tom callaway (spot) wrote,
tom callaway

The TeX Live Legal Audit (and how you can help)

One of the remaining big ticket items for legal audit in Fedora is TeX Live. A few years ago, we got a version of TeX Live into Fedora, and after the fact, we discovered that the licensing on much of it was confusing or non-free. Jindrich Novy has been working for a while on packaging up TeX Live in a more separated way (package per component as opposed to singe giant texlive package), and I promised him that I would help him do the Legal audit.

(This metabug is tracking the packaging effort:

TeX Live says "Therefore, to the best of our knowledge, all the software in TeX Live meets the requirements of the Free Software Foundation's definition of free software, and the Debian Free Software Guidelines. In the rare cases of conflict, we generally follow the FSF. Furthermore, the material in TeX Live should not require nonfree software to be useful."

However, there are some items which are concerning.

1) TeX Live, while they have made significant and laudable progress in licensing on their components still has a section of "OTHER-FREE":

In Fedora, nothing is "Distributable" or "Other". Everything gets properly checked and cataloged.

Going through the components in this category has been interesting. We've found at least 25 new licenses in the items in this category, many of them clearly non-free. Some of the items in this category were under common Free licenses (GPL, LPPL) and some were under licenses Fedora had seen before but are pretty rare. Some are just missing licensing altogether.

2) TeX Live has a fair number of components which are marked as being "Public Domain":

You might be saying "hey, so what?", but this is actually a complicated situation. In many parts of the world, it is not possible for a copyright holder to abandon their copyright (unless they're dead), and put a work into the Public Domain. Thus, it is important to determine where the code was written (and who wrote it).

Code written by the United States Government is in the Public Domain (unless it was written by a contractor, or certain other corner cases). Individuals in the United States, Canada, and the UK can place works in the public domain with a clear Public Domain declaration stating that they abandon their copyright on a work. (Please don't waste time arguing with me about this. I know its a gray area, but this is what we are acting on based on the advice of counsel.)

Individuals in most of Europe can almost NEVER fully abandon their copyright, thus any public domain declarations from those individuals are invalid, and we are left with little or no license on that work. Specifically, this is known to be true for France, Germany, and Poland. (Again, please don't waste time arguing with me about this. Look at it this way. If we're wrong, it cannot hurt to have an additional set of permissive license permissions. If we're right, we _need_ them.)

What this means is that Fedora needs to track down the copyright holder(s) and get them to confirm citizenship and location of where the work was created to analyze whether the PD declaration is valid, or have them give license permissions with terms that will actually accomplish close to the same end-result as PD (putting the work under any Free license is also fine by us).

3) A lot of this code is really old. Like, 25-30 years old. Nothing wrong with that, except it makes tracking down copyright holders... fun.


So, enough blather. We have a wiki page which documents the status of our efforts. If you can help us clarify a license on a work or track down the copyright holders for these works that are marked as Fedora disapproved, Improper or invalid Public Domain, or Unknown (with current email addresses), it would sure help save us some time.

Here's the page:

If you edit the wiki, please don't move things around, just add notes. You can also just send me an email (

Thanks and happy hunting.

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