[TAG] [lgang] Debian & OPL
rick at linuxmafia.com
Fri Feb 16 23:31:19 MSK 2007
(Wouter, apologies for the long CCed e-mail. This post is relevant to
the packages you kindly maintain of _Linux Gazette_ issues. Ben, I
consider my wording publishable, despite its bluntness, so I'm moving
from lgang to tag. If I've erred, my apologies to you, too.)
Quoting Benjamin A. Okopnik (ben at linuxgazette.net):
> I want to toss something out for discussion, although I'm really,
> *really* not in much of a shape for a wrestling match. BTW, all the
> credit goes to Sam, who pointed this out to me. In short, Debian's
> position (via Jeremy Hankins) is that the license under which we pub LG
> is not Open Source. This, to put it mildly, blows.
To be more precise: Jeremy Hankins's 2004 posting (on the debian-legal
mailing list) said that "debian-legal has concluded that OPL is not a
Debian-legal (d-l) is an unmoderated mailing list completely open to the
public. There is no hierarchy on it; nobody is required to be a Debian
developer (package maintainer) or official, and licensing freaks of all
descriptions with any form of connection with the Debian Project or none
at all can and do participate. (I'm a longtime subscriber, being a
sysadmin running almost exclusively Debian, but mostly don't read the
To be blunt, there are loons -- well-intentioned loons but loons completely
devoid of either a sense of perspective or any actual _and necessary_
knowledge of copyright and trademark law. Many loony opinions get
incorporated into posts that someone then claims in a summary post is
what "debian-legal has concluded".
The "Dissident Test", "Desert Island Test", and "Tentacles of Evil Test"
are theoretical constructs that various d-l loons have established over
the years on that rather odd forum; they have no official status
whatsoever within the Debian Project, nor does the "DFSG and Software
License FAQ", nor do various people's summaries of what "debian-legal
You might reasonably ask: What _does_ have official status concerning
DFSG-freeness within the Debian Project? I will get more directly to
that question further down.
Here's an inquiry I wrote, two years back, when similar questions arose
over at the Linux Documentation Project. Debian developer (and
attorney) Andrew M.A. Cater promised me a "long response", but none
has ever arrived:
From rick Wed Mar 9 18:28:04 2005
Date: Wed, 9 Mar 2005 18:28:04 -0800
To: amacater at galactic.demon.co.uk
Cc: Martin Wheeler <mwheeler at startext.co.uk>, emmajane at tldp.org
Subject: Inquiry about Debian licensing pages
Dear Mr Cater:
Greetings. Martin Wheeler <mwheeler at startext.co.uk> suggested that I
consult you (not professionally!) on a Debian matter related to
licensing, as he says you are an attorney with a keen interest in Debian
issues. I apologise for intruding on your free time. If you lack time
or interest, I fully understand.
Martin and I both participate with the Linux Documentation Project.
(I maintain a HOWTO and a FAQ for the LDP.) I'm a longtime Debian
sysadmin, but have not gone through the New Maintainer process.
I am not an attorney. When I was employed at [major Linux company name
snipped from this post], I was the unofficial licensing expert (although
an amateur). Fortunately, my present concerns are more organisational
1. There are pages on Debian Project hosts that profess to classify
licences as to DFSG-free or not. Examples:
This is Barak A. Perlmutter's page (but clearly is on
a set of _personal_ pages, unlike the next two).
I believe this to have been created by Joachim Breitner.
The person who maintains this page is not indicated.
I have seen many people referred to these pages, particularly the
latter, as speaking definitively for the Debian Project. LDP
volunteer Emma Jane Hogbin did exactly that, on the
discuss at lists.tldp.org mailing list, in context of her intent to
address Debian's rules about documentation licensing in her next
review of the LDP Author Guide.
Martin informs me that you subscribe to that list, and would have
seen the thread. My main concern is with the
http://www.debian.org/legal/licenses/ page, and secondarily with
the http://wiki.debian.net/?DFSGLicenses one.
2. My understanding of Debian governance, including as to speaking
definitively on licence DFSG-freeness, is as outlined here:
http://lists.tldp.org/index.cgi?1:mss:7165 Please pardon my
incorporating it by reference rather than inclusion; I'm trying to
3. If my understanding of Debian governance is correct, then unless
the contents of those two pages can be vetted against General
Resolutions, decisions of the DPL, decisions of the Project
Secretary, decisions of various Deputies, or decisions of the
Technical Committee, the pages have zero authority -- though they
4. I have attempted to read all such General Resolutions and decisions
on record that address DFSG-freeness of documentation licensing,
and have been unable to vet those pages' contents.
5. I am thus tentatively concluding that the page are deceptive in
effect (though probably not in intent). I am tempted to post some
public pages of my own to publicise that point.
Any comments on the above would be welcome.
You might wonder why I care. One reason is that the pages' complaints
about some licenses strike me as being based in error (on the part of
various license-discuss participants) and careless misinterpretation of
particular license terms. Thus, the "licence summaries" strike me as
being, in at least a couple of cases, frivolous and unreliable.
As an example, the objection to the Creative Commons BY 1.0 licence's
trademark clause on http://www.debian.org/legal/licenses/dls-006-ccby
strikes me as reflecting ignorance of trademark law and the purpose of
The opinion was stated by Jeremy Hankins in
http://lists.debian.org/debian-legal/2004/04/msg00031.html summarising the
view of Nathanael Nerode in
http://lists.debian.org/debian-legal/2004/03/msg00268.html . Both seem
to not grasp that the clause merely states that Creative Commons conveys
no trademark licence.
This matters to me personally because other CC licenses with the same
clause strike me as clearly DFSG-free and highly useful, such as BY-SA
Additionally, some of the things held to "excessively restrict
modification" (DFSG #3), such as CC BY 1.0's requirement that reference
to a licensor's name be purged from derivatives, are an absurd failure
of perspective. No legitimate modification need is barred by that,
Thank you again, for your time and trouble.
> Frankly, I'm not particularly wedded to the OPL; I just want a Open
> Source license under which our authors are guaranteed their due (i.e.,
> credit.) I'm not inclined to jump into changes with every change of wind
> direction, but it appears to me that changing to, say, the GPL as
> suggested, or one of the CreativeCommons licenses would make sense at
> this point. I'd appreciate suggestions, viewpoints, input, etc.
As noted, d-l "summaries" and related highly-unofficial-but-pretending-
otherwise Web pages have ignorantly deprecated various CC licences as
FWIW, I see nothing wrong with "GPLv2 or any later version" as a
documentation licensing standard. Michael Stutz has written capably on that
topic, here: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/nonsoftware-copyleft.html
To get back to the question I raise, in a functional sense,
DFSG-freeness is left to the judgement of individual Debian developers.
They are expected to heed General Resolutions, decisions of the Debian
Project Leader, decisions of the Project Secretary, decisions of various
Deputies, and decisions of the Technical Committee. Debian developers
are encouraged, by Debian's governing documents, to _consult_ with d-l
on licensing questions, but are in NO way required to take seriously any
particular thing they hear -- thank Ghod.
In a functional sense, they are most likely to be overridden, if ever,
by the "ftpmaster team". See:
So, the current LG packages are likely to remain in Debian despite the
licensing objections of Jeremy Hankins and/or various d-l kooks as long
as Wouter Verhelst considers them appropriate and the ftpmasters don't
consider him severely out of line.
Cheers, "Your program just attempted an illegal instruction. No worries, mate."
Rick Moen -- Australian error messages, #14 in a series
rick at linuxmafia.com
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