Documentation vs. Software (Re: Savannah rejects a project because it uses GPL)

Bernhard R. Link brlink at
Sat Feb 18 19:37:19 UTC 2006

* Alfred M. Szmidt <ams at> [060216 20:24]:
> I think you are trying to put documentation and programs into one box.

No, I'm telling that you cannot put programs and documentation shipped
electronical in different boxes.

> One should always examine what kind of work one is handling before
> licensing it.  Sometimes it makes sense to use the modifed-BSD
> license, sometimes the Lesser GPL, sometimes the GPL.  Same applies
> for `text', some `text' is better to be under the GPL, some is better
> to be under the GFDL.

The problem with your analogy is, that BSD, LGPL and GPL are all free,
they only differ in how they protect against non-free stuff.
The GFDL is different, in that if applied to programs it is simply
non-free. It can be better for you to license something non-free, but
I do not want to use it or recommend its usage.

> >  Well, the need for freedoms for program source code is not clear
> >  either.  Many people distpute that.
> How are the freedoms for program source code not clear?  I should be
> able to control what my machine does, what it does, and tell people
> what it did.

And change what it does and distribute it to others. But there are
people telling me that is not needed for programs, and there are people
like you telling me it is not needed for documention.

> >  The free software licenses do. The FDL does not allow modification
> >  in reasonable ways. (plus has some glitches with copying).
> How doesn't it allow for it in a reasonable way?  Last time I checked,
> I could modify a document in anyway I choose.

Now, let's take some example. Let's take the documentation of some
protocol, assume it is only available as FDL. I want to write a
protocoll sniffer for that protocol, so I take the tables for the
different events and their structure from the documentation, use some
editor macros and some hand-editing to make it a program source for
a package printer. Thus I get source code for a program which I have
only available as FDL. (And FDL for source is unsuitable, as for example
I'll have problems getting it into some embedded chip with the whole
license and perhaps some additional licenses in it).

And despite the fact that the documentation in that case was not FDL
but something BSD-like so it was no problem.

> I think we agree here, I think.  But documentation isn't functional.

I think that is the main point of difference. I know that it is most
probably not the same "functional" you meant here, but I want to quote
the preamble of the GFDL:
'The purpose of this License is to make a manual, textbook, or other
functional and useful document "free" ...'

A documentation unrelated to a program is useless. If it is related
it should not be separated. It's reasonable to expect stuff will move
the one way or the other. A good small definition or description from
the comments of a program is often a nice sentence in the documentation.
A good short description from the documentation can sometimes be
added as commentary in the program. Documentation source might include
machine readable stuff to be transformed by some scripts or even 
human to code parts. Programs might get tooltips built in containing
stuff from the documentation. Some part of documentation could be
rewritten using an auto-generated stuff or docstrings or something
like this from the code. There is exchange between them, and
incompatible licenses make this impossible. Thus a license for
documentation needs to be includeable in some free software license
to be free.

> How can more freedom to change what I wrote be good?  Would you be ok
> if you for example wrote "I Bernhard R. Link like dragons", and then
> someone comes and changes this (the text is licensed under the GPL or
> similar) to "I Bernhard R. Link hate freedom"?  I don't think anyone
> has such a right.

There are laws against slander and other things like that coping with
your example. But also for manifestos and personal opinions freedom
is a useful thing. Other people might want to write manifestos too,
and might want to express their opinion. Having to formulate them
all from scratch is quite some work, and allowing people to save time
is in general good. (Of course sometimes you like not to be good
to persons you do not like, or that want to harm you. I do not
want to say that such things should be free, only that it is nicer
if they are.)

> Anything that is of a digital nature is sensible to include in an OS.
> This does not mean that you, or anyone, should have the right to
> change for example the GNU manifest to state something entierly
> different, while still making it sound as if it is the GNU project who
> wrote it.

Again, writing something making it soundas if someone else wrote it is
libel or slander or any other such term layers might use and totaly
unrelated to copyright. My software licenses to not include conditions
that people using it may not torture, kill people or even not break
the law. That's the duty of law to make sure, not of copyright

> I find it quite easy: Computer runs program, human reads text.  I
> would like to see a single human who can actually run a program of
> sufficent size.

But humans read computer programs. (And with free software that is
an important part of programs). And documentation is first read
by computers, too. 

	Bernhard R. Link

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