[Fsf-Debian] few arguments to FSF

Dmitry Smirnov onlyjob at member.fsf.org
Fri Aug 10 03:04:47 UTC 2012

As FSF supporter I share their passion to fight non-free in any form.
I recognise the harmful nature of non-free and I wish we could be completely 
liberated from non-free.

To me FSF position towards Debian feels unfair because of great effort we
all dedicate to keep non-free away from users and from the main project.

Here I'd like to emphasise few thoughts:

 * We protect freedom when we can but survival goes first.

Let me explain this point. GPL aims to protect freedoms but in some cases 
restrictions imposed by GPL may threaten the very existence of project.
FSF recognises such cases and as a compromise they created LGPL just to 
guarantee some essential rights but not more.

Just recently I had a pitiful example of "survival goes first" idea:
recently I bought HP CP1025NW Colour Laser Printer - a decision I regret now.
Because I know HP printers are well supported from 'main' in Debian and also 
because I already have an InkJet HP printer which never gave me troubles from 
drivers side I expected that new Laser printer will work with cups-drivers 
right away.

Unfortunately it didn't work without proprietary driver which I had to 
download from HP. I had to resist temptation to return printer right away: it 
arrived on Thursday and by Monday morning we had to print few hundred pages. 
Without this printer we had to fall-back and do the job over the weekend with 
two old and slow InkJet printers. Failure of one of them would jeopardise the 
event with attendants representing ~80 organisations. Reluctantly I kept the 
printer. Survival goes first.

Please bear with me as I'm getting to the point.

The above example demonstrate the situation when it is extremely difficult to 
avoid non-free software/driver. Worth noticing that HP driver was not 
installed from our 'non-free' section but directly from hp.com web site.

I wish I could install the driver from 'non-free' section because in this case 
I would have greater control over non-free component I had to install anyway. 
Arguably this control would be marginally better but nevertheless better.

How is this matters? 

IMHO in Debian we need 'non-free' section for survival. 
As Richard Stallman noted there are categories of non-free software which we 
use for convenience. For example I'm sure with little sacrifice most people 
can live without flash - for some this may be an inconvenience but not 
necessity. We protect freedom when we can. (flash is also not available from 

However Debian need 'non-free' section for survival. 

 * It allows us to have a place for GFDL-licensed FSF's documentation.

One can argue that documentation is merely a convenience but I'm convinced it 
is a necessity.

 * Censoring information is not Debian's job. We can be considered neutral in 
regards to non-free software when we inform about it but leave decision to 
user. Particularly in installer the dialog about availability of non-free 
network driver is significant for project's survival because without it user 
would have to retreat to less free operating systems which would be a 
disservice to our users - a something we can easily consider to be harmful to 
the project. We're still committed to protect freedoms when we can.

'non-free' section actually helps to protect freedom by containing and 
controlling non-free software. At least whatever non-free we must install we'd 
better install from 'non-free' because it is reviewed, fit to the 'non-free' 
section criteria (there are heaps of software not suitable for 'non-free')
and probably have documented explanation of what's specifically qualifies it 
for non-free.

I like to know my non-free components and I receive a weekly reminders about 
non-free I have, sent by lovely 'vrms' utility. This luxury I wouldn't have 
without 'non-free' section in Debian. Unfortunate example of proprietary 
printer driver demonstrates lack of control over non-free software installed 
not from repository. I don't even know where HP wizard installed its blob.

Additionally lack of 'non-free' in Debian would negatively affect system's 
usefulness mostly due to lack of documentation and drivers which would put us 
into a worse position to protect freedoms and isolate bad stuff to the extent 
of reasonable. In a way 'non-free' helps us to provide our users better 
protection and control whenever they choose to have non-free or not.
Freedom of choice whom to trust is also important: I'd prefer to install non-
free from Debian when I must.

In conclusion I think we need to emphasise the following arguments to FSF:

  * the very existence of 'non-free' section may be considered as necessary 
compromise (similar to LGPL case) because some essential things like FSF GFDL-
licensed documentation can only fit there.

  * 'non-free' section represents the best effort to contain 'non-free' 
and therefore provide a greater control over it. This is a necessary 
compromise with non-free and at this time dropping it is not a viable 
alternative because it will cause more harm than good.

  * While we can't get rid of 'non-free' we can control it as much
as possible. For example we can adjust the criteria what can go to 'non-free' 
and why if that would help us to reach the compromise with FSF.

I hope some of my thoughts above may inspire a good argumentation for our 
dialog with FSF.

Thank you.


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