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Re: [off topic] Re: Licensing issues

On Wed, Sep 22, 1999 at 01:51:57AM -0400, Gary Lawrence Murphy wrote:

> If, on the other hand, research for a book is based on LDP documents
> and makes copious quotes, correcting commentary and grammar, and then
> making logical references to it to support a new point not found in
> the original (ie function call equivalents, corrected functional
> definitions, and new higher-level functions), then, by the GPL, 
> can you sell that book?  
> If a study course (an application) is based on a document, and the
> professor likewise corrects and extends the material, can you charge a fee
> for that course under the GPL?  

The GPL doesn't talk about cost in a dollar sense. Of course you can sell
those things. The question should be: Should those derived works be covered
by GPL?

> Because software has no 'implied' meanings or grades of truth, such a
> derived work could be attributed to the LDP under the GPL.  

To be GPL compliant it would have to also contain obvious notice that
you've modified the work.

> For the same reason Salvador Dali threw a bathtub through Macy's
> window, authors seek control over changes of content, and some control
> over uses, and these are issues which do not occur in software (where
> the only measure of correctness is "bug-free")

Precisely the same arguments hold true for software. I could take a GPL
game that had penguins attacking images of Bill Gates and modify it to
be take on a completely different political stance and that derived work
must still contain referenxes and copyright to the original author.

I don't see the difference.

> I see this as the first problem of the LDP: How do we stay current?

User demand, how do book publishers stay current?

> Docs are not open if there are none.  Unlike software, we don't have a
> pressing need for correct docs; an engineer is not stopped in their
> tracks if the SMP-Howto is not correct, but they are stopped if the
> SMP implementation is buggy.  There is an itch to drive the creation

Bah, I don't know how many or of what sort of HOWTO you've maintained,
but I can assure you part of the reason I handed mine off to other people
was because the work load was just too high, not with keeping the document
up to date, but with responding to questions that people had of things they
didn't understand, or that I'd gotten wrong, or with suggestions for things
that should be included.

There is a healthy community of LDP consumers out there who do actively
contribute to the accuracy and updating of documents.

All I see is a process issue, not an ownership issue.

> such carrot on a stick for documents: Far more than software patches,
> LDP docs are a total selfless gift from the author.

I don't believe that either. We all write/maintain documents for a variety
of reasons. My prime motivation was to appease a conscience upset at not
being skilled/positioned to contribute to the software directly. I can say
I have been, and am a contributor to the Linux community in a positive and
substantive way. That has intrinsic value that I believe is quite similar
to what most of the software authors achieve.

> What I want is a model whereby the people who do have an itch to
> scratch by having good docs (the publishers) can fold all or parts of
> that effort back into the LDP for the benefit of those who cannot
> afford or otherwise have no access to the books (or even just so they
> can properly evaluate a book)

I think such a model would be great if there is an equitable return on the
endorsement that such works receive by being able to claim any sense of
officialness from the LDP.

> Yes, exactly. Perhaps we have been talking about the same thing from
> the same side but using different words.  I am not advocating slapping
> an OPL Option-B on _all_ LDP documents. When I mentioned corporate
> adoption of documents, I meant *big* documents, those of whole book
> proportions.

People tend not to want to read large works online. I don't see the LDP
or the community gaining much by being to publish a document online that
isn't readily consumable in that form.

> If, say, ORA were to adopt the SAG and make it into a first class
> book, cool diagrams, accomodating all the major distros, and their
> rule was they would let us ship it out on the web, ftp and CDROM but
> we are prevented from printing, binding and marketing it (all three
> together; just printing for person or course-study use is still
> allowed), then is there a problem?

I think yes for the reason above. If someone is going to work on a document
for any reason other than remunerative reward, they maximise their win by
having the document published as widely as possible.

Restricting publishing rights on documents stands to act as a disincentive
to some authors, and at best of minimal gain to the community.

> Yes, exactly.  Let me be more direct: I am working with a dozen
> authors to create what I see as the missing functional specifications
> document for the Linux kernel.  I nagged and nagged and nagged MCP
> until they agreed to let me publish under OPL Option-B, but now I am
> worried this will be for naught, and since the LDP may not accept the
> document --- I am also finding many very good authors reluctant to
> participate for fear of LDP reprisals.

I believe the community takes licensing issues seriously as a general rule.
I don't believe the community is necessarily well versed in the technicality
of licensing though, and that it will err on the side of caution == freedom
where there is any doubt. Certainly I will.

> Yes.  If Lucent wants to donate a binary kernel module for their
> winmodem, do we refuse it?  It's a similar situation only they are not

Hmm.. I think hardware vendors who distribute binary only kernel modules will
find growing resistance and pressure to release source. Do such binary modules
get included with Linux's kernel source or endorsed by him?

> saying we cannot modify the content to improve it, only that they are
> the official maintainer until they say otherwise (which is true of all
> LDP submissions) and that they are restricting the document from being
> used against them in the marketplace.

to paraphrase from a cynical viewpoint:

they are prepared to let the wider Linux community contribute to the work
but that they want to arbitrarily limit the freedom of the work to their
own advantage by reducing, nay, eliminating competition.

The reality of the situation will probably be a diversity of works sitting
somewhere within that spectrum. All the while, the publishers are able to
claim implicit endorsement by the LDP while the Linux community gets a work
that it can read online, or perhaps print for itself, both of which are
impractical because of the size/nature of the work.

> I believe the LDP should encourage the free flow of information and
> accomodate Linux education.  When a sprout meets a stone, that is only
> one of many degrees of freedom lost, and I see the interim solution of
> New Riders, ORA, Sams, Coriolis and others using Option-B to protect
> their investment as only the loss of one degree out of many.  I
> believe this clause only exists to frustrate other publishers, ie,
> like the reason Sun and HP &c endorsed open source in X11: To protect
> them against their own kind.

