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Marcel Oliver <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Mailing list for the LaTeX3 project <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 11 Jul 2002 14:15:35 +0200
text/plain (96 lines)
Javier Bezos writes:
 > (and even if illegal, many people is modifying the packages
 > [as developers] because that's the simplest way to make a
 > little change [as users]; if that's made legal, I don't know
 > what could happen).

Robin Fairbairns writes:
 > the licence expresses the project's intention that latex should not
 > slip into such a messy state again.

I really did not intend to get into this discussion, as I am
definitely not interested in legal details.  However, I keep getting
these emails where otherwise reasonable people argue on how to
legislate away technical issues.

So let's analyze the situation:  First, how did the LaTeX 2.09 mess
arise in the first place?

1. LaTeX was essentially abandoned by its original author.

2. The LaTeX core did have a number of obvious and highly visible
   deficiencies that were crying out for improvement.

3. LaTeX was typically installed on Unix in an academic environment by
   system administrators who knew too much for their own good.  No
   comprehensive TeX/LaTeX distributions existed and many packages had
   to be downloaded and installed individually.

Has this situation changed?

1. There is a core LaTeX team slowly working towards a new release.
   There is a semi-active mailing list and project members do respond
   to email.

2. The most glaring deficiencies were fixed with LaTeX2e, and a number
   of important packages where added to the core.  (IMHO there is
   still a strong need to extend the core to promote further
   standardization of important tools.)

3. Any LaTeX installation I have seen in the last five or six years
   is based on teTeX (with one or two exceptions where the
   installation was old and so broken that the only way to fix it was
   a rm -rf * plus a fresh teTeX reinstall).  Most of the time, people
   don't even compile teTeX any more, but get the binaries from
   distributors like SuSe and Redhat, who have a conservative approach
   to patches because they know too well how easily they can end up in
   a maintenance nightmare.

Will a license restriction on modification without renaming make any

- As far as modifications on my private installation goes, no way.  I
  have done things on my computer that are deemed illegal by
  organizations having much deeper pockets than the LaTeX team.  In
  other words, I would not hesitate a second before modifying a file
  if I WANTED to do it.  Any such prohibition is akin to outlawing
  various sexual practices...

- On the other hand I am well aware that it's not a good idea to shoot
  up my own LaTeX installation.  So anything that raises peoples'
  awareness about the issue will help.

- As for distribution: There have been relatively few changes to core
  LaTeX and important packages in recent years, so modifications would
  be rather visible.  Slipping an unauthorized file into an archive
  seems more akin to planting a trojan - something, whether technical
  illegal or not, people know they should not do but do anyway for
  reasons of either extreme stupidity or maliciousness.  Neither can
  simply be legislated away.

- A serious fork of LaTeX is unlikely to happen as long as the package
  is actively and competently maintained.  In fact, one could argue
  that the prospect of forking will keep the LaTeX team on its toes...

Conclusion: We are talking about a non-issue here.

Suggestion (don't flame me for this, I really don't care that much):
Choose a license that people will recognize (such as the GPL) where it
doesn't matter that nobody ever reads a license.  Then write a text
that is very concise, technically accurate, but not legally binding

- That it is not a good idea (and why) to make changes to files
  without changing their names.

- Such modification won't get the blessing of archive maintainers and
  the LaTeX team.

- Saying that the author welcomes suggestions for improvements, giving
  his/her email address, for inclusion in future releases of the