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I find the file format is very ugly to look at. The past example should more look like: -- ChristophBerg

Format: 0.1
Package: Planet Venus
Upstream: John Doe <jdoe@example.com>
Homepage: http://www.venus.org
Download: http://www.example.com/code/venus

 Copyright 2008, John Doe <jdoe@example.com>
 Copyright 2007, Jane Smith <jsmith@example.org>
 Copyright 2007, Joe Average <joe@example.org>
 Copyright 2007, J. Random User <jr@users.example.com>
License: PSF-2

File: debian/*
Copyright: Copyright 2008, Dan Developer <dan@debian.example.com>
License: GAP
 Copying and distribution of this package, with or without modification, are
 permitted in any medium with or without royalty provided the copyright notice
 and this notice are preserved.

File: debian/patches/theme-diveintomark.patch
Copyright: Copyright 2008, Joe Hacker <hack@example.org>
License: GPL-2+

Line 689: Line 657:

I find the file format is very ugly to look at. [… different example file,
non-conformant with the rest of this document] — ChristophBerg

Christoph, your suggestion isn't very clear. As far as I can tell, you
want the fields in the header to change completely? If so, the best
thing to do is to discuss the specific changes you want to see, with
your reasoning for each change, in the appropriate places for each change. — BenFinney

Comment: I have been considering that we may need to alter how we develop this standard. Editing on a wiki, with inline comments is pretty frustrating. It becomes troublesome when people make large changes without much discussion beforehand. What do people think to moving or locking this place so that it cannot be arbitrarily edited and starting a mailing list for discussion, so that we can reach consensus about changes before making them. I would like to have an threadable and searchable discussion archive for this. -- ?NoahSlater

  • It is possible to restrict modification to a group of users... but so far, we could avoid using it (open an [:rt.debian.org:RT] ticket if needed). The final page should be published on www.d.o, IMHO. -- FranklinPiat

Comment: I think that the proposal got developed and popularised enough that a [http://dep.debian.net/deps/dep0/ DEP] could be proposed (but after Lenny release, please!). The discussion of the DEP will be more efficient to resolve out the remaining issues that are debated now using the wiki as a medium.-- CharlesPlessy

Comment: This sounds like a fine idea. I think that the wiki is starting to hinder, rather than promote, the development of this standard. Let's wait for Lenny and move forward from there. -- ?NoahSlater

This is a proposal to make debian/copyright machine-interpretable. This file is one of the most important files in Debian packaging, yet its existing format is vague and varies tremendously across packages, making it difficult to automatically parse.

This is not a proposal to change the policy in the short term.



The diversity of free software licenses means that Debian needs to care not only about the freeness of a given work, but also its license's compatibility with the other parts of Debian it uses.

The arrival of the GPL version 3, its incompatibility with version 2, and our inability to spot the software where the incompatibility might be problematic is one prominent occurrence of this limitation.

There are earlier precedents, also. One is the GPL/OpenSSL incompatibility. Apart from grepping debian/copyright, which is prone to numerous false positives (packaging under the GPL but software under another license) or negatives (GPL software but with an "OpenSSL special exception" dual licensing form), there is no reliable way to know which software in Debian might be problematic.

And there is more to come. There are issues with shipping GPLv2-only software with a CDDL operating system such as Nexenta. The GPL version 3 solves this issue, but not all GPL software can switch to it and we have no way to know how much of Debian should be stripped from such a system.

Comment: apparently, [http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Licensing Fedora started a very similar project]: on of my upstreams (the Samba Team) pointed me to the very few differences in the way to name licenses, particularly the short-form and the method to combine licenses. —ChristianPerrier

Compatibility and Human-Readability

The file must be encoded as UTF-8 and strictly formatted as a superset of RFC2822 including significant newlines. Free-form text is not allowed.

The debian/copyright file must be machine-interpretable, yet human-readable, while communicating all mandated upstream information, copyright notices and licensing details.

For the sake of human-readability this proposal avoids any complex field names or syntax rules.


