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Re: License policy proposal
> On Sat, Sep 09, 2000 at 12:56:36AM +0200, firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
> > Project for the new license policy of the LDP :
> > - accept free document (i.e. released under either GFDL or OPL -A
> > -B)
On Sun, Sep 10, 2000 at 10:50:32PM -0700, David Lawyer wrote:
> I don't agree with this. One problem is that neither of these
> licenses prohibit advertising. Some advertising can be obnoxious,
The following the the sgml source to a document I'm working on but
haven't finished. It covers the advertising issue and more. It's
intended to introduce people to the licensing issues and problems for
free documentation. When reading it you will also see how easy it is
to write (and read) LinuxDoc-sgml.
<!doctype linuxdoc system>
<title> Licenses for Free Documentation [NOT FINISHED]
<date> v0.00 September 2000
Discussion of the need for licenses for free documentation. Critique
and comparison of various licenses [not done]. The need for a "standard"
<sect> What is "Free Documentation"
<p> "Documentation" means technical writings such as the publications
freely distributed electronically by the Linux Documentation Project
for use with the GNU/Linux computer operating system.
But what does "Free" mean here? There are two basic definitions of
"Free". One is free in price. The other is free in use. Free in use
means that one may freely (without paying any fee or the like) copy,
modify and/or distribute the document (or the modified document). It
many also mean that no matter how many times the document is modified
it still remains free. The Free Software Foundation uses the "free in
use" definition. Linux is based on software that is free in this
Fortunately, free in use usually implies free in price. If anyone may
freely copy and distribute a document, then they may put it on the
Internet to be given away to anyone who has Internet access. This is
likely to happen if the document is of significant interest. Thus
it's essentially free in price also. However, since it costs
something to be connected to the Internet, there is in effect a small
cost for delivery of the document. But it still can be considered
free since if something is free, it doesn't necessarily imply that
it's delivered free to your home/office.
<sect> What is Copyright and Public Domain ?
<p> Copyrighted documentation is usually not free because the
copyright prohibits anyone (except the copyright owner) from copying,
distributing, or modifying the document. The copyright owner might
give certain persons permission to do these things, but the owner is
likely to charge a fee for such permission. Thus copyright takes away
the public's "right" to copy, distribute, or modify the work. A
license for free documentation is a contract that restores the rights
which copyright law took away. It also is likely to contain other
provisions and restrictions which hopefully further insure that the
document will remain free. Such a license on a copyrighted work is
often called "copyleft".
The "public domain" consists of documents that are not copyrighted.
Note that any document written after 1989 (in the US) is considered to
be copyrighted even if it doesn't contain a copyright notice. So
documents today fall into the public domain in two ways: the copyright
expires (after 70-150 years or so --it's not simple to explain), or
the author intentionally puts the document into the public domain by
stating this in the document.
Since documents in the public domain are not subject to copyright law
anyone is free to copy, distribute, or modify them. But if one
modifies such a document, they may then copyright the result and
thereby restrict the use of the modified document. The original
document is still in the public domain and anyone may freely make a
different modification to it. Thus for "public domain" there is no
guarantee that future modifications to the document will remain free.
In spite of this problem one may argue that in certain situations it
promotes the public good to put free documentation into the public
domain. Before discussing this, one needs to be aware of the
"locked into a license" problem.
<sect> Locked Into a License
<p> How does a free license insure that future modifications remain
free? To do this the license itself must require that all
modifications (including any document derived from the original)
be issued with a free license. Furthermore, this free license must
insure that all future modifications remain free. An simple way to do
this is to require that all derived works (including modifications) be
issued with the same identical license. But a major problem here is
that the document is locked into a license that can't be easily
<sect1> New Circumstances Need New Licenses, Advertising
<p> There is often a need to change a license due to changing
circumstances (including the discovery of new ways to subvert the
intent of the license). For example some people are modifying
documents by "placing" advertising in them. In some cases the
advertising flashes or suddenly appears out of nowhere and disrupts
the reading of the document. Such ads may not even be in the document
but may be a frame on the screen placed right next to the document or
even in the middle of the document. When one tries to go to the next
page of the document, they may be shown an ad instead. All of this
(or the like) should be prohibited by the license, but unfortunately,
forcing obtrusive ads on people is allowed since no one thought of
this problem when free licenses were being drafted.
This problem is not quite as severe as implied above since one is
usually able to find a website where there is no advertising. For
this reason ads are not likely to be too obtrusive but may still be
somewhat annoying. Unfortunately, commercial search engines may be
more likely to direct persons to sites with ads due to the site
promotion such sites engage in to get viewers. A reader may find it
easier to just tolerate some advertising than spend time searching for
a site that both contains no ads and has up-to-date documentation.
At present, a search for Linux Documentation Project documents often
leads to stale documentation and there is no notice on the document
that it is stale. If many people are sub-optimally reading stale
documents it can be expected that others will wind up reading
documents with ads. Another question is: would it be going too far to
have a free license require that distributors on the Internet make
efforts to supply the latest versions. For a document that I update
every couple of months, I find that only about 10% of the sites found
by a search engine have the latest version. About another 10% have
the previous version while 80% have even older versions.
<sect1> The Interoperability Problem
<p> Another problem is that there are a several different free
licenses available and they are by no means identical. In addition,
some people have written their own licenses. Now what if someone
wants to merge together two or more documents with different licenses
or extract parts of one document to place in another. Unless all the
documents used to create the new document have the same license, such
merging and/or extraction can't be done. The is because the licenses
are not interoperable.
To make a license interoperable, one could require that any derived
document can be licensed under a few other licenses, or under licenses
that meet certain criteria. Then one may be able to draw on the
content of a few different documents, each with different license in
order to create a new document. An even better way to get
interoperability would be to have just one free license.
The problem with having an interoperability clause in a license is the
loopholes that could be introduced by it. For example, there is a
criteria for licenses called "Open Source Definition (TM)". A
license for the Linux Documentation Project was once proposed that
would permit one to use any license that met this criteria (for
derived documents). But the Open Source Definition was written so
that many licenses would meet its criteria and it's debatable whether
or not all licenses that conform to it (or could conform to it) are
<sect> Public Domain vs Copyleft
<p> What are the pros and cons of putting documentation into
the public domain as compared to copyleft (with a free license).
The major argument in favor of placing a free documents into the
public domain is that it solves the interoperability problem since one
may take all (or part) of the document and combine it with any other
free (or non-free) document. One avoids being locked into a license.
Thus, as conditions change, anyone can get it from the public domain,
modify it a little and then copyright it using a free license in
keeping with the times.
On the downside, anyone may also modify it and copyright it with no
license at all (or worse, with a very restrictive license) which means
that the latest version is not freely available. If this happens and
the maintainer of the free version also does an update which is at
least as good as the non-free update then little is lost (or so it
seems). There has thus been a fork in the document with both free and
non-free versions. If the free version is better, most people will
hopefully use that one and save money since they don't need to buy the
non-free one. Unfortunately, it might not work out that way if the
non-free one is released at low cost and heavily publicized. People
who don't know about the free version may wind up paying for the
non-free version. Or the free version may take a long time to
download and be in a format which some people can't read.
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