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GNUisance: Pigdog Journal Interviews Richard Stallman

Non-free documentation

ES: What do you think of, of Tim O'Reilly's uh, argument about, uh, "free documentation"?

RS: It's bullshit. He's just ignoring the issue. Basically, he's starting from the assumption that the world must be set up in such a way that O'Reilly and Associates can make money by publishing documentation for Free Software.

This is an assumption that I don't share. I think that it would be no tragedy if there were no O'Reilly and Associates.

And then he makes _another_ assumption that I think is probably also wrong, based on my experience, which is that he couldn't make money selling copylefted manuals. Well, I think he can. The Free Software Foundation does.

So, uh, so, these two wrong assumptions are at the root of what he's saying. Now, I, let me say what's he's probably going on. He speculates, and he may well be right, that he would make less money selling [copylefted] manuals, and he doesn't want to make less money. He wants to make more money.

MB: But at the same time -- and this is what I've argued actually about this very issue -- is that O'Reilly makes a lot of money from Free Software. I mean, they make most of their money from Free Software --

RS: Right. And they're not contributing when they write their manuals. They're not contributions to our community. That's why I encourage people not to buy them.

MB: Really?!

RS: Really.

MB: They're some of the best... They _are_ the best --

RS: I don't care if they're the best. I don't care if a program is technically best. If it's not _free_, I won't use it.

MB: Right... Now, computer software's one thing. That's kind of a weirdo geek business, but when you start talking about books, and music --

RS: Right. Those as I said are not _exactly_ the same issue. They're partly similar and partly different.

For them, I think, because we don't have the need to be publishing modified versions, I think that therefore a system that allowed everyone to make occasional verbatim copies for their friends would be tolerable.

MB: Have you thought about doing, say, a GNU Content License? For people who want to develop so-called Free Content.

RS: It's very simple. If you want to do that, it's very simple. You just say "Verbatim copying of this document is permitted in any medium provided this notice is preserved."

MB: That's easy.

RS: Plus a copyright notice. And you'll notice that that's what we do for things that are not *technical documentation*. The things that state philosophy. Things that state our legal position. Things where we talk about our history, things like that.

For anything other than manuals or documentation for software, that's what we do. And very simple.

ES: What about, uh, documentation that's written by multiple people, and maintained by multiple people. Would that convert, for something like that?

RS: Well, for documentation, you know, you can use a simple copyleft like the one we use on GNU manuals and the one that I proposed for the quote "Linux Documentation Project" unquote.

NM: I've got a copy of the GCC manual here [reaches over and grabs a book off one of the bookshelves].

RS: I'm thinking about putting in a requirement about that -- adding a requirement about preserving the authorship information.

NM: It says [NOTE: put that long license thing in here. Or not.]

The Inimitable Nick Moffit

MB: [sotto voce, into tape recorder] Cut and paste this from somewhere. You don't have to type this all out. Thanks.

RS: What that is is an example of a simple copyleft for a manual. The reason that I use that kind of simple copyleft is that the issue about source code is not the same for a manual as it is for a program.

If you've got a printed copy of a manual, you see all the words. Whereas if you've got a binary of a program you don't see what the source code says. It's true that it's convenient to have the source code available, and we do make the source code available.

But if somebody did publish a modified version and didn't release the source code in online form, at least you'd see what all the words were in the modified version and you could type them in if you really wanted to. Which is much easier -- it's some work -- but it's much easier than figuring out the source code --

MB: Decompiling.

RS: Yeah, and figuring out what the symbol names are and how everything should -- Y'know, there's nothing hidden in a text to be read. So that's why I don't put in something requiring people to release modified versions as machine-readable source.

MB: Cool.

RS: This is why I don't use the GPL for manuals. I don't need something as complicated as the GPL for a manual. We do need it for software. It deals with issues that only apply to software.

Anyway, the reason why manuals should be treated differently from just anything else that you might write is that manuals belong in the software.

MB: They're a part of it.

RS: And when you change the program, if you want to do a thorough job, you ought to modify the manual, too. And therefore you better be free to publish the modified manual.

More Stallman antics


Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.

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