You can discuss implementation details in [http://bugs.debian.org/cgi-bin/bugreport.cgi?bug=478930 bug 478930] -- ?MathieuParent



Header Section (Once)

The header should be rfc2822 compliant, consisting of multiple fields.

  • format specification
    • only once
    • mandatory
    • Suggested name: Format-Specification

    • Suggested format: URI of the format specification, such as:
  • name of the software as spelled upstream
    • only once
    • optional
    • Suggested name: Upstream-Name

    • Suggested format: single line (in most cases a single word)
  • preferred way(s) to reach current upstream maintainer
    • only once
    • optional
    • Suggested name: Upstream-Maintainer

    • Suggested format: line(s) of RFC2822 address or URIs or free text, one line per preferred way
  • where the upstream sources (if any) were downloaded from
    • only once
    • optional
    • Suggested name: Upstream-Source

    • Suggested format: line(s) of URIs, one line per upstream source
  • disclaimer for non-free and contrib packages (see [http://www.debian.org/doc/debian-policy/ch-docs.html#s-copyrightfile Policy 12.5])

    • only once
    • optional
    • Suggested name: Disclaimer

    • Suggested format: free content explaining that the contrib or non-free package is not part of the Debian GNU/Linux distribution and briefly explain why.

      Comment: The Developers Reference Section [http://www.debian.org/doc/developers-reference/best-pkging-practices.html#bpp-origtargz] requires that debian/copyright contain additional information about repackaged .orig.tar.gz files. This might, for example, be a statement to the effect that all precompiled java class files were removed (this is pretty common!). All the Original-Source-* fields have now been removed though. So where does this fit into these machine-readable copyright files? -- StuartPrescott Comment: Add such info as X-Upstream-Source-Repackaged or similar until concensus is reached. Tools like Lintian (bug:478930) can then optionally warn about any X-* fields in use for future unification cleanup. -- JonasSmedegaard


Format-Specification: http://wiki.debian.org/Proposals/CopyrightFormat?action=recall&rev=196
Upstream-Name: SOFTware
Upstream-Maintainer: John Doe <john.doe@example.com>
Upstream-Source: http://www.example.com/software/project

Format-Specification: http://wiki.debian.org/Proposals/CopyrightFormat?action=recall&rev=196
Upstream-Name: xyz
Upstream-Maintainer: Jane Smith <jane.smith@example.com>
Upstream-Source: http://www.example.com/gitwww

Files Section (Repeatable)

The declaration of copyright and license for files is done in one or more stanzas, formatted as RFC2822-style fields. Each stanza is separated from others by a blank line.

  • List of files sharing copyright holders and licensing terms
    • Repeatable field, like the Package field in debian/control

    • Suggested name: Files

    • Suggested format: list of files or patterns, see "File patterns" below
    • Good place to add mandatory hints on original package authors: use Files: debian/*

  • Copyright holders for the files listed in the previous Files field

    • Repeatable field, one field per copyright statement
    • Suggested name: Copyright

    • Suggested format: a single valid copyright statement
      • Example Format: Copyright 2008, Holder <email@example.org>

      • A valid copyright statement MUST include the word "Copyright" and not an abbreviation. The copyright symbol, being "©", "(C)", or similar MAY be used in addition to the word "Copyright" but this is not necessary. The copyright statement SHOULD include copyright year(s) and the copyright holder's name. Real names or organisation names SHOULD be used instead of nicknames or "screen names" where available. Optional contact information or URI is recommended. Maintainers MAY reformat copyright statements for clarity or consistency as long as the legal meaning is not changed. For more information study [http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-howto.html GPL Howto].

      • History of package maintainers can optionally be reflected as multiple copyright fields for Files: debian/*

  • Licensing terms for the files listed in the previous Files field

    • Suggested name: License

    • Suggested format:
      • First line: See Keywords section.

      • Remaining lines: One of the following:
        • If a single license keyword is used you must either:
          • Copy the full text of the license, or
          • Leave this section empty if a standalone License section exists (see the Standalone License Section section) that matches the license keyword.

