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Re: Updating the OpenContent license

On Tue, Jan 18, 2000 at 08:31:58AM -0500, Deb Richardson wrote:
> David Lawyer wrote:
> > Since Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation has drafted a
> > "GNU Free Documentation License" I suggest that the Open Publication
> > License (OPL) be merged with it. 
> I think that this is an extremely bad idea.  Having more licenses,
> particularly those like the OPL and the new FSF licenses, is a good
> thing.  Having only one license doesn't do much for an author's "freedom
> of choice", really, particularly when you're talking about removing the
> aspects of the OPL that make it so attractive in many situations.
I was talking about the use of OPL for technical docs.  For
non-technical docs I would keep most of the "aspects" of OPL that you
find "so attractive".

It's important to have a pool of documentation that can be combined
and formed into new documentation.  For example, if there are two
documents on modems each with it's own strengths an weaknesses, it
would be advantageous if they could be combined into to new document.
Duplicate material would be discarded and a new document would be
produced from the old that is much better and complete than either of
the two original documents.  This can't be done (in most cases) if
they are licensed under two different licenses.  This is because most
licenses require that the new work be licensed under the same license.
If license A says that any derived work must be licensed under A and
license B says that any derived work must be licensed under B, one
cannot take parts from A and B and put them together.  There are cases
where one might want to merge 3 or more documents or just take
portions from other docs to create a doc on a more narrow topic.

Thus from this point of view, having more licenses is a very bad
thing.  Authors of course have complete freedom of choice anyway since
they can always write their own license.  But for free technical
documentation which can be freely reused, it's necessary to have one
recommended license (or the like).  An alternative would be to have
say 3 free licenses A, B, and C each of which would say that one may
license any derived work under either A, B, or C.  Then you would have

> > The OPL lets the author choose an option in the license regarding
> > modification.  One case is where one may freely modify the
> > publication without needing to contact the original author (or
> > current maintainer).  Another option (which I don't like) is to
> > allow modification only if the original author consents.  Suppose
> > the original author can't be located, is non-responsive, or is not
> > cooperative in permitting needed modifications.  I think that for
> > free publications, anyone should ultimately have the right to
> > modify them.
> I, as an author, would very much like to be able to choose whether
> others are allowed to modify my released documents or not.  I would
> also like to be able to choose who has and hasn't print publication
> rights.  Granted, restricting print publication rights is a very
> serious restriction.  Documents licensed under such restrictions are
> not appropriate for the Open Source Writers Group project (you can
> read our Licensing Policy at http://www.oswg.org/docs/about.html).
> As an author, however, I would very much like to have that choice.
> More importantly, the ability to restrict modifications is very
> important to me.  If I release a paper or essay, for example, I
> would like to control who makes modifications and what modifications
> are made.  
An author has even more "rights" if they copyright their work without
any license, but this restricts distribution and hurts the consumer.
A purpose of free documentation is to provide the most freedom for
readers to obtain information, not for authors to unreasonably restrict
the modification of their work.  If the control exercised by the
author is reasonable, then I think this is one option that I would
agree with.  But if the author lets an important doc get out of date
and the doc can't be modified because the author can't be located 
then this is wrong.

> Technical documentation is a different story.  I agree that Open
> Content technical documentation should, wherever possible, be
> released under a license that allows for free distribution,
> modification, and publication.  But technical documentation is only
> one category of the documents that could possibly be covered by the
> Open Publication License.  The OPL is, in my opinion, an excellent
> foundation for a more generally usable license.  

Why didn't you say this at first?  In the context of LDP (and Debian)
we are all talking about technical documentation.  However I think
that OPL when used without the "modify only with author's permission"
is a good start for a license for technical documentation.  That's why
I think that it should be merged with the GNU one.  LDP and GNU could
then use this license but would stipulate that options intended
primarily for non-technical works would not be allowed for LDP and GNU

For fictional works, it doesn't do much harm if one can't freely
modify it.  Even in this case one might need to modify it to make it
morally "better".

> It also has to be accepted that not everyone is going to release
> their documents under a license that is acceptable to everyone.
> That's just part of the game.  We cannot _force_ authors to release
> their docs under a certain license (or at all, for that matter), so
> why would we work to eliminate valid licensing options in an effort
> to create a single license?  It's simply non-sensical, and
> completely goes against the whole idea of "freedom" in terms of
> allowing an author's freedom of choice.

Having one license means more freedom for readers since by the free
use of a pool of documents, more and better free documents will be
created.  I would propose that what creates more freedom for readers
also will make authors feel good about it.  I'm not proposing to force
authors to use a certain license but we should explain the reasons for
it and strongly encourage them to do so.  Of course we can't do this
until we think we have such a license and that is what I'm proposing
we attempt to create.

                        David Lawyer

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