From rick Sat Oct 19 09:38:04 2002
Date: Sat, 19 Oct 2002 09:38:05 -0700
To: sulug-discuss@lists.Stanford.EDU
Subject: Re: Best license for latex slides?
User-Agent: Mutt/1.4i

Quoting Ben Escoto (

> Well, maybe I am misunderstanding the issues, but if the paper version
> of a slide corresponds to a binary, then question 6 of the GPL quiz:
> leads me to believe that simply referencing a web page doesn't
> comply.

Question 6 of the GPL quiz is a political position on the part of the FSF, a bit of licence maximalism on their part, that has misled quite a lot of people. Oddly enough, I think it was inspired by a confrontation between Richard M. Stallman and yrs. truly.

I was called in (as de-facto company licensing expert) by my then employer on a support call for the employer's Linux preload on its servers. The customer worked in a "broadband testing center" of a Midwest telco (a fact whose irony will become apparent in a moment).

The customer had unpacked his new server and fired it up, and was writing to us in displeasure, complaining that he'd received binary CDs but no matching source CDs. In so doing, he had already cc'd RMS on his e-mail. I asked the customer for his address, saying we would be glad, as a courtesy, to burn source code CDs and mail them to him. I said that, if he needed the matching source files sooner, I could tell him exactly where to look on our ftp site (and reminded him that his documentation also had that information).

This guy, sitting on top of gobs of employer-provided download capacity, averred that it was horribly inconvenient for him to retrieve software from the Internet, and that we ought to ship source CD-ROMs with every unit sold. RMS chimed in, at this point, saying it wasn't enough to offer to burn CDs for customers: We had to do that for any lawful recipient of the distributed binaries.

I pointed out that non-customers were welcome to pull down source files or entire ISOs via ftp from the indicated site. RMS countered that this wasn't enough: It had to be "physical media". I said that perhaps he should consult the wording of his own licence: It says nothing whatsoever about "physical media". The obligation of source code access under clause 3b can be satisfied by offering matching source "on a medium customarily used for software interchange".

I pointed out that it was the year 2000, and ftp was par excellence a medium customarily used for software interchange. Stallman accused me of "niggling", and said my "interpretation" wasn't lawful. I said I'd already checked with corporate counsel, who agreed fully with my understanding of the law, and invited him to verify this. I further pointed out that my company's obligation was to honour the terms specified by the software's authors, which were embodied in the wording of the licence they'd selected — and that that wording, as opposed to consulting Richard M. Stallman for his interpetation du jour, was our only reasonable guide to the authors' requirements.

He closed off with some mutters about making matters "clearer" in GPLv3.

In any event, the "quiz" item is propaganda, and rubbish. But don't take my word for it: Read the GPL text attentively, especially clause 3.

> But the Free Documentation License looks good. I thought it was just
> for documentation (as in text documenting a software package) but it
> seems to apply to all documents.

I personally find it ridiculously over-complex, and the bits about invariant texts to be troublesome.

Here's an example of using the GPL itself for documentation:

That's on a piece that's not really a personal essay, so I don't mind if people make derivative works that still have my name attached.

Here's the rationale for how and why to use the GPL on non-software works:

Here's a different sort of work of mine, an essay. In this case, I would object mightily if someone created a goofy derivative work, still bearing my name, and thereby attributed to me views I don't hold:

Note that the licence terms at the bottom allow either verbatim copying or any kind of derivative work that severs the connection with me as author.

Cheers,      "Learning Java has been a slow and tortuous process for me. Every
Rick Moen       few minutes, I start screaming 'No, you fools!' and have to go       read something from _Structure and Interpretation of
Computer Programs_ to de-stress."               -- The Cube,