        • If multiple licenses apply you must not copy any text into the remaining lines. A standalone License section must be used for each license keyword mentioned.


Files: *
Copyright: Copyright 2008, John Doe <john.doe@example.com>
Copyright: Copyright 2007, Jane Smith <jane.smith@example.com>
License: PSF-2

Resolved issues

Comment: There is currently a [http://lists.debian.org/debian-devel-announce/2006/03/msg00023.html rather definite request (requirement?)] that copyright files include not just an assertion that the code is under a particular licence but to include the text that states that this is the case (e.g. the standard GPL statement used by many "This program is free software ... You should have received ..."). It appears that this is inconsistent with the the currently proposed format. Are the ftp-masters happy with the format as described here and what amounts to the removal of this statement from the copyright file? Or is it envisaged that the text after the "License:" include this statement? If this is the case, then some clarification is required and the examples should do this. -- StuartPrescott

Comment: That email is over two years old now. I can only assume, given the large number of people and packages using this copyright format as it stands, that the FTP Masters are happy with it to date. -- ?NoahSlater

Standalone License Section

Where a set of files are dual (tri, etc) licensed you must use a single line License field and use standlone License fields to expand the license keywords.

Files: src/js/editline/*
Copyright: Copyright 1993, John Doe
Copyright: Copyright 1993, Joe Average
License: MPL-1.1 | GPL-2 | LGPL-2.1

License: MPL-1.1

License: GPL-2

License: LGPL-2.1

Where multiple sets of files use the same license you can avoid repetition by using a single line License field and use a separate standalone License field to expand the license keyword.

Files: src/js/editline/*
Copyright: Copyright 1993, John Doe
Copyright: Copyright 1993, Joe Average
License: MPL-1.1

Files: src/js/fdlibm/*
Copyright: Copyright 1993, J-Random Comporation
License: MPL-1.1

License: MPL-1.1

License Aliases

If a common type of license is a combination of multiple licenses (like the perl license), an alias can be made, so that it can be clear that it's the particular combination of licenses and not just any combination.

Files: *
License: Perl

License-Alias: Perl
Licenses: GPL-2+ | Artistic-2.0

License: GPL-2+

License: Artistic-2.0


Comment: This seems overly complex to me, lets keep it simple. Using "GPL-2+ | Artistic-2.0" for Perl licensing is fine and should cause no confusion. Adding an extra field to save 13 characters on the odd occasion that the Perl style licensing is chosen is a bad decision. -- ?NoahSlater

Comment: It doesn't have anything to do with saving characters, but to declare, that it's infact, per example, the "perl" license. This could be extended to include the exact copyright note that the upstream had placed while delegating it to two licenses.

  • License-Alias: Perl
    Licenses: GPL-2+ | Artistic-2.0
     It is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of either:
     a) the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation;
        either version 1, or (at your option) any later version, or
     b) the "Artistic License".

I did though of other names, "Multi-License", "Merged-License" etc... but though "License-Alias" was sufficient. -- ?AzaToth

Comment: I disagree, this isn't the "Perl license" - it's the combination of licenses that Perl uses. Just like the Mozilla tri-licensed MPL|GPL|LGPL stuff, I don't see any reason why this needs to be given a distinct name. -- ?NoahSlater

Fields Detail



The value of the Files field should be a list of comma-separated values:

Files: foo.c, bar.*, baz.[ch]

File names containing spaces or commas should be put within double quotes. The backslash character is an escaping character, be it inside or outside double quotes:

Files: "Program Files/*", manual\[english\].txt


Patterns are the ones recognised by the find utility's -name option and in case of the pattern contains path separator "/", it can be used for -path option.

The following matches all Makefile.am files in the tree and all Python scripts:

Files: */Makefile.am, *.py

But this will only match the top-level Makefile.am:

Files: ./Makefile.am

The command for find from the first example would be: :

find . -path "*/Makefile.am -o -name "*.py"

It is quite common for a work to have files with copyright held by different parties and received under different licenses. To allow this, multiple stanzas are allowed with different Files declarations.

