Fwd: [Foundation-l] File format policy

David Gerard dgerard at gmail.com
Sun Jan 20 13:55:25 UTC 2008

On 20/01/2008, Ben Finney <ben at benfinney.id.au> wrote:
> On 20-Jan-2008, Alex Hudson wrote:
> > On Sun, 2008-01-20 at 11:41 +1100, Ben Finney wrote:

> > > 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.

> > That's not a fallacy, it's a difference of opinion.

> It's a fact that bit-collections can be simultaneously "program",
> "documentation", "art", and "documentation". Therefore it's a fallacy
> to name those categories and expect that bit-collections will fall
> into exactly one of them.

> > It's perfectly possible to talk about digital works in terms of what
> > their function is, what freedoms you might need for those functions,
> > and whether or not a work is free for a certain function.

> You're saying the freedom of a work depends on the function an
> arbitrary person has in mind for it? Who gets to be that person? What
> if one recipient of the work has a different function in mind for it?
> This logic leads to a single work being both free and non-free. That's
> not a way to draft a robust policy on freedom of works.

That's because the law isn't logical in this respect. You may wish to
reread "What Colour Are Your Bits?":


Precis: just because it doesn't make any damn sense to anyone who
understands this stuff, doesn't mean that the law is not what it
actually is, with people willing to enforce the law's interpretation
with money and guns. (c.f. the DMCA and software patents for other
legal constructs that make no sense but are part of the reality we
have to deal with.) Our licensing policy is essentially a legal
matter, because licenses are legal constructs.

So we do actually separate software and documents. (And don't allow
document uploads with active content, i.e. that written in something
Turing-complete.) There is also the fact that our content contributors
and software contributors are almost disjoint groups, with the second
ridiculously smaller than the first. So writing something directly in
terms of the content contributors, rather than pointing at the
software policy and saying "transpose it yourself."

(Our software policy is "free software only". We do allow some
almost-free stuff as a secondary option - e.g. if you don't have VLC
as a plugin then video will try to play in Cortado, which is written
in Java. Java is not quite free yet, but we're reasonably confident
Sun will continue to free it up and won't embarrass us in this
respect. We look forward to a Theora-playing <VIDEO> element that's
reasonably available (i.e. in Firefox 3) and not buggy as hell (e.g.
in Opera 9.5 previews) - it would supply a very nice and popular use
case to drag Nokia and Apple kicking and screaming to the Theora
party. We're currently encouraging along a company doing Flash-based
video editing to get it all working in free formats on free software,
and they're working to get their stuff there. Etc., etc.)

- d.

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