Freedom to defraud

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Various polemics have been written advocating a freedom to defraud.

Often these take the form of specious arguments against a particular license. Or, more generally, they may be part of the far more dangerous "freedom to rape" ideology of Debian and like technocrats. This short essay is only about the freedom to defraud.

The Two Russian WPs and various protests against the GNU FDL seem to have arisen around the Invariant Section provisions of that license.

Although Wikipedia does not use such sections, it remains possible for any other user of GNU FDL licensed material to add such sections to any GNU FDL text and render them "non-free" in the ideological terminology of the psychotic and violent technocrats. To these individuals, who are arranged in cults each of which seems to promote some software technology or other, this is somehow seen as a harm and an appropriation of their "right" - to defraud and misrepresent.

This seems unduly harsh to technologically addled morons, who presume that there must be some other, more honest, purpose, to modify an Invariant Section of a GNU FDL text. There is not. Fraud is the only purpose of such modification. The accumulation of Invariant Sections is the accumulation of conditions and qualifications and scope and translation issues. One cannot simplify one's way out of this simply by offering every single reader the opportunity to change every single line, including those lines that let one find the originals, contact the authors, etc..

The Invariant Section provisions of the GNU FDL are quite specific: the content of such a section cannot be in any way an extension or improvement of the original GNU FDL text. It must be a comment on it, a review of it, some kind of authentication, or claim or policy derived from it or assuming it to be accurate. It must be a "meta", just as the Cover Texts and Dedications are. The cover texts are so restricted in length as to be of no real use other than to claim authorship, and the dedications similarly restricted. Invariant Sections and other Secondary Sections are the only wide-open additions possible.

Whining ideologists have generated the following list of concerns, each of which is easily dealt with:

  • Being forced to retain innacurate Invariant Sections (or Cover Texts, or Dedications).
    • solution: given an audit trail, the inaccuracy is easy to attribute - the version of the document prior to the addition of the Invariant Section is also easy to discover and extend without it
  • Being forced to retain obsolete Invariant Sections (or Cover Texts, or Dedications).
    • solution: again, return to the version prior to the Invariant Section, or contact the entity/person/id who added it, and ask permission to remove it - if it is actually obsolete, they will do so.
  • Being forced to retain technically inappropriate Invariant Sections or Cover Texts, etc. (This has already happened with the Wikipedia. They "fixed" it by unilateral relicensing without invariant sections. Which, unfortunately, they probably don't have the legal right to do.)
    • This is one of several places where Wikipedia is violating the GNU FDL. What is "technically inappropriate"? This is nonsense.
  • Being forced to retain Invariant Sections even in extremely space-tight environments (such as a reference card). (The President of the FSF has indicated that he believes this would be satisfied by accompanying the reference card with a "second volume" containing the Invariant Sections. This is, however, a very questionable interpretation of the text of the license.)
    • Anyone who adds a long IS to reference card material is begging to make it useless. However, that is their right, as that is their condition to release the material.
  • Being forced to retain untranslated Invariant Sections in a translation.
    • This is a good thing. The original can be consulted. Only fraud can be served by failing to include a section so obviously deemed important - to trust the same translator for everything or remove any reference to a URL or other source for the original is an invitation to fraud of all kinds. Imagine an Invariant Section in Arabic in the Qur'an saying that all translations out of Arabic are themselves of human authorship and not to be trusted by believers. Is *this* what you want the "right" to "translate"? Again, it's a condition of release.
  • Being unable to use material from the document for a new document whose primary topic is that of an Invariant Sections (because the Invariant Section must be retained, and must be Secondary, but would no longer be Secondary).
    • The answer is that you cannot use that material. And that is how its original contributor intended it - by adding that Secondary Section they prevent the primary sections from growing beyond a certain scope. This is a good thing, especially in an encyclopedia.
  • Invariant Section "bloat". The natural response to several of the above problems is to add new Invariant Sections, saying "I think the old Invariant Section is inaccurate/obsolete/offensive" or "This is a translation of the old Invariant Section". These will accumulate and will also be unremovable.
    • Yes, until someone actually sits down and deals with the obvious issues - and negotiates a new Invariant Section and translation strategy, or scope. The requirement to cooperate is hardly a problem.

There is some legitimate concern that it may be impossible to find those who put an Invariant Section into a document. But in this case, it is no worse than not being able to contact any other copyright holder - it means one cannot use that material to more than fair use degree. One solution would be to require that anyone adding an Invariant Section also provide contact information. However this could also be used to harass those contributors who had taken positions ideologically incompatible to the violent technocrats who insist that all software must be "free".

It seems advisable to resist both the fraud ideology and rape ideology of the technocrats. One needs a good reason, indeed, to simply change or remove something that has been made a condition of using the new material added.

A simple solution, for those who wish to follow the fraud or rape ideology of those who believe all text must be free for modification, including potentially even the Ten Commandments and Golden Rule one presumes, and for adding claims of authorship by anyone, is simply, don't contribute to anything with any such Invariant Section. The end result will be a fraud-and-rape-pedia which you can be proud of - full of claims and attributions that are false, and used as excuses for appropriations of things that are neither yours, nor property at all. The violent end of such a project is certain, but, you are welcome to it.

- A. Troll