However it makes for easier reading if the copyright file lists the "main" license first: the one matching the "top level" of the work, with others listed as exceptions. To allow this, the following precedence rule applies for matching files: If multiple Files declarations match the same file, then only the last match counts.

As a result, it is recommended for clarity that the stanzas appear in order from most general (e.g. Files: *) first, through to most specific. In the following example, the file getopt.c matches both Files: * and Files: getopt.*; only the last match counts, so the file getopt.c has the license declaration License: BSD-C2.

{{{contain arbitrary values Files: * Copyright: Copyright 2003-2005, John Doe <jdoe@xample.com> License: [the main work's license]


Files: getopt.* Copyright: Copyright 2000, The Corporation Foundation, Inc. License: BSD-C2


Files: debian/* Copyright: Copyright [years], [the debian package copyright holder] License: [the debian package license]



It is very common for the Debian packaging work to have a different copyright holder and/or license from the upstream work. In these cases, it is important that the debian/* pattern is placed after any other conflicting patterns.



The "License" field, to be machine-parseable, should not contain arbitrary values. There needs to be a list of accepted keywords which have a very specific, unambiguous meaning. The convention for license abbreviations keyword is XYZ for a license with only one version, and XYZ-n for *sequential version n* of the XYZ license, where XYZ-1 is chronologically earlier than XYZ-2. The syntax of the License keyword can be defined using similar to [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extended_Backus–Naur_form EBNF grammar]:

    License ::= <keyword>[<version>]["BY" {N* <clarification>}]

    <keyword> ::=
        <License keyword FSF>
        | <License keyword BSD>
        | <License keyword well known>
        | "other"

    <License keyword FSF> ::=
        GPL | LGPL | AGPL | GFDL

    <License keyword BSD> ::=
        ... to be decided, see table below for proposals.

    <License keyword well known> ::=
        ... to be decided, see table below for proposals.

    <version>          ::= <License version>["+"]
    <License version>  ::= <Numeric version> | <Other version>
    <Numeric version>  ::= [0-9.]+
    <Other version>    ::= <Vendor's version> | <publication date>
    <Vendor's version> ::= string (* anything: "A", "B", "public" *)
    <publication date> ::= YYYYMMDD

    <clarification> ::=
        <clarification GPL>
        <clarification GFDL>
        | <clarification CC>
        | <clarification other>

    <clarification GPL> ::=
        "-CC"      (* With Creative Commons' metadata and Commons Deed added to GPL *)
        "-OpenSSL" (* With openSSL exception added *)
        "-Font"    (* With font exception added *)

    <clarification GFDL> ::=
        "-NIV" (* With no invariant sections *)
        "-CC"  (* With Creative Commons' metadata and Commons Deed added to GFDL *)

    <clarification CC> ::= (* Creative Commons License variants *)
        "-NC" (* No Commercial *)
        "-ND" (* No Derivative Works *)
        "-SA" (* Share Alike *)

    <clarification other> ::= Other list of license specific keywords that
        clarify optional parts included or exluded.

Examples of the above grammar:




Apache license, version 2.0 only


GNU General Public License, version 2 or (at your option) any later version


GNU General Public License, version 3 only


GNU Lesser General Public License, version 2 only


GNU Lesser Public License, version 2 or (at your option) any later and with OpenSSL linkage exception added


GNU Free Documentation License, version 1.2 only


GNU Free Documentation License, version 1.2 or (at your option) any later, with no invariant sections


Python Software License, version 2 only


Any other custom license. License notice text must be copied verbatim.


TODO: If author did not specify version and version cannot be decoded from the context or other files, how the license should be expressed?

Consult FSF's page for [http://www.fsf.org/licensing/licenses/#GPLCompatibleLicenses GPL compatibility] of particular license.

The is no difference between regular versions and point-zero versions. E.g. keyword CC-3 is identical to CC-3.0 notation. The point-zero syntax can be used in cases where there are minor releases of the same license available; like in case of GFDL-1.2.

