with distributors is the actual __non-free section__ where many different kind of restrictions coexist. But the parts that I propose to include in main would cause no problems.

  3. Andrew Saunders says:

    “But I never said that my current proposition was the real intent of Bruce when he wrote the DFSG !! Please stay accurate.”

    Obviously I failed to make myself clear. Let me try again:

    You think that allowing non-free “content” into main would not be compromising Debian’s principles, yet the very person who authored the DFSG is on record as saying that he intended for them to apply to everything in main. In the face of this, what is the basis for your own claim that your proposal would *not* be a philosophical step backwards?

    “The non-free content accepted on main would be legally redistributable along with the software that it enhances. That’s enough for distributors…”

    This just isn’t true. Stuff with a license along the lines of “You cannot sell this for profit” would still be “legally redistributable”, and yet that’s exactly the sort of thing that would make life very difficult for our CD/DVD vendors. As it stands, your wording is far too vague.

  4. I believe it’s not a philosophical step backwards but I can’t speak for Bruce… and my argument is that the addition of some bits of non-free content serves the purpose of free software by making some free work more useful to our user. And being useful to our users has always been an important goal in Debian.

    Concerning your remark about your distributors, you’re right. But as you say, we can work out something that would make sense. I was too quick in my affirmation but we could require that the “non-free content” in question respect point #1 of the DFSG which sums it up quite well (“Free redistribution”).

  5. Ben Finney says:

    > Contents (possibly non-free) which would serve the purpose of a free work and which are freely redistributable could be accepted into main together with the free work in question.

    How does allowing non-free works in main not compromise our social contract? It breaks the principle that I can take anything in main and exercise the DFSG freedoms on it.

    You are attempting to draw the distinction between different types of work (“content”, in your entry). Why should our users not have freedom over *all* works in main, as we promise?

  6. Our social contract also says ” We will be guided by the needs of our users” and sincerely our users need working drivers (i.e. with firmwares). While the situation may not be perfect, it’s the only one that makes sense in term of service to our user.

    Otherwise we’d have to explain to our users to add “non-free” in sources.list and to install a package called “firmwares”. That would promote non-free and indirectly all non-free software in it…

  7. Ben Finney says:

    > Our social contract also says ” We will be guided by the needs of our users” and sincerely our users need working drivers (i.e. with firmwares).

    Non-sequitur. We already have a mechanism for allowing access to non-free works that we are permitted to redistribute.

    You are proposing that non-free works should suddenly be redefined as free, but have given no basis for that redefinition. You haven’t shown how a non-free work suddenly should be regarded as a free work.

  8. > You are proposing that non-free works should suddenly be redefined as free

    No, I’m proposing that non-free works which significantly improve the value of free software and which have no free equivalent be accepted in main.

    Please stop badly paraphrasing what I said.

  9. Ben Finney says:

    > I’m proposing that non-free works which significantly improve the value of free software and which have no free equivalent be accepted in main.

    This breaks the promise made by Debian: that everything in main is free.

  10. But we didn’t respect that promise for sarge already (GFDL kept) ! And we had firmware in main for years …

    Now we’re aware of those issues and we want to deal with them. But the fact is that having those bits in main didn’t hurt us at all …

Trackbacks

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