License problem in Ubuntu Desktop Guide (Re: Incorporating Gnome docs into ours)

Matthew East mdke at
Mon Sep 4 18:49:11 UTC 2006

Hash: SHA1


Forwarding this to the Gnome doc list too. For their context - we
recently merged the Gnome desktop user guide into the Ubuntu desktop
guide [1] and Matthew Paul Thomas has rightly pointed out that we are
not entitled to do this using the current licensing of our document.


* Matthew Paul Thomas:
> On Aug 27, 2006, at 10:10 PM, Matthew East wrote:
>> ...
>> Ok, I've tried just directly incorporating the Gnome user-guide into 
>> the desktop guide, and it works really well I think. Have a look at 
>> the
>> desktopguide now in our svn.
>> What do people think?
>> ...
> This would have been the start of something really good, and I hate to 
> be the one throwing the treacle, especially since I'm not a lawyer, but 
> ...
> The About page for the Ubuntu Desktop Guide currently claims that "this 
> document is made available under a dual license strategy that includes 
> the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) and the Creative Commons 
> ShareAlike 2.0 License (CC-BY-SA) ... You are free to modify, extend, 
> and improve the Ubuntu documentation source code under the terms of 
> these licenses."
> But that is not true. The contributors to Gnome's Desktop User Guide 
> agreed only to "the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) 
> ... with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover 
> Texts". You can't now claim that they also agreed to the CC-BY-SA. (Nor 
> can you even claim that they agreed to having invariant sections and 
> front-/back-cover texts added to their work, as allowed by the vanilla 
> GFDL that Ubuntu uses.)

That's correct, I had been meaning to sort out the licensing of this new
"merge" of the Gnome Desktop Guide. Proposal below.

> In the long term, this problem is one of those due to be solved by 
> Project Mallard, with its separated topic-based pages (which could, I 
> suppose, each be under a different license with no ill effects). In the 
> meantime, I would be very surprised if it was legally possible to merge 
> the documents like this.

I suggest we be very clear and simply amend the about page to make it
very clear exactly what sections are under what license. So, basically,
include the copyright and legal information for both our material and
the Gnome material, explaining which applies to which material.

The problem I suppose lies in what the definition of "document" is.
Defined strictly, we have the problem that desktopguide.xml specifies
that the Ubuntu desktop guide is a book, and the Gnome material form
chapters of that book. Defined loosely, it might be said that each of
the chapters is presented as a separate area of the help system, and
therefore it is acceptable to have different licences like that without
creating a "derivative work". Even this solution probably doesn't deal
with the problem of invariant sections/cover texts.

Other alternatives are: (1) split the Gnome material out again, and (2)
relicense our desktop guide in a way which allows us to use the Gnome
material, or (3) ask permission from all the copyright holders in the
Gnome desktop guide to use their chapters in our desktop guide, and
relicence it.

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