The extra plus-sign in <License version>["+"] means that the License contains clauses similar to GPL's "version N or (at your option) any later version".

The GPL "-Font" clarification refers to the text added to the license notice of each file as expressed at FSF's page [http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#FontException How does the GPL apply to fonts?]. The text needed is:

    As a special exception, if you create a document which uses
    this font, and embed this font or unaltered portions of this
    font into the document, this font does not by itself cause
    the resulting document to be covered by the GNU General
    Public License. This exception does not however invalidate
    any other reasons why the document might be covered by the
    GNU General Public License. If you modify this font, you may
    extend this exception to your version of the font, but you
    are not obligated to do so. If you do not wish to do so,
    delete this exception statement from your version.

The GPL "-OpenSSL" clarification gives permission in cases where GPL code is linked with OpenSSL library. For more information, see page [http://www.gnome.org/~markmc/openssl-and-the-gpl.html "The OpenSSL License and The GPL"] by Mark McLoughlin and message [http://lists.debian.org/debian-legal/2004/05/msg00595.html "middleman software license conflicts with OpenSSL"] by Mark McLoughlin in Debian legal mailing list. Any GPL source that uses OpenSSL and does not contain an openSSL exception notice is [http://ftp-master.debian.org/REJECT-FAQ.html REJECTED] by the Debian FTP admistrators. The license notice needs to include following or close to similar excerpt to qualify for BY-OpenSSL which allows linking with OpenSSL:

    In addition, as a special exception, the copyright holders
    give permission to link the code of portions of this program
    with the OpenSSL library under certain conditions as
    described in each individual source file, and distribute
    linked combinations including the two.

    You must obey the GNU General Public License in all respects
    for all of the code used other than OpenSSL. If you modify
    file(s) with this exception, you may extend this exception
    to your version of the file(s), but you are not obligated to
    do so. If you do not wish to do so, delete this exception
    statement from your version. If you delete this exception
    statement from all source files in the program, then also
    delete it here.

<License keyword BSD>

Proposal 1:

Comment: These licenses have no recognised version number. Perhaps the abbreviation should deliberately show the number of clauses in a way that doesn't indicate a version number: BSD-C<N>. But that still sounds vaguely like a version number; it still suggests sequence in the different versions that doesn't actually match the true chronology; it also fails to indicate *which* clauses are included. —BenFinney 2008-10-16:


GPL compatible




Two-clause BSD license



Three-clause BSD license, with no-endorsement clause, as seen in /usr/share/common-licenses/BSD?BR



Four-clause BSD license, with no-endorsement clause and advertising clause; GPL-incompatible (need exact text)

Proposal 2:

In the absence of a clear succession of differently-numbered consecutive versions of a license text, my proposal is: we could come up with abbreviations similar to those used for indicating active clauses in the Creative Commons licenses. This way, no false impression of chronological sequence is implied, and the abbreviation provides a mnemonic for what the terms of the license actually are, not just the number of clauses in them. -- BenFinney 2008-10-15


forms requiring only the inclusion of copyright notice and condition


plus “no endorsement without permission”


plus “advertising required”

Proposal 3:

While mnemonics like LC,NE,AD may sound practical (where does LC abbreviation come from?), in BSD case I find them lacking wider recognition. The BSD licenses have been examined by FSF, so perhaps we could use names and definitions used at [http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/license-list.html#FreeBSD License list] —JariAalto:


GPL compatible


[http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/license-list.html#OriginalBSD BSD]


Also known as the “[http://www.opensource.org/licenses/bsd-license.php Original 4-clause BSD license]”. Contains the “obnoxious BSD advertising clause”.

[http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/license-list.html#ModifiedBSD ModifiedBSD]


This is the original BSD license, modified by removal of the advertising clause. It is a simple, permissive non-copyleft free software license.