I think if publishing companies feel strongly about that, that they should
do it, without expecting/requiring endorsement from the LDP. I'm sure the
LDP would be happy to maintain an index of material published online in
this fashion without making any claims that those works were works of the

> It does not seem likely to me that your typical LDP users would *want*
> to snarf an entire book and market it in direct competition with an
> ORA edition.  I admit it is a loss of a single freedom, but it doesn't
> seem to me to be a freedom anyone would miss.

Several independent publishers of LDP material exist in countries around
the world. I do believe they would be missed.

> An immediate advantage is having professionally crafted and current
> material in our body of work.  When someone searches the LDP, they
> find these documents, and hopefully find the answer to their question.

If they're not consumable there is no win.

> even though the latter condition is the most common ;) Down the road,
> when all docs are XML and we have the tools to deal with it, one doc
> can lead to other related docs and even small fragments can be
> instantly updated across the board --- it will become unthinkable that
> a question about Linux cannot be answered by the LDP.

I'd like to see that degree of standardisation, but I don't believe it will
be arrived at by asking publishers to assist. Publishers, when faced with
the sort of arrangement you propose will produce competing works. Managing
overlap of information will not be trivial and destroys any sense of the
consistent model your describe, unless you are proposing that the LDP
additionally have the right to select/refuse incorporation of particular
documents or that it have some mandate to determine what documents a
publisher will produce.

> Another advantage is in having readable docs.  There are notable
> exceptions, but as a rule, our current opus is very badly written and
> naively organized ... but we never ever complain because they are
> gifts and we can usually figure out what they meant to say.  Not that

We do complain, the authors have been complaing themselves for some time.
Certainly the readers complain too.

> books are guaranteed to be better ;) but they do have teams of people
> whose full-time profession is to ensure documents are accurate and
> readable, ie tech reviewers, language reviewers, translators ... all
> of their skills are in producing documentation.  We can leverage those
> skills for the benefit of the Linux community.

I appreciate the value of having access to those skills. Still, if you're
a volunatary author sometimes the last thing you want is somebody telling
you that this sentence is unclear and perhaps you ought to mention fardnargle
there. With the existing inconsistency and ad-hoc presentation comes a means
of individual expression on the part of the authors that I think many would
miss if it were removed. The more rules you add, the smaller the potential
audience of authors.

> The long term advantage is relationship building.  If we can bind
> together all the publishers such that they lose their fear of each
> other and can work together, we can eventually apply their talents to
> all of the LDP docs, and without the Option B restriction because they
> will see the integrity of our collection as their best resource ---
> right now, the LDP is what sells every publisher's books precisely
> because of its obtuseness.

The publishers will want control.

> You could just as well say publishers are giving away everything and
> getting nothing they couldn't already take for free.  I was greeted

They're not giving away anything if what they're giving away is unconsumable.
I know many many people who have bought copies of LDP guides in printed form.
When asked why they didn't just print it out the answer is usually that by
the time they had it would have cost as much and been inferior to the
published version. Having exclusive publishing deals can only make that
situation worse.

> And some, like ORA, already have a very good name. Why should they
> bother with the LDP?  Why burn their profits just so the LDP can have
> some nice timely doc updates?  Why should Corliolis fund revisions for
> your benefit?  Each publisher probably puts out more lines of text per
> year than the entire LDP.

So why would they? :) There is obviously value there or else it wouldn't
be being pursued.

> I can't speak for any of them, but I can relay the exact words of the
> senior publisher for the Waite Group: 
>    "I could publish 'cooking with Linux and it would sell', but I
>     don't want to do that.  I want to do it right"

"right" is context dependent.

> closest brethren because we are all in the same line of work.  Are
> they so different from the rest of us?

Yes they are, and you yourself have already pointed out why.

> It all comes back to the mandate of the LDP.  If the mission of the
> LDP is to foster only 100% free documentation, then no, there is no
> advantage to any such partnership, and publishers and the LDP must
> always be in direct competition with each other.

Publishers and the LDP are not in direct competition with each other.
This is simply untrue. There are some elements of competition and some
elements of cooperation.

> If, on the other hand, the LDP mission is to foster Linux education,
> then I believe we have as much to gain as the Kernel had to gain from
> corporate support from SGI and Compaq: We gain the mutually beneficial
> pooling of our knowledge with the technical publishing and document
> management skills we are missing, all working together to help make
> the LDP into an even better resource for the Linux community.

SGI and Compaq did not demand or expect exlusive distribution rights to
the work they contributed.

> I don't even pretend to be one on TV.  My vision of LDP/corporate
> cooperation makes sense to me only under the banner of serving the
> Linux user community interests; you only need to watch a day's worth
> of comp.os.linux.setup to see how we fail to provide what the
> community needs.  I still may be completely off the wall and the whole

I do believe the LDP can improve in delivering on its mission. I do not
believe that what you are proposing will directly address the problems.

I believe the LDP could better meet the needs of the community by
implementing some structure, standards and process. It has always had
some of those things, but I don't believe they've kept up with
community expectations. The LDP has failed to evolve.

As I somewhat cynically suggested in another mail message, the LDP does not
have any sort of agreed decision making process. We can talk and talk and talk
but nothing will happen until people do things and they're either quietly
accepted or they produce debate.

The LDP barely exists. I truly don't know why some group of like-minded people
haven't gone off an established their own Linux documentation project, picked
a catchy name, developed some sort of constitution and actively sought to
encourage existing author to defect or at the very least contribute to both.

if (stalled)

That's how it works isn't it?


terry@albert.animats.net, terry@linux.org.au

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