Fedora: Open up your documentation!

It is now three years ago that I said my final Good Bye to Fedora. One of the main reasons was the usage of the Open Publication License, which is not recommended any more by its creators.

Fedora decided not to use GFDL or Creative Commons because like they describe in their Fedora Documentation Licensing FAQ:

The legal counsel for the Fedora Project carefully examined all of the well-known content licenses, and concluded that only the OPL met all of the criteria for an unambiguous and enforceable license that would guarantee the freedoms of contributors and users.

Actually I think the main reason was and is, that Red Hats own license has been the OPL also. That does not mean that this would be necessary a bad idea. But I like to call the Fedora people to free their licenses because of the follwing reasons:

  1. It is not possible to import any content from Wikipedia, GFDL documentations or Creative Commons content into Fedora documentation.
  2. It is also not possible to export Fedora documentation to other projects.

In practice that means that the freedom of the content and the contributors is very limited. The license effectively means that Fedora lives on the island and only can share data with its neighbour Red Hat. If you see how much efforts have gone into making Wikipedia compatible with CC licenses you see that many smart people do nearly everything to open the gates to let content flow freely. At the same time Red Hat and Fedora have decided essentially to not share anything.

This is license fundamentalism. Their view is from the perspective of what is good for Fedora (to protect the contributions). But the better view would be what would be good for the whole community. Documentation can be a common good, just like software. If  Linux software chose one license GPL to license most of the stuff this was due to recognition that it would be stupid if every distribution would use a license, only they themselves use. But this is the very situation in Fedora. But also Fedora chose to be incompatible with the other documentations they are inheriting from upstream. So like GNOME documentation is licensed as GFDL. Fedora can not use phrases used there to describe software behaviour but would have to write it all from scratch.

As far as I have seen no orher distribution has been going that path. There are already a lot of incompatible licenses in the open source sphere and also beyond that. We have to deal with that. Fedoras step is not helpful for the community at large. It may help some managers at Red Hat feel more comfortable with the Fedora project, but I would rate this decision as stupid and harmful. There is only one good thing which I considered a bad thing in the past: As all contributors now have to accept a CLA it allows Fedora to ignore the licenses the contributors made their contributions and to relicense all the stuff. They can not take aways the licensing of what was already contributed – but they can decide to:

  1. Take all OPL stuff of the net and
  2. replace it with the same content and a new license

This license could even be more restrictive. In the past it was acknowledged that Red Hat could do that, but that they would not do it, because the community would not like it and that we can trust Red Hat. From my viewpoint licenses are there, because you do not trust an entity – you want to make sure that what you contribute stays free. In Fedoras case freedom only means that your past contributions are still free if they are still online somewhere, because somebody mirrored it. If not your contributions were free under OPL and next day they can only be available under restrictive licenses or if people pay money to be able to read it. And you have signed the CLA and can not do anything about it. The positive side is that Fedora can relicense all stuff under GFDL or a Creative Commons license immediately. As they stated in the past the CLA was there “so that we do not have to go through the same thing again” (or so). I am positive that they will do that finally. There is no alternative. The current movement is trying to streamline licenses and to avoid unnecessary incompatibilities. Fedora has taken its time and I think its now the time to reconsider the licensing policy and also to restrict the power of the CLA. I know some other project give an entity also non-exclusive rights. But most projects do not – and also the question is if the contributions are made to one single piece of software like Apache or if they go into a complex product or service like Fedora, whereas 99% of all parts of Fedora come from a third party. So the CLA is more like a method to keep contributions inside Fedora and against competition from CentOS or Ubuntu. But this is essentially against the core spirit of Open Source and Free Culture.

So come on guys Free Your Documents !! 🙂


Filed under Free Culture, Free Software, Linux, Technology

11 responses to “Fedora: Open up your documentation!

  1. neo

    “: As all contributors now have to accept a CLA it allows Fedora to ignore the licenses the contributors made their contributions and to relicense all the stuff. ”

    No. It doesn’t. No matter how many times you repeat this incorrect information, CLA does not include any copyright assignment and every contributor has to agree to a relicensing if there is a need to do so. This has already been explained to you before but you never seem to understand or worse, deliberately ignoring it. Read the CLA and explain where you think, it allows relicensing?

