Manuals, software, programs (Re: Savannah rejects a project because it uses GPL)

Ben Finney ben at
Sun Feb 12 23:24:16 UTC 2006

On 12-Feb-2006, Alfred M. Szmidt wrote:
>    To be clear, are you saying that source code is *not* a program?
> Yes.

>    If the preferred form for modification of a manual is not
>    human-readable, and is not a program, what is it? Software? A
>    manual?  Something else -- if so, what?
> Good questions.  I would say `data'.

So, you believe source code *is not* software?

> I think that anything that can be converted into a program is
> software

So, you believe source code *is* software?

Please, if you want to have some freedoms reserved only to things that
are "software", we need to know what you think software *is*.

>    I'll take that as an answer of "all PostScript and LaTeX programs
>    are software"; if you don't believe that's true, I'd still like
>    to know your answer to that question.
> Yes, that would be the answer.

This fits with "source code is software", because both those languages
have their source code executed as a program by the target machine.

>    How does this affect your definition of software? Is that
>    definition inclusive of something other than programs -- if so,
>    what does it include?
> I don't think it affects it at all.

It directly affects whether your definition of "software" includes the
source code.

A license like the GPL grants freedom to perform acts on something.
Given your definitions so far, what category of thing do you believe a
license like the GPL applies to? Software? Programs? Data? Manuals?
Some combination? Some other set? Please inform us, so we know what
you're saying.

>    I presume you mean to distinguish the human-readable form from
>    the preferred form for modification (the source code) for the
>    manual. Why is one form "the manual" and the other not?
> The human readable form can infact be the preferred form for
> modifications (text files anyone?)  The manual would be what the
> user reads and sees.

The "human readable form" is one form of the manual, yes? The form
that the users reads would be another form of the manual, yes? Are
they not both "the manual", in different forms? Do the grants of the
copyright license not apply to both?

> In the same way that the program is what the user interacts with.
> Compare this to the source code (either for the manual, or the
> program) which a computer cannot grok without some kind of
> transformation.

Are they not both different forms of the program?

As an example, the GPL defines "the Program" as a work containing a
copyright notice granting license under the GPL; and it refers
immediately after that to the "act of running the Program", implying
that both the human-readable and executable forms are *both* "the

Does your defintion of "the program" include both source code and
executable forms, if the two happen to be separate?

If you define the two separately, then what of the case when both are
the same form: under what circumstances is that form "the program" or
"the source code"?

>    Is this distinction of forms of a work significant for the
>    freedoms that should accrue to each form of the work?
> I think so.

Thank you for that direct answer.

>    I define a program as being inclusive of the source code and the
>    executable form. Sometimes they are the same form.
>    I define a document as being inclusive of the source code and
>    human-readable form. Sometimes they are the same form.
> This doesn't answer the question, can a FAQ be a program?

I wasn't aware that question was being asked. I'm still trying to find
out what you believe a program is. As you can see above, there's still
confusion to be cleared up there.

> Cheers, and happy hacking!

And to you.

 \     "[The RIAA] have the patience to keep stomping. They're playing |
  `\      whack-a-mole with an infinite supply of tokens."  -- kennon, |
_o__)                                    |
Ben Finney <ben at>
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