Fwd: [Foundation-l] File format policy

Ben Finney ben at benfinney.id.au
Sun Jan 20 00:41:20 UTC 2008

On 19-Jan-2008, David Gerard wrote:
> The Wikimedia Foundation is drafting its policy on freedom of file
> formats. Please pick loopholes, we'd like this to be robust.
> (in this context, "free software" = meets free software definition,
> "free content" =  meets definition 1.0 on freedomdefined.org, which 
> is the same thing for content rather than software)

If you truly want the policy to be robust, it's important to avoid the 
fallacy that programs can be discretely separated from other 
interpretations of digital information.

Whether digital information is "program", "documentation", "image", 
"content", or some other form of information depends largely on how it 
is *interpreted* at a particular time, which is a function of the 
process used to interpret it, *not* something inherent in the 

The very same collection of bits can be "program", "documentation", 
"image", "content", "art", and "data", all at the same time; consider 
e.g. a PostScript program. The other purpose-driven categories of 
digital information have similar overlaps. It's folly to draft a 
policy for *the information itself* that is dependent on its intended 
interpretation, because that it not a function over which the 
policy-maker has jurisdiction.

The term "software" is better understood as opposed to "hardware": 
that is, software is *any* information in digital form, and the medium 
in which it exists at a given moment is the hardware. These 
distinctions persist over time, and so a policy can meaningfully be 
formed around them.

If the freedom of a work is to be usefully defined over time, it 
cannot be on the basis of its interpretation. Attempting to have 
*different* freedoms obtain to a work depending on whether it is 
"documentation", "data", "content", "art", "program" etc. will fail in 
the numerous cases when a work is in several different categories.

 \     "First they came for the verbs, and I said nothing, for verbing |
  `\    weirds language. Then, they arrival for the nouns and I speech |
_o__)                        nothing, for I no verbs."  -- Peter Ellis |
Ben Finney <ben at benfinney.id.au>
-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: signature.asc
Type: application/pgp-signature
Size: 197 bytes
Desc: Digital signature
URL: <http://lists.fsfe.org/pipermail/discussion/attachments/20080120/0607c5ff/attachment.sig>

More information about the Discussion mailing list