  2. 2. Contributor Grant of License. You hereby grant to Red Hat, Inc., on behalf of the Project, and to recipients of software distributed by the Project:
    (a) a perpetual, non-exclusive, worldwide, fully paid-up, royalty free, irrevocable copyright license to reproduce, prepare derivative works of, publicly display, publicly perform, sublicense, and distribute your Contribution and such derivative works;…

    This has to be more than just a license to copy, because this is already covered by the OPL and everybody has the rights to copy, redistribute and make derivates.

    I also can quote Karsten wase who asked himself 2006: “The question therefore is: Does the CLA assign copyright to the Fedora Project? ” and answered himself “I think that’s the purpose, to provide a dual-copyright so that the Project doesn’t have to chase down N contributors should a licensing issue arise. Or other proceeding that required representation from a copyright holder, who may no longer be working with the project, etc. ” /Quote from http://markmail.org/message/sdoc22jgfnceqjw5

    So what I find quite funny is that gaining copyright was the main argument for choosing the CLA process. And now everybody is telling me I dont get it and that the CLA actually means NOTHING. So if it doesnt provide Red Hat any additional rights over the OPL rights, why was it installed in the first place?

    I think I do completely understand why it was done and I also think the thoughts are OK, but the action was wrong. Anyway the main point is the license chosen. Its basically the same thing as with software. If OPL is so good, why does Fedora would not start using OPL for software, also?

  3. neo

    “This has to be more than just a license to copy, because this is already covered by the OPL and everybody has the rights to copy, redistribute and make derivates. ”

    The CLA is generic and doesn’t apply just to some specific license content but all original contributions. Since not all licenses give a patent grant, a CLA is still required for legal safety. One example is patent trolls who will produce something under say the BSD license, let you distribute it and then sue you for patent infringement.

    CLA is NOT copyright assignment. Nobody told you it meant nothing. Just that it doesn’t assign copyright. Stop claiming it does. It doesn’t matter if some developers like you or Karsten understood it wrong. Even Red Hat legal would tell you that. If you don’t understand, go talk to a lawyer but don’t proliferate this lie constantly. You have been corrected before.

    “. If OPL is so good, why does Fedora would not start using OPL for software, also?”

    That question is nonsensical.

    A) OPL is not a software license but specifically a content license

    B) Majority of software is written by upstream developers and merely integrated and distributed by Fedora. So Fedora doesn’t get to choose the license of the software. It merely excludes proprietary and patent encumbered software.

    Fedora is already discussing this and probably will change to CC license (since the 3.0 has a disclaimer unlike the previous versions) but your obvious mistakes should be corrected.


    Your assumptions have all been wrong.

  4. The last big debate that I had was as Karsten wrote what he wrote. and others. I mean thats what the whole argumen was about. Nobody ever disputed that – and now you are going to tell me tat the whole argument back then was false? On CLA and patents: We are talking about wiki and documentation, right? If what you say is absolutely necessary – how come many other large projects dont have such a thing, like Ubuntu? Maybe we can get a simple answer from a Red Hat lawyer: “Is it possible with the current CLA, that Red Hat relicenses the content of the wiki?” This is what it currently boils down for me. Maybe somebody point me to the right person so I can ask.

  5. Just some more points to your last sentence “Your assumptions have all been wrong” . So you also point me to this new post:

    spot commented in the thread (I quote):
    * The CLA does give us the right to relicense any contributions that Fedora receives without an explicit license assignment from the upstream
    author. (It is likely that this will not be the case in future CLA revisions, as it also means that Fedora could relicense these contributions under non-free licensing terms, even though that is not
    our intent and we have never done so).
    Basically, what that means is that if someone committed changes to documentation without explicitly stating that those changes were under
    the OPL, we could relicense those changes without their permission. I suspect that very few (if any) Fedora Docs contributions came in with a
    license attached.

    So from my view it looks like Fedora reconsiders the OPL and my turn to CC finally and also it will rewrite nthe CLA so it can not relicense contributions in the future. Karsten said I have a strong tone – that may be true – but thats because I have my own thoughts. I am not a lawyer, but have also been active in licensing and legal stuff for many years – and from my viewpoint I think my points were not so wrong back then and arent now. If the CLA would not have allowed relicensing and the wiki would have used a CC license I would never have broken with Fedora. Not sure if there are more people who did the same or did not participate because of their doubts.

    Anyway. I wish the Fedora project the very best as part of the Free Software Movement!

  6. neo

    “how come many other large projects dont have such a thing, like Ubuntu?”

