[linux-elitists] RMS is at it again

kmself@ix.netcom.com kmself@ix.netcom.com
Fri Dec 1 14:22:36 PST 2000

on Fri, Dec 01, 2000 at 11:01:28AM -0800, Heather Stern (star@starshine.org) wrote:
> Aaron Lehmann wrote:
> -- Start of PGP signed section.
> > On Fri, Dec 01, 2000 at 10:59:40AM -0600, Joakim Ziegler wrote:

> > I don't think you understand debian. No serious Debian users use
> > CD's over the FTP archive, which is always up-to-date.  RMS' logic
> > is that since you can download .deb packages from the debian ftp
> > archive, and since there are thousands of GPL'd debs they only point
> > to the one copy that IS included in the base system, people COULD
> > download a deb without being on a debian system, convert it to some
> > other format, and not have a copy of the GPL!!! What a major
> > violation on Debian's part!

I think this is a reasonable representation RMS's argument.

> > Do you see how this is absurd?

Not necessarily.  I'm not yet convinced one way or the other.

> Even with that absurdity, they don't need to ship the whole GPL in
> every pack.  They can just use the paragraph that says "This is under
> the GPL (version bla etc). You should have a copy in (whatever
> directory debian likes to keep it in, at the time the package ships).
> You can get always request a complete copy from (FSF address)"

Possibly, though I think the argument has to be structured more tightly.
And reference to the FSF probably won't fly, Debian will have to point
to a copy of the GPL they maintain themselves for download.  

Restructured slightly from the GPL's format for clarity, lettered
subsections added:

    1. You may copy and distribute verbatim copies of the Program's
    source code as you receive it, in any medium, provided that you
      (a). conspicuously and appropriately publish on each copy an
	appropriate copyright notice and disclaimer of warranty;

      (b). keep intact all the notices that refer to this License and to
	the absence of any warranty;

      (c). and give any other recipients of the Program a copy of this
        License along with the Program.

The © issue is (c).

If (c) means that every GPL'd package needs to be accompanied by a copy
of the full GPL, and that 80% of all packages are GPLd (this is low,
IIRC), then, for my system, with 19K per copy, we've got:

  1027 packages * 80% * 19K = 15610 KB = 15 MB 
of additional storage and file transfer.  Not tremendous, but
substantial over a dialup.  For the full Debian system, assuming 4k
packages the value is on the order of 60.8 MB.

> Let's take his scenario at its tightest bound, where he is purely
> right and some nefarious twit is out there downloading .deb's and any
> .rpm's that don't carry defensive notes, and burying them in propriety
> because "my copy came with no license therefore I can do it".
> Bullpocky.  Drag their butt into court, show the judge your copyright
> filing and the ways which you properly provide the info, and he throws
> the book at this clown for clearly circumventing the normal way of
> things.

I agree that the issue isn't what others might to with packages which
aren't distributed with copies of the GPL.  It's the Debian group's own
conformance with the terms of the GPL.

> The real problem with RMS' philosophy is that he claims a fairly noble ideal
> (which he also seems to deeply believe in) but, he has chosen a means to 
> implement it which depends on lawyers and restricting rights.  Restriction of
> rights as a means to a goal of increased rights.... I dunno 'bout *you* but
> I see a bug in this design.

I respect it.  It's a compromise of some reduced individual rights for
an increase in societal rights.   GPL is a *very* cool hat trick.

> At least in Debian's case, a fairly thorough effort is made to retain contact
> with the real copyright holders - if it comes to something nasty, a lot of 
> the debian project could turn to another license (doesn't have to bs BSD,
> could be MIT or Artistic or the one Tom Oehser uses on Tomsrtbt, or something
> crafted to clearly express DFSG in legalese) fairly quickly (within a few 
> months).  

I disagree strongly.  

Of some 7,557 packages on SourceForge, 5,492 are under GPL, 742 under
LGPL.  That's 82% of all software.  Counts at Freshmeat are similar, and
my results combing through Debian's copyright files recently are not far
off, though slightly less accurate than the typical Floridian election.
Much significant software is controlled directly by FSF and the GNU
project; I can pretty much guarantee that alternative licensing won't be

The issue isn't one of finding an appropriate license, it's accommodating
the requirements of the GNU GPL.

> Anyways the Debian gang are among the FSF's boosters for the most part, so 
> what I really wonder, is who told off RMS such that he decided to have a 
> public tantrum.  

My observation is that RMS tends to walk a rather straight line.
There's a potential GPL issue.  He's addressing it.

Looking to alternatives, one might be to work out a way that:

  1. Doesn't put the overhead of transferring and storing copies of the
     GPL on people who are receiving programs through the Debian
     packaging system -- e.g.:  they've already got the license as part
     of the base system.  GPL *is a fundamental part* of Debian.

  2. Does transfer a copy, or indicate that the user must download an
     additional file, for those who are downloading debs independently.

The question IMO is whether or not "a work" is defined as:

  1. Debian as a whole.  In which case, we're compliant.

  2. An individual archive file.  In which case, we're not, and the
     solution is to add a copy of the L/GPL explicitly to each .deb
     governed by the L/GPL.

  3. A set of files, not necessarily integrally combined.  In which
     case, a social and procedural, but not technical, fix is possible.
     In the event of automated downloads, the tools will ensure that
     individuals have a copy of the L/GPL.  In the event of manual
     downloads, the recipient is directed to download a copy of the the
     L/GPL, but the Debian project can't be held accountable for this

The problem isn't Debian CDs and live-system updates, it's individual
.deb distributions.  Agreement on that?

IANAL, this is not legal advice.

Karsten M. Self <kmself@ix.netcom.com>     http://www.netcom.com/~kmself
 Evangelist, Zelerate, Inc.                      http://www.zelerate.org
  What part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?      There is no K5 cabal
   http://gestalt-system.sourceforge.net/        http://www.kuro5hin.org
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