[http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/license-list.html#FreeBSD FreeBSD]


Also known as the “[http://www.freebsd.org/copyright/freebsd-license.html 2-clause BSD license]”. Original BSD license with the advertising clause and another clause removed. Theis is safe, simple, permissive non-copyleft free software license.

[http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/license-list.html#ISC OpenBSD]


Also known by name "[http://www.opensource.org/licenses/isc-license.txt ISC License]". This license does have an unfortunate wording choice.

[http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/license-list.html#clearbsd ClearBSD]


Based on the modified BSD license, and adds a term expressly stating it does not grant you any patent licenses.

<License keyword well known>

The basis of these keywords should be wide recognition. Something based on lists like [http://www.opensource.org/licenses/alphabetical Open Source Initiative: Licenses by Name], [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_FSF_approved_software_licences Wikipedia: List of FSF approved software licences], [http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/license-list.html FSF: Various Licenses and Comments about Them] and [http://www.opensource.org/licenses/alphabetical Open Source Initiative: Licenses by Name]

This list does not yet represent all widely used licenses. Good candicates are those listed in FSF or OSI pages mentioned above. The column "Version needed" means that the license keyword should always be accompanied with version number. E.g. plain keyword Artistic is to be avoided in favor of more explicit Artistic-2 keyword.

The GPL compatible field indicates compatibility in respect to license's version. E.g in case of Apache, the "2.0+ (v3)" means that Apache license version 2.0 was the first GPL v3 compatible license. The Apache licenses are not GPL v2 compatible. In case of CPL, the "No (1.0)" means that license version 1.0 is GPL incompatible; no information about other versions is known. If the field is linked to somewhere else, it means that the opinion has not been verified by FSF, but external source is being cited.


Version needed?

GPL compatible




2.0+ (v3)

Apache license. For versions, consult [http://www.apache.org/licenses/ Apache Software Foundation].



2.0+ (v2+)

The Perl Artistic license. For versions, consult [http://www.perlfoundation.org/perl5/index.cgi?action=revision_list;page_name=artistic_license Perl Foundation]




Common Development and Distribution License, For verions, consult [http://www.sun.com/cddl/ Sun Microsystems]. Based on MPL 1.1.



[http://www.eiffel-nice.org/license/ 2+]

The Eiffel Forum License. For versions, consult [http://www.opensource.org/licenses/eiffel.html Open Source Initative]



No 1.0

For versions, consult [http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/library/os-cplfaq.html IBM Common Public License (CPL) Frequently asked questions]. See also [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Public_License Wikipedia]




The Internet Software Consortium's [http://opensource.org/licenses/isc-license.txt “ISC license”]. Sometimes also known as the OpenBSD License




Mozilla Public License. For versions, consult [http://www.mozilla.org/MPL Mozilla.org]



No 1.6b1-2.1

For versions, consult [http://www.python.org/psf/license/ Python Software Foundation License]




The W3C Software License. For more information, consult [http://www.w3.org/Consortium/Legal/IPR-FAQ-20000620S W3C Intellectual Rights FAQ] and [http://www.w3.org/Consortium/Legal/2002/copyright-software-20021231 20021231 W3C Software notice and license]




[http://www.opensource.org/licenses/zlib-license.php The zlib/libpng license]



2.0, 2.1

Zope Public License. For versions, consult [http://www.zope.org/Resources/License/ Zope.org]

Problematic Licenses


Version needed?

GPL compatible





[http://creativecommons.org/ Creative Commons Attribution License]. You should not upload anything prior 3.x. Read [http://evan.prodromou.name/Debian_Creative_Commons_Workgroup_report Debian Creative Commons Workgroup report] by Evan Prodromou. CC license can easily lead to repackaging; CC-licensed material that does not meet DFSG have to be removed. This license is neither GPL nor GFDL compatible



Several variants of the MIT license exist: (1) the standard version with three paragraphs (blanket permission, keep this notice, NO WARRANTY), (2) a version with a no-endorsement clause, and (3) other versions with slight wording differences. License notice text needs to be copied verbatim



