As part of Fedora's Free software analysis, RahulSundaram sent a list of questions to FSF and got the following response.
From: Richard Stallman <email@example.com> Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org To: email@example.com Cc: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: License questions Date: Sun, 29 Oct 2006 13:45:49 -0500 > > * Sourceless firmware is currently allowed in Fedora as long as it is > > redistributable. Refer to > > http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Packaging/Guidelines#BinaryFirmware for > > more information on this. Is this considered to be allowed by FSF? The question is whether it qualifies as free software. Firmware is software, and non-free firmware is non-free software. (Which processor the software runs on is just a detail.) Since these programs are binary-only, they are clearly not free software. (They are also not open-source.) Their inclusion in Linux itself is a violation of the GPL, but the Linux developers don't seem inclined to enforce the GPL against that violation. At present, essentially all GNU/Linux distros include the non-free firmware, because it was too hard to remove. So we decided to overlook the issue for the time being, and not reject distros on this account. This applies to Fedora the same as to other distros. However, progress is being made on removing non-free firmware from Linux. As this becomes feasible, and after some more time goes by, we will no longer want to make an exception for this category of non-free software. > > * What is FSF's position on distributions that ship patented software > > like mp3 codecs. It seems Blag does for example does this and is listed > > as a Free software distribution. Also note that shipping mp3 codecs > > licensed under GPL is a licensing violation since there is no compatible > > patent grant on it as implicitly specified in the license. The term "patented software" is confusing since it presumes a patent that is specifically about the particular program in question. There are no such patents; that is not how software patents work. The issue is about programs that appear to implement ideas that are covered by patents. That category includes nearly all large programs -- that is what makes software patents such a harmful system. To pick one example, the kernel Linux, Dan Ravicher found that it implemented 283 US patents. We think there is nothing wrong with distributing free software that implements patented ideas, as long as the patent holders don't stop you. > > * What is FSF's take on including sourceless fonts or images or other > > form of data? Fonts are software, so they have to be free. However, the question of the source code for a font can be subtle. If the font is a bitmap, the bitmap itself probably qualifies as source code, since that is the preferred format for editing the font. (The like is true for bitmap images and sound files.) Images and sounds need to be free if they are essential parts of the software. But if they are just decoration, and easily replaced, then they do not have to be free. Thus, images containing logos are acceptable, as long as it is easy to remove them without damaging the software itself. * While Fedora formal documentation and websites do no mention non-free software usually there are specific exceptions to this such as interoperability between Free and non-free JVM's. Would this prevent a distribution from being listed as Free? It depends on whether the program is recommended in a way that would make it effectively part of what users get when they get the distro. In general, something that helps people who already use non-free software to use the free software better with it is ok; something that encourages users of the free software to install non-free software is harmful. The former case arises often for applications, but it is unlikely for a GNU/Linux distro, since it isn't installed on top of other software. The only such case I can think of would be in a dual-boot system, where you could want to explain how to refer to Windows file systems, etc. That would be helping people install Fedora on a machine which already has Windows, which is good. The other, bad case would be telling people how to install a non-free program on Fedora, or mentioning conveniences they might gain by doing so. For a borderline case, a clear and serious exhortation not to use the non-free program would shift it clearly into the former case. > > * Would it be possible for the FSF to go through our packaging > > guidelines at http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Packaging/Guidelines and the > > packages included in Fedora Core and Fedora Extras aside from our own > > licensing audit and point out clear or potential issues with it? We can certainly go through the guidelines. We have not yet done so, but we know of one problem in the current policy: it says that packages can be included which qualify as open source but not as free software. In other words, not all packages need to meet the definition of free software. Given this policy, it would not be useful to check whether Fedora is entirely free at one given time, because even if it is, it might not be entirely free a month later. Thus, before we check the present contents of a distro, we want to see that it has a policy of removing anything non-free that may later be discovered in it, or find its way in. If the policy is in a wiki, that means it could be changed at any time in any way. We can't rely on whatever it says today. We would want to check the policies that you have actually adopted. As for checking the actual packages, we have staff that do this, but it would be a big job. So we would have to work out payment for it. > > * Is there a complete list of items that FSF evaluates a distribution > > against before considering it a Free software distribution? No, but it is a good idea, so we will use these answers as the start of such a list. If you have suggestions, we'd like to hear them. > > There is concern in Fedora that a move towards listing Fedora as a Free > > software distribution would lend the project into FSF's other political > > issues such as GNU/Linux naming. While Fedora as a project shares some > > of the common goals, we are unlikely to have exactly the same position > > in several other issues with FSF. As someone within the Fedora Board > > initiating this effort, I would like to hear your thoughts on this. > > What advantages/disadvantages do you personally see? Calling the system "GNU/Linux" is not a matter of political views, it is a matter of fairness to the developers of GNU. To give the credit for our work to someone who came along later is not nice. Treating us fairly is one thing, and respecting the users' freedom is another. If a package is free, we will say so, even if the developers deny us credit for our work. However, we will probably decline to strongly endorse and promote that package as we would if they treated us fairly. There is a true political issue in the choice between the terms "free software" and "open source", and the respective ideas associated with each. Developers have a right to their political views, and we won't judge the ethics of a distro by the political opinions that come with it. However, when we decide how much to promote a distro, we will certainly do this more if it supports our cause.
