Fwd: [Foundation-l] File format policy

Alex Hudson home at alexhudson.com
Mon Jan 21 14:25:03 UTC 2008

On Mon, 2008-01-21 at 13:13 +0000, MJ Ray wrote:
> If there is something that won't fall into exactly one of them, then
> they can't be separated completely.  However, we can distinguish them
> as concepts because there is something which will fall into exactly
> one of them, so it's also a fallacy to say those categories are
> indistinguishable.

I _think_ I agree with that :D

> [...]
> > The law talks in terms of function, not form, and thus the freeness is
> > based on function, not form.
> It talks in terms of both, doesn't it?  That's part of the reason why
> the law on this is a bit of a dog's breakfast and why freedom debates
> about it are messy.

Off the top of my head, I can't think of an example where it talks of
form. In terms of the UK, it gets close - e.g., no moral rights for
computer programs, supposedly no patents either - but it never really
gets into what "computer program" actually means. Indeed, most of the
patent games people have played in the past (a computer program on a
fixed disk, a computer program running on a computer, etc.) have tended
to be on the edges of what function something can have given its form.

Our law tends not to define stuff too closely, and leave it up to case
law - so when it says things like "electronic copies" I guess that for
all intents and purposes means "digital copies" right now, but possibly
not in the future. Certainly "computer program" can be construed more
widely than simply "digital file which a computer can execute". 

In terms of the current debate, I think it's valid to look at things
from either a form or a function standpoint. The form argument makes
sense in certain situations: e.g., I know a number of debian-legal
subscribers adhere to that viewpoint, and when you're shipping something
which is digital then having rules which concern all digital information
makes sense.

What I object to is the argument that the functional standpoint is
fallacious. Either standpoint has "problems". As an example, I've seen a
number of cases of documentation that has been covered by the GPL. Not
only is that a complete stretch (a stretch too far, for me) in terms of
the language, you're potentially in real trouble if you want to print
that stuff out. Assuming it's arguably a "non-source form" under GPLv3,
you have to choose between one of 6a-6e which become increasingly
bizarre in terms of hard-copy literature. While for some documentation
under the GPL is ok, for me I would find it difficult to describe it as
"free". If you have someone else doing manual lay-up for pre-print, it's
obviously non-free because there can never be any "corresponding source"
so you're basically buggered.



More information about the Discussion mailing list