2006-03-15

Emacs users recently lamented to a Debian mailing list, debian-emacsen, over the decision by Debian that considers the EmacsManual as non-free and the problems that will result from the documentation’s absence from the main distribution.[1]

The decision made by the community-driven GNU/Linux distribution is the result of FlameWar?s and organizational deliberation that has removed some manuals released under the GnuFreeDocumentationLicense (GFDL). The license provides nonessential, secondary sections of a document to be marked unmodifiable. The invariant sections for the Emacs manual include the parts titled TheGnuManifesto, Distribution and GnuGeneralPublicLicense. Other unmodified documents distributed with Emacs, like TheGnuProject, are also expected to be missing in the current and forthcoming emacs packages. Files like the COPYING files, that cannot be modified and redistributed with the software, will assumably be preserved.

The vote on a general resolution was called last month.[2] The ballot items offered deciding whether works licensed with the GFDL were always free, non-free with invariant sections, always non-free, or a “none of the above” option that provided more discussion. The conclusion of the 369 voting Debian developers voting by a Condorcet system was that FDL manuals without invariant sections are free.[3] Only 66 votes short was the opinion that all FDL manuals are never free.[4] The option to consider all FDL manuals free was considered a violation of the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG) and required a 3/4 majority.

The Debian users were disheartened that Debian was finding itself at odds with its own constitution and community guidelines rather than making proud decisions. Even package maintainers have had to make decisions to exercise Debiain policy or resign their developer positions. There are no known resignations because of the formal decision. The frustration has caused some to consider witholding their previous advocacy and use of Debian. Instead, a few say they will seek out other distributions, including Ubuntu and Ututo. One person was more motivated to investigate the GNU system using HURD.

See EmacsManualLicense.