Debian Social Contract and copyright notices
Sunday 6 September 2009, by
gmerlin-avdecoder package was rejected for the following reason:
missing license/copyright statements:
lib/base64.c: * Copyright (c) 1998-2000 University College London lib/base64.c: * Copyright (c) 1991 Bell Communications Research, Inc. (Bellcore) BSD license
I would like to publicaly express my disagreement with this justification.
The reason is simple: I signed as a developper because I wanted to maintain free software packages. For that purpose, I agreed with the Debian Social Contract , which contains what we consider as the required and essential facts needed for a software to be considered free. These are the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG).
The spirit of these guidelines is to give general concerns about what should and should not be a free software. That is very good because it allows to modulate and debate about this and that particular issue and situation.
For instance, it was not clear until recently whether the debian developper body agreed that the GNU GFDL license  was or not a free license. For that purpose, we have a procedure  which allows to decide on those topics, the general resolution.
In the case of the GFDL license, for instance, it was decided  that the fact that some parts were not modifiable was not consistent with the DFSG, so packages containing documents licensed under the GFDL have to go to the non-free archive, unless there is no so-called invariant parts. That’s pretty fair.
Another principle on which we agree is that we should not hide our problems. In particular, and in order to make sure that we really ship packages that contain free software, each debian package comes with a
copyright file. This file should be filled with all the informations related to the rights attached to the source shipped by the package.
Hence, by reading the content of the
copyright file, anyone using our packages should be able to trust the fact that he is indeed using a free software, as long as he agrees on our definition of such a free software.
Also, in order to maintain our archive in a proper state, we have a special task in the project which consists in reviewing the new packages that enter in the archive. This task includes the verification that it is legal to distribute the package, as well as the consistence between its declared license and the various archives.
My concern here is that I do not believe that the informations provided by the complete list of copyright notice has something to do with these issues. The concern for the DFSG is about what you can actually do with the software, and, unless used for proving that a source code should be in the public domain, I do not know any restriction on the source code that would be implied by the copyright notices instead of the license.
For these reasons, it does not appear correct to me to reject a package based on the fact that some copyright notices are missing, as long as all the license information is present in the
Of course, it is important to have some copyright information in this file, but I believe that the notice of the main authors and maintainers should be sufficient.
That said, I have asked this question in private to some developpers, and apparently there is no will to do a move on this issue. Hence, it does not appear that these ideas repesent a majority of the developpers, and I will then conform to this requirement for now on.
However, I wanted to publicaly express my disagreement, which is done now.