Documentation Licensing and Its Discontents

George Deka george.deka at
Tue Dec 14 21:48:53 UTC 2004

It all sounds good, appart from some documentation will have to be
kept GPL, because the source is GPL.
If we want to feed upstream to debian, the 2 licences you have
mentioned will fail.


On Tue, 14 Dec 2004 08:09:00 -0500, Benj. Mako Hill <mako at> wrote:
> Greetings,
> There was a long conversation on IRC yesterday about documentation
> licensing and not everybody was or has been very happy with the
> current status in Canonical. Here's the super-abbreviated history:
> A month or so ago, Mark Shuttleworth announced that he wanted to use
> the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) for all Canonical sponsored
> Documentation projects while individual authors working on Ubuntu were
> free to release work under a license of their choice.
> For a number of reasons expressed yesterday on IRC and also on the
> list over the last while, many people are not particularly happy with
> the GFDL and were hesitant to put their own works under the license. A
> good summary of the problems that people have with the GFDL (and some
> that not many have as well) is available here:
> Some people had suggested that the Creative Commons
> Attribution-Sharealike 2.0 license was a better choice. It will not
> solve the problem with Debian compatibility at the moment but it will
> reduce the problems significantly. It will also address a number of
> other issues people have with the license.
> It is a standard copyleft content license (similar in spirit to the
> the GPL). It's a lot more simple than the GFDL (there are no clauses
> on invariant sections, front covertexts, back covertexts,
> acknowledgments, dedications, endorsements, copying in quantity,
> transparent copies, etc.). It does not have the problems commonly
> described as "bugs."  There has been movement by the FSF toward a new
> draft to address these problem but there has been no public
> announcement and many people have been frustrated waiting.
> Since we are not taking advantage of the special clauses in the GFDL,
> and have no intention of doing so, the CC-BY-SA is seen by a number of
> people (both inside and outside of Ubuntu) as a simplification of our
> current intentions and even step up. People on Wikipedia have brought
> up switching away from the GFDL but, because they can't reach all the
> copyright holders, they are unable to do this.
> Another benefit of the CC licenses is that they are translated (both
> in terms of the language in terms of the legal codes) widely. All CC
> 2.0 licenses require attribution (evidently, 95% of people chose
> attribution clauses in the first version of the license).
> I approached Mark about this yesterday and he said he would be OK with
> releasing Canonical's Works for Hire under CC's BY-SA if it's
> something that the Doc Team thinks would be useful.
> So here is my proposal. I'd like feedback so we can move ahead quickly
> on this:
> * We *are* going to be writing GFDL documentation. There are many
>   projects (the GNOME Manuals come to mind) that we want to
>   collaborate on and that are issued under the GFDL. This work will
>   have to be distributed under the GFDL (we can't combine incompatible
>   licenses).
> * Canonical sponsored documentation should be released all of wiki or
>   other documentation in either the CC-BY-SA or dual licensed as the
>   GFDL and CC-BY-SA.
>   This second might be a nice compromise as it will allow other people
>   (or ourselves) incorporate our documentation into GFDL works and
>   will also allow us to publish books under the less messy CC-BY-SA.
> * The majority of doc team documentation would be able to be issued
>   under whatever license the author/copyright holder chooses of
>   course. That said, it would be *very* convenient if we could all
>   combine our documents under a single (or two) compatible or
>   identical licenses: namely the CC BY-SA alone or the BY-SA and the
>   GFDL.
> I'd love feedback. I'd also like to know:
> * Are there things about the GFDL people like that are missing from
>   the BY-SA?
> * Do other people the BY-SA as a step up from the GFDL?
> * Does the dual licensing scheme sound like a reasonable compromise?
> Regards,
> Mako
> --
> Benjamin Mako Hill
> mako at
> --
> ubuntu-doc mailing list
> ubuntu-doc at

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