Debian and the GFDL problem

Hello list,

As many might be aware, the Debian project has been concerned about the
non-freeness of the GNU Free Documentation Licence for a few years
already, and although conversations with the Free Software Foundation
have been ongoing for at least four years, we don't know if our
legal advise to the FSF will end up in a new GFDL version being
published that addresses the problems in time for the new Debian

Due to some changes[0] to the wording of the Social Contract[1] made by
the Debian project, it was decided that the principles of freeness
described by the DFSG would need to apply to all works included in the
Debian archive, not only software. This, of course, includes
documentation licensed under the GFDL.

This week, Debian Developer Anthony Towns sent an email proposing Debian
to release a statement[2] that would make the Project's position with
respect to the GFDL official and mandatory. This is expected to be voted
upon in two weeks, and it's highly probable it will pass with a broad

For detailed information on why Debian thinks the GFDL is not
acceptable, see Manoj Srivastava's “Position Statement” document[3] on the

Now, sorry for this long introduction, but I didn't expect desktop-devel
readers to know what's going on in the debian-vote battlefield. :)

When this vote concludes, Debian maintainers will be forced to get rid
of non-free documentation, including GFDL docs, from the .debs and
.tar.gz's. Today, the team of developers in charge of packaging GNOME in
Debian (known as Debian GNOME team), started to realise that if we don't
start doing something about it now, we might be delaying the etch
release, given the amount of work that removing the works covered by the
FDL in GNOME modules is.

We basically have two practical options, because we better not wait for
the FSF to make the required changes to the GFDL:

1) Edit GNOME tarballs for every version of every module including a
   gnome-doc manual and repackage them without them.

   This would be a great amount of work, and would leave Debian without a
   single user manual for our users to read up in Yelp. I guess we could
   get rid of Yelp too. :)

2) Convince manual authors to a) relicence their works under the GPL, or
   b) double-license them under both the GFDL and GPL.

I personally vouch for 2b) as it gives more choice to people, and doesn't
change the current licensing situation too radically. Also, for reasons
explained in the previously mentioned documents, having different
licences for a program and its documentation is a bad idea, and dual
licensing takes care of that too.

The members of the Debian GNOME team are interested in what the GNOME
project thinks about this problem. If you think relicensing the manuals
is a good idea, we'd have to start a hunt of every copyright holder to
get permission to relicence the manuals. We need to get started sooner
than later, if we want to be ready by 2.16 (which is our optimistic
target for GNOME version to distribute with Debian etch).

This problem is not GNOME specific. A long list of GNU packages and KDE
modules are on the same boat, according to members of the Debian KDE
team, who are going to approach the KDE project with this same concern,
in an attempt to fix the problem on their end.

Jordi (for the GNOME team)


Jordi Mallach Pérez  --  Debian developer
jordi sindominio net     jordi debian org
GnuPG public key information available at

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