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Re: A GNU “social contract”?

From: Mark Wielaard
Subject: Re: A GNU “social contract”?
Date: Sat, 02 Nov 2019 17:13:22 +0100

Hi Andreas,

On Sat, 2019-11-02 at 09:56 +0100, Andreas Enge wrote:
> On Sat, Nov 02, 2019 at 12:49:19AM +0100, Mark Wielaard wrote:
> > > This document states the core commitments of the GNU Project to the
> > > broader free software community.  All current GNU Project members
> > > have agreed to uphold these values.
> > 
> > This might be nitpicking, but should this be more specific to when
> > people work on the GNU project, or can be seen as making statements as
> > part of the GNU project?  Maybe add something like ", while working on
> > the GNU project."?
> I think it is implied, but why not. Actually, I made a few more changes
> that I did not comment on in my previous message. Here I also replaced
> "GNU maintainers" (if I remember well) by "GNU Project members"; it had
> been pointed out that there are quite a few more people working on GNU
> in a position of responsibility (committee work, examination of new package
> proposals, website, and so on), so one would expect all of them to work
> the GNU way. Actually also individual contributors in their work on GNU.
> So I broadened the stakeholders expected to heed the document, and indeed
> then it is less clear that this only refers to their maintainer role, for
> instance. So maybe a bit shorter, add "in their work on GNU"?

Yes, something like that seems a good idea. I also like the broadening
to GNU Project members.

> > > All software written by us is distributed under copyleft licenses, 
> > > designed
> > > to ensure that developers cannot strip off users' freedom from GNU 
> > > software.
> > 
> > As pointed out earlier, this should really be something like "We
> > prefer to...", since there might be situations when we do distribute
> > under non-copyleft licenses.
> Is this true for GNU packages? Do you have an example? I thought it only
> applied to third-party software that is considered as part of the GNU
> system.

There are always exceptions. It sometimes happens when an existing work
is adopted as a GNU package. GNU ncurses and GNU Mig for example are
released under a permissive license. Also larger packages, sometimes
come with runtime or support libraries that are distributed under
permissive terms. GCC for example has a couple of those, some of which
are assigned to the FSF [*]. The GNU maintainers manual also says that
for smaller code snippets, like autoconf macros for example, an all-
permissive license might be more appropriate.
lists some other exceptions where it might be appropriate. For example
when releasing non-software works, which I think we would still like to
be part of GNU. Of course the strong preference is to use some kind of
copyleft license in most cases.

> > > Besides upholding the four essential freedoms, we pay attention
> > > and respond
> > > to new threats to users' freedom as they arise, such as services
> > > as a
> > > software substitute (SaaSS), use of non-free scripts on web
> > > pages, mass
> > > surveillance, digital restrictions management (DRM), etc.
> > 
> > I think these examples are too specific and might not be clear in a
> > couple of years. The essence seems to be that we are looking out
> > for
> > our users so the can effectively have the 4 freedoms. If people
> > technically have free software, but cannot practically exercise the
> > freedoms they should have, then we should take action.
> So you would drop this paragraph, or just the examples?

Just the examples. The idea is important. I just don't know the right
words to express it generically. "If people technically have free
software, but cannot practically exercise the freedoms they should
have, then we should take action." does seem too generic.



[*] BTW. Speaking of GCC, their Mission Statement might make another
good template for basing specific package mission statements on:

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