There are licenses known for excessive attribution requirements: in a single project the old four-clause BSD license required including 75 different texts in all advertising materials. The license text itself can be long (GNU FDL 1.3 takes more than 3 500 words, the Web browser that I use would spend nine A4 pages to print it): imagine an award pin with an FDL-licensed image or several pages long document derived from a GNU manual. Both need to include the GNU FDL text. It makes the license, despite being free (possibly in specific cases for FDL; in all cases for GNU GPL), unusable for some kinds of free works.

If you don’t consider award pins sufficiently complex and original, imagine a postcard from a traveling family member. It should have a beautiful photo on one side, like the ones that Wikimedia Commons has, and the whole other side filled by a letter describing their holidays, and your postal address. There is no place to fit nine pages of license text there, and the postcard is distributed by itself, so no separate booklet with required legal texts can be included.

It’s one of the reason for GNU FDL being used for ‘professional’ photos: it’s free, so it is accepted in free culture projects like Wikimedia Commons, but it's unusable so proprietary relicensing businesses work. Wikimedia Commons now discourages using GNU FDL for photos without dual-licensing under a more usable license.

I do believe that this is a significant bug in the license: copyleft licenses should be designed to not support proprietary relicensing or proprietary extensions businesses (i.e. proprietary software businesses) and should not have features that are useful nearly only for such businesses (while FDL has several, possibly since the license was designed to be used by traditional publishers). (There are several different problems in other, more important, copyleft licenses like GNU AGPL or GNU GPL3, e.g. the optional attribution requirement. Some of them are solved in copyleft-next; e.g. the Nullification of Copyleft/Proprietary Dual Licensing clause protects against proprietary relicensing by removing the copyleft for all in some cases.)

How can we solve this problem? By not distributing FDL-licensed works and by not recommending the use of such licenses for cultural works. This requires recommending specific better licenses.

GNU recommends their all-permissive license for short documents like README files. Unless the work is a part of a GNU package, a free Creative Commons license is probably a better solution: copyleft (without source provision requirement) CC-BY-SA, permissive CC-BY or ‘public domain but legal everywhere’ CC0. In its clause 3(a)(1)(C), CC-BY-SA 4.0 requires to

indicate the Licensed Material is licensed under this Public License, and include the text of, or the URI or hyperlink to, this Public License,

so it’s sufficient to fit an URI like https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/. (I have seen a much longer text than this URI written on a single pea seed in a local museum, so this surely works for bigger works like award pins or postcards.)

A more general term is used in copyleft-next: ‘inform recipients how they can obtain a copy of this License’ which is obviously satisfied by an URI. (The whole officially recommended license notice is: ‘Licensed under copyleft-next version 0.3.0. See https://gitorious.org/copyleft-next/copyleft-next/raw/master:Releases/copyleft-next-0.3.0 for more information’. Compare the three paragraphs recommended for the GNU GPL.)

This couldn’t have been done several decades ago. There was no Web in 1991 when GNU GPL2 was released (this is why usual GPL legal notices had an FSF address, changed several times after the license was released, until the GPL3 with both an URL and distributed license copy). It was reasonable to assume that the user couldn’t have obtained the license text from the Web, but now it’s probable that every computer user can access the Web, although not necessarily from their home. (How many GPL software recipients can access postal mail to use the source offers and not the Web?)

(This is not the only problem with long licenses or requiring to include their text in the work. It is a bigger problem that some licenses are too complex or too badly written to be understood by users, but that problem cannot be as easily quantified as their texts not fitting in the work: understanding of licenses is ‘cached’ in memories of their readers who have already met e.g. the GNU GPL3 for many other works. It would be also possible, and evil, to write a very short and incomprehensible license.)


PlaneShift and free software

Published on Sat 11 April 2015. Filed under . Tags .

On the download page of PlaneShift I see big letters ‘Fully Free Cross-Platform MMORPG’ and ‘Open Source Development!’. They provide the source code of their client, while writing how this helps user’s freedom and security. (I prefer using clearer terms like free software and copyleft for the exact things ...

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Free software with nonfree dependencies and the emulation argument

Published on Sun 15 March 2015. Filed under . Tags .

There is a fallacy that if program X requires nonfree software, then program X is nonfree. (I discuss software that is free as in user’s freedom, not software with external costs. X is a placeholder variable, not the name of a concrete program, while there are relevant issues in ...

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Free software Flash replacements and the JavaScript trap

Published on Sat 13 December 2014. Filed under . Tags .

One of the nonfree programs that make it hard for many people to use completely free software operating systems is Adobe Flash. There are several free software projects aiming to replace the Flash interpreter, one of them is an FSF high priority project. I don’t believe that developing such ...

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LibrePlanet 2014 stream recordings

Published on Sun 23 March 2014. Filed under . Tags .

The LibrePlanet 2014 conference talks end today. Since there are no official recordings yet, several users published copies of fragments of the live streams that they have downloaded. This page lists the fragments that I know.

See the official program for a complete list of talks. Live stream fragments of ...

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DRM in free software

Published on Wed 12 March 2014. Filed under . Tags .

Free software has less antifeatures than proprietary software and users can remove them. While a well-known distro vendor includes spyware, such bugs usually get fixed. Despite these, some well-known free programs include antifeatures restricting uses or modification of data that these programs should access or edit.

These antifeatures are called ...

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Buying a freedom-respecting USB wifi card for a Lenovo laptop

Published on Tue 18 February 2014. Filed under . Tags .

I received a second-hand Lenovo ThinkPad R400. It’s compatible with Trisquel GNU/Linux 6.0.1 except for its Intel wifi card that needs nonfree firmware (while its fingerprint reader needs an updated userspace driver). I decided to buy a compatible card, since it’s more practical than getting ...

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Missing source code for non-software works in free GNU/Linux distributions

Most software cannot be edited without a source, making source availability necessary for software freedom. Free GNU/Linux distributions have an explicit requirement to provide sources of included software. Despite this, they include works without source. I do believe this is practically acceptable, while it restricts potential uses of the ...

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How can we improve hardware support in free GNU/Linux distributions?

Published on Sun 09 June 2013. Filed under . Tags .

Answering questions on free distro IRC channels I find two main reasons for people to not use these distros: hardware depending on nonfree software and specific nonfree applications that they ‘need’. (There are other reasons, like other free distros being better for the purposes of the user or having newer ...

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Laptops and free software

Published on Sun 02 June 2013. Filed under . Tags .

Users of free GNU/Linux distributions often choose computers that can be optimally used without installing nonfree software. This article is based on many discussions of such hardware and problems making this a nontrivial issue.

There are no free laptops: all use CPUs that the user cannot study, manufacture nor ...

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Nonfree firmware in Linux and OpenBSD; why it should be free

Published on Sun 12 May 2013. Filed under . Tags .

The FSF doesn't endorse most GNU/Linux distributions for mainly two reasons: they have no rules against including nonfree programs and include nonfree firmware blobs in their kernels. This article shows some specific examples of such firmware, its usually nonfree licenses and problems that could be solved by having ...

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Free software licenses are not a sufficient condition for software freedom

Published on Tue 14 August 2012. Filed under . Tags .

A common misconception about free software is that having a free license is both a sufficient and necessary condition for the software to be free. There might be cases when software is too simple to be restricted by copyright, so it is not a necessary condition. There are much more ...

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