[TAG] Compliments to you all.
rick at linuxmafia.com
Fri Jun 11 23:51:46 MSD 2004
Quoting Jimmy O'Regan (jimregan at o2.ie):
> I've been meaning to bring this up, but didn't want to do it during
> Mike's last month or Ben's first. Debian considers the OPL non-free:
It's difficult to know just from reading random mailing lists and Web
sites what "Debian considers".
http://www.debian.org/legal/licenses/ and its mirrors (such as the NL
one mentioned above) have contents determined by some unspecified Web
maintainer. He is posting there "summaries" of discussions on
debian-legal. The debian-legal mailing list is open to the public;
contributors include sundry of the 1000-odd Debian package maintainers,
as well as random individuals who are not Debian package maintainers
(such as Greg Hankins, and me).
When I post to debian-legal on licensing, I clearly don't speak
authoritatively for Debian. Neither does Greg Hankins. (To the best of
my understanding, he sysadmins some important mirror sites for Debian
and for LDP, but is not a Debian developer.) You might wonder, then,
who does? Does anyone?
There's an understandable tendency to think "All Knowledge Is Contained
in Google", and just find some Web page that metaphorically speaks in an
authoritative tone concerning debian-legal's judgements on licences, and
the above-cited Web page points to Hankins's "summary" post. What, you
might ask, is the authority of that post, and of the posts it
summarises? Well you should ask.
Here's an except from a post I made to one of LDP's mailing lists on
As a Debian-using sysadmin and volunteer on several Debian Project
mailing lists (including debian-legal, from time to time), I've long
wondered what in Debian governance _does_ constitute the final word in
whether a licence is DFSG-compiant. However, I put off the question,
having other things to contend with. I guess today's the day. ;->
Ultimately, the Debian Project consists of its 1000+ recognised
developers as a theoretical committee of the whole, but, starting in
1998 they adopted a Debian Constitution
(http://www.debian.org/devel/constitution), now amended to version 1.3.
The Constitution provides that decisions shall be made by the Project
Leader (elected for one-year terms by the developers), a Project
Secretary (appointed for one-year terms by the Project Leader and the
sitting Project Secretary), Delegates appointed by the Project Leader to
be in charge of powers and decisions delegated by the Leader, a
Technical Committee, and developers themselves. Developers may act
through General Resolutions voted on by all developers of record.
Supermajorities are required to override the Technical Committee or amend
the Constitution; otherwise, a majority is sovereign on any matter.
I hope there's a proper record of adopted General Resolutions somewhere;
unofficially one can find them in Debian Weekly News's archive.
Developers are supposed to be guided by the New Maintainer's Guide and
the Debian Policy Manual (http://www.debian.org/doc/debian-policy/).
The latter's maintained by members of the Debian Policy mailing list,
charge with updating it for Technical Committee decisions, etc. On
licensing, it says (section 2.2 et seq.):
Every package in main and non-US/main must comply with the DFSG
(Debian Free Software Guidelines). [...] [and]
must meet all policy requirements presented in this manual.
Every package in contrib and non-US/contrib must comply with the
DFSG. [...] [and] must meet all policy requirements presented in
When in doubt about a copyright, send mail to
debian-legal at lists.debian.org. Be prepared to provide us with the
So, the answer to my question (and yours) appears to be that any
material being considered for inclusion in one of the Debian collections
will be scrutinised for DFSG-freeness by the individual package
maintainer responsible for it, and he alone gets to decide that
question, but is encouraged to seek advice from the membership of
debian-legal if he's in doubt.
Accordingly, I doubt there's such thing as a definitive list of
DFSG-free licences; I have to wonder about the authority of any that are
claimed to exist. (Sorry if that's not the news your were hoping for.)
Disclaimer: I'm speaking for nobody but myself, and might be speaking
through my hat, at that. Caveat lector.
Now, as it happens, I've seen quite a few discussions of licensing on
debian-legal that have, in my view, gone off into lala land, citing
entirely bogus reasoning why sundry non-objectionable licence terms
supposedly make a licence "non-free". Unfortunately, I generally find
out about those discussions only after the fact, when I'm catching up on
my oft-neglected mbox for debian-legal and debian-developer threads.
Had I seen the cited thread about OPL in a timely fashion, I would have
vigourously dissected some of the critiques directed at it, as either
resting on erroneous assumptions or applying additional criteria neither
included nor (rationally) implied by the DFSG.
Why does this happen? In some cases, it's because the poster misreads
the licence, or is unfamiliar with details of copyright (or trademark)
law. But also, the social nature of debian-legal invites people to find
creative objections to licences: If you have no objection, then you
have no input, so you're motivated to find an objection. Rebutting
objections requires both energy and the willingness to educate people
about how licensing works -- which is a great deal more difficult and
time-consuming than dreaming up the objections in the first place.
In any event, the mere fact that Greg Hankins posted a "summary" of some
net.randoms' ill-conceived opinions, and then a nameless Web admin
pointed to that summary as if it were definitive, fails to make that the
case. Is the Debian package maintainer likely to be swayed by such
posturing? Dunno; ask him.
> I don't think Debian are in any hurry to remove LG, but I think it'd be
> nice to have a statement for them if they do.
Did you think to ask the (basically sole, absent appeal to the Technical
Committee, or a General Resolution) relevant party? Probably not. On
the other hand, you might prefer to let sleeping dogs lie. On the
gripping hand, LG might prefer to adopt a different licence, anyway.
I'm not going to bother dissecting the Hankins summary unless someone
really wants / needs such.
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