One of the things that has kept Debian in heated discussion over the last few years is the question whether the GFDL, or the GNU Free Documentation License, is free according to Debian's own DFSG. We've had three votes on the subject, with the final one decisively saying it's conditionally free.

Or so I thought. Yesterday, Josselin Mouette proposed another GR on the subject, since he believes there's a conflict between GR 2006 001 and the current text of the DFSG.


At least he isn't trying to reverse the effect GR 2006 001. But still; no, the GR does not conflict the text of the DFSG. I used to think otherwise, but got swayed by the discussions on -vote that occurred prior to GR 2006 001, especially (strangely) the one that happened as a result of Anton Zinoviev's amendment, which ended up as choice #3 on the ballot.

At the the time, I was supportive of the original proposal to throw out all GFDL-licensed documents, even though I disliked doing so (for obvious reasons); but I felt that the arguments about the DRM clause did hold.

This was wrong, and it took me an insult to see it. Quoting Anton, myself, and Craig Sanders:

This clause disallows the distribution or storage of copies on DRM-protected media only if a result of that action will be that the reading or further copying of the copies is obstructed or controlled. It is not supposed to refer [to] the use of encryption or file access control on your own copy.
No; however, as written it can be interpreted as such.
only by nutcases with an agenda. normal people (including lawyers and judges) wouldn't have such an insane and insupportable interpretation. that's because normal people rely on facts. and evidence. they don't just make up whatever crap they need to suit their argument.

Craig's way of saying things did not immediately have the intended effect; and had I not grown tired of the discussion, I probably would've missed it. But the fact that I stopped following the discussion gave me some time to think about it, and as such, Craig's argument had a chance to sink in. When I was finally swayed, I failed to attribute it to Craig, however, instead thinking it was an argument by Anton that did it.

The point is this: the mere fact that you're able to construct an interpretation of a license which is logically sound and complies with everything, does not mean that it is a sane interpretation. Lawyers and judges, strange people though they might be according to some jokes, are still people; human beings. If you come up with an interpretation that nobody in court came up with on the first reading of a given text, then chances are rather high nobody will follow you.

That's what really matters: whether something you claim will hold in court. Not whether something you claim holds up to your own argumentation. And yes, claiming that doing chmod -r, or storing something on an encrypted filesystem is somehow restricting distribution, seems a little far-fetched. After all, when I'm storing something on my own hard disk, or even in the privacy of my home-directory on a large shared fileserver, I'm not engaging in a distribution of any kind.

From WordNet (r) 2.0 (August 2003) [wn]:

      n 1: (statistics) an arrangement of values of a variable showing
           their observed or theoretical frequency of occurrence
           [syn: {statistical distribution}]
      2: the spatial property of being scattered about over an area
         or volume [syn: {dispersion}] [ant: {concentration}]
      3: the act of distributing or spreading or apportioning
      4: the commercial activity of transporting and selling goods
         from a producer to a consumer

Definition 3 and 4 seem to require an active action by the originating person; when someone copies a file from your $HOME, you didn't distribute the file to them; they took it from you. In our culture of sharing is good, you should share!, I missed it; but a court would probably see copying without asking for permission more as stealing, rather than distributing.

After all that, the arguments about the DRM clause being too broad seemed a bit weak to me; and given that the FSF had already agreed on it being a bug which needed to be fixed, as they had for the other arguments against the GFDL (apart from the Invariant sections, which are not being discussed here), made me decide that the big giant insane problems with the GFDL are not so much of a problem as most people seem to claim.