Being in the public domain is not a license. See Linux journal article [http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/6225 "Why the Public Domain Isn't a License"] by Lawrence Rosen. License notice text needs to be copied verbatim



No 3.01

For versions, consult [http://www.php.net/license PHP license]. The PHP license may cause Debian FTP admin staff to [http://ftp-master.debian.org/REJECT-FAQ.html REJECT] the package. The PHP license was designed for code contibuted to PHP language itself and not for developing PHP Web applications. It might be good idea to contact the author with suggestion to change to more safer LGPL or BSD license. See Debian mailing list threads [http://lists.debian.org/debian-legal/2005/08/msg00128.html 1], [http://lists.debian.org/debian-legal/2005/08/threads.html#00128 2], [http://lists.debian.org/debian-legal/2005/02/threads.html#00222 3], [http://lists.debian.org/debian-devel/2006/02/threads.html#00024 4], [http://lists.debian.org/debian-webapps/2006/04/threads.html#00008 5]



No 1.0

For versions, consult [http://doc.trolltech.com Trolltech]. This is obsolete license for Qt. Suggest the author of the sources to study page http://doc.trolltech.com/4.0/qpl.html

License keyword "other"

Examples of licenses not listed [http://www.opensource.org/licenses/alphabetical OSI], [http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/license-list.html FSF] pages. Should use License keyword other. The license notice is copied verbatim.


Erlang Public License

[http://www.jclark.com/xml/copying.txt Expat's license]. This license is what many people mean by "the MIT license", but that term is too ambiguous as there is more than one "MIT license" in the wild. For that reason the more precise name of this license is MIT/X11.

The LaTeX Project Public License. For versions, consult [http://www.latex-project.org/lppl/ Latex project]. GPL-incompatible. Note that works under any version of the License often have additional restrictions attached; check carefully.


Comment: Can we have other-non-free and other-gpl[2|3]-[in]compatible? The latter would help to automate a GPL-compatibility check. The former could help with mixed free/non-free source packages -- the whole package would of course go in non-free, but it could be worth noting for a later effort to separate out the non-free parts. -- ?AdamPowell

Comment: I am opposed this suggestion. I think introducing an EBNF grammar for the license keywords is totally unnecessary. This seems like complexity for complexities sake. No one is suggesting that this field contain arbitrary values, the original proposal was that the values would be explicitly enumerated. There is no technical reason why this is not sufficient for our needs. In the edit to add this proposal you have completely obliterated the existing list of keywords that were already within use in Debian. -- ?NoahSlater

Comment: On the contrary. There is no need to list every possible case starting from GPL-1, GPL-1+, GPL-2, GPL-2+. LGPL-1...LGPL-2.1, LGPL-2.1+ etc. The grammar can sufficiently express how the license keywords are to be constructed. If the examples above are not sufficient, they can be extended as needed. The EBNF does not imply arbitrary values. What needs to be decided is the exact keywords that express the license names for slots "to be decided". -- JariAalto

Comment: You say "there is no need", but this doesn't really make sense. We have two suggestions so far, enumerating every single licence using, essentially opaque, identifiers, or using your solution and making the identifiers themselves meaningful, constructing a grammar to do so. Two solutions, and varying positive and negative points. I prefer the first, and original, solution of explicitly enumerating each license, I find the alternate to be overcomplex, and buys us little for the additional complexity it adds for both implementors of this standard and those trying to produce conforming documents.

Comment: The grammar can "enumerate" licenses because that's what EBNF does. This does does not exclude in any way that there could be a "whole list" if someone wished to write one with every possible combination. The idea is that when more and more licenses are added, there is a need to define syntax how the license keywords are to be constructed. -- JariAalto

Comment: We had already written a whole list that you have subsequently removed. This list was already in use by a large number of Debian packages. Could you please restore it? -- ?NoahSlater

Comment: That list is expressed in the grammar; the examples section demonstrates how to apply it. No license keywords should have been lost. For example you can read: GPL-1, GPL-1+, GPL-2, GPL-2+, GPