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You are here: Home Blogs Licensing An open response to Chris Frey regarding GFDL 1.3

An open response to Chris Frey regarding GFDL 1.3

by Richard Stallman Contributions Published on Dec 03, 2008 05:28 PM

Dear Mr. Frey,

Your letter about our recent change to the GFDL, which lets operators of some GFDL-covered wiki sites relicense their contents under Creative Commons BY-SA license, raises the important questions of whether this change and the way we made it were proper, and what they imply in regard to trusting the FSF's stewardship of our licenses in the future.

In my judgment and that of the FSF board, this licensing change is fully consistent with our values, our ethics, and our commitments, and should demonstrate that the FSF continues to merit your trust. "Or any later version" licensing enables us to give new permissions that respond to the needs of the community, as well as defend against new threats to users' freedom.

The relicensing option in GFDL 1.3 is fully consistent with the spirit and purpose of the GFDL. It permits certain web sites to switch from the GFDL to another copyleft license, different in some details but similar overall. We did this to allow those sites to make their licenses compatible with other large collections of copylefted material that they want to cooperate with.

The impact of the change is limited because the relicensing option applies to a narrow range of cases: wiki sites such as Wikipedia containing material which does not use certain special features of the GFDL, invariant sections and cover texts, that don't translate into CC-BY-SA.

What we've done is give these wiki sites a time-limited opportunity to relicense to CC-BY-SA the materials that the public has contributed to them. The Wikimedia Foundation has begun a public discussion on whether to switch: Wikipedia contributors can argue for or against the change there. We have no role in that decision; our action was to give Wikipedia the chance to decide.

We did not make this change in haste. The FSF has been talking with the Wikimedia Foundation, Creative Commons, and the Software Freedom Law Center for a year to plan this change.

We held these discussions in private for a reason I hope you will approve of: to keep the option limited in applicability and avoid the possibility of wholesale relicensing of other GFDL-covered material. The relicensing option is meant for public collaboration wiki sites only. We did not want to let people relicense other GFDL-covered works by "laundering" them through Wikipedia and similar web sites before the cut-off date.

If a wiki site exercises the relicensing option, that entails trusting Creative Commons rather than the Free Software Foundation regarding its future license changes. In theory one might consider this a matter of concern, but I think we can be confident that Creative Commons will follow its stated mission in the maintenance of its licenses. Millions of users trust Creative Commons for this, and I think we can do likewise.

You described our license change as a "breach of trust", but if you look at what we have undertaken to do, you will see we have carried it out.

We have never asserted that we will not change our licenses, or that we will never make changes like this one. Rather, our commitment is that our changes to a license will stick to the spirit of that license, and will uphold the purposes for which we wrote it. That's what we did in with GFDL 1.3, and with the much larger changes in GPLv3, and that's what we'll continue to do.

You are right to call on the FSF to abide by the highest ethical standards. I hope you will come to agree that the GFDL license change demonstrates that we do.

Richard Stallman
President, Free Software Foundation

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