    When did Ubuntu care about software freedom? They just ship proprietary kernel drivers and other crap in the repository and recommend it to end users. It is laughable to compare Ubuntu and Fedora’s stances. They couldn’t be more different. Red Hat unlike Canonical is a US based organization with public accountability.

    Also, relicensing a contribution doesn’t require copyright assignment. You need to grasp the basic legal concepts a bit more. Really, do yourself a favor and talk to a actual lawyer instead of just hand waving.

  7. First I think there is no price to win for free. Some may argue that only Gnewsense is free, others say Debian is more free. And others say only a BSD licensed kernel is. Actually I dont think it makes much sense to compete in freedom – every distro makes decisions. And you think that outside of the US there is no public accountability? Thats one of the strange US centric views I have often wittnessed. Some think outside the US everything is 3rd world.

    And to the relicensing: My argumen was back then and now is that relicensing is possible. I never said authorship can be transfered. I know that. And in essence the Red Hat lawyers now say the same thing than I did and Fedora is changing the CLA. Fact is I would not have an issue if the CLA would not have allowed relicensing.

  8. neo

    Fact: Fedora cares more about freedom than Ubuntu ever did. Another fact: Canonical has no public accountability being a privately held company that has a self declared dictator. You argued several times in the past and even earlier than CLA is copyright assignment and you were just plain wrong about that.

    Btw, something very amusing, you argue that Fedora should relicense all its content but also simultaneously argue that CLA should not allow relicensing. How do you envision relicensing contributions from over 15000 contributors otherwise? You do realize that CLA allows for relicensing precisely for what you are advocating for?

  9. If Fedora cares more about freedom, why then is it more restrictive? the definition of freedom is a relative issue. You can define freedom as a freedom of choice and options – or you can define it, as you do as to restrict a distribution to only freedom-enforcing software. BSD license denies that in some ways also, because it gives people the option to use the code in a non-free way. Personally I think its a matter of taste and philosophy. When it comes to ATI/ Nvidia support for example, distributions like Fedora leave it to only the more experienced user to be able to enable proprietary support.

    But an experienced user can remove this support also – but an unexperienced user will not be able to install it, even if he may want/need it. Essentially Fedora says: This is what you get – and then people will have to find an unofficial FAQ to enable it.

    In the end it is the same if people get the proprietary drivers within the distribution or from outside IF they choose they want to use them. I always found it funny that people choose Fedora because its free and afterwards install the proprietary drivers. I totally can except if distributions choose to remove any non-free drivers – we have a choice in distributions and those who want a prop. driver for their Nvidia card can use Ubuntu anyway and do not need to make it more complicated.

    The question is what people do want and how it is provided to them. As I said there is more than one definition of freedom. Another one is how free are the users to talk about their distribution and make it their own. In Fedora that is very limited and unwanted – in Ubuntu it is very much encouraged. I would not go so far to dismiss Fedora alltogether. I also think Ubuntu could make many things better – but I think community wise Ubuntu has not only done a good job, but makes it easier for people to connect to the distro.

    I am aware that the CLA allows relicensing and that this is now the only way to relicense. it could also redistribute the content under a non-free license. Therefore I think Fedora should use the CLA now for the good and relicense under CC-BY-SA-3.0 – and then change the CLA so that contributions can never be relicensed again.

    Actually when the CLA allows Red Hat to do whatever they like with the content its like an extension of the license and not in the spirit of the license and against the intent of the users. Going away from OPL contains the problem that some users might now even do not want any switch in licensing.

    I think your comments on Ubuntu are inappropriate. Every distro makes decisions that are discussable. One can openly discuss those decisions. I havent found the perfect distro for me. I do promote Ubuntu because its widespread, supports the community (also with free CDs) and encourages community building. On Fedora I stopped contributing to the wiki after CLA+OPL and the creation of the Ambassador program – the policy looked like everything should be “official” and that Red Hat wanted as much control over the community process as well as over the contributions. As it looks, at least when it comes to contributions, Fedora is changing policies. On the community part I like to point you to my new article: https://vinci.wordpress.com/2009/04/07/fedora-community/

  10. neo

    You want Fedora to encourage you to proprietary drivers like Ubuntu does in the name of freedom? That’s very ironical since Ubuntu cannot debug any of the proprietary drivers they ship and they are doing a disservice to the community by seducing newbies into using proprietary drivers they can’t fix.

  11. Pingback: Fedora has been making a Licensing switch « VincisBlog

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