Tag Archives: open publication license

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 !! 🙂

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