Patents and GPL
On Tue, Jul 03, 2007 at 05:41:44PM +0530, Rahul Sundaram wrote: > > Does FSF believe that it is a violation of GPL license, specifically > > section 7 if Free software licensed under the GPL license implements > > features that are affected by patents if any distribution or end users > > distribute such software in regions that don't enforce patents on > > software? An obvious example would be a distribution outside of US > > including a MP3 decoder. Rahul, It's very hard to violate the GPL just because you know about a patent. For example, assuming that MP3 really is patent-encumbered in the United States, you wouldn't violate the GPL if you merely created and distributed an MP3 encoder, even inside the United States. Patent-related GPL violations typically only arise when you either hold the patent, or have a license to the patent. If you hold a patent and distribute GPLed software that exercises that patent, you can't later sue recipients who further distribute or modify the work for patent infringement; that would violate section 6 of GPLv2, which says "You may not impose any further restrictions on the recipients' exercise of the rights granted herein." If you have a patent license that purports to let you distribute GPLed software, but imposes restrictions that are fundamentally incompatible with the GPL, then that would be a violation of section 7 of GPLv2. For instance, suppose the patent license gave you permission to distribute software that exercised the patent's claims, but also said that nobody who received the software must be allowed to modify it. This would conflict with the GPL's requirements to give all your recipients the same rights that you have. Thus, section 7 says, you must not distribute the software at all. I hope this answers your question, and helps clarify where the lines are. If you have further questions, feel free to ask. Best regards, -- Brett Smith Licensing Compliance Engineer, Free Software Foundation
Export Control Regulations And GPL
On Sat, Aug 11, 2007 at 01:14:53AM +0530, Rahul Sundaram wrote: > > Fedora as a distribution is affected by export control regulations as > > any software subjected to US laws from the legal perspective. > > > > http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Distribution/Download/ExportRegulations > > > > Clause 8 in GPL mentions that such regulations are compatible with the > > license but can you confirm FSF's viewpoints on this? Section 8 of GPLv2 doesn't make the sort of sweeping policy statement you're suggesting here. You'll note that we took this clause out of GPLv3 -- but you're not suddenly going to get into export restriction trouble because of it. The question to ask is: what requirement of the GPL does the law prevent you from fulfilling? When it comes to export restrictions, the answer is none. If you comply with local export restrictions, you will not run afoul of any requirements in the GPL. Therefore, there's no conflict. Export restrictions limit who you can give the software to. The GPL has no problem with you being picky about who you give the software to: if you want, you can decide that you'll only distribute to paying customers, or people with blue hair. So the fact that you also decide not to distribute to Iranians and Syrians is no problem as far as the license is concerned. Best regards, -- Brett Smith Licensing Compliance Engineer, Free Software Foundation
On the last point (export control), I believe the FSF is talking about the existence of local export control regulations that the user must comply with in order not to run afoul of local law, as opposed to the existence of contractual/licensing provisions that make compliance with export control laws (including ones that you might not otherwise be subject to) a condition of the copyright license grant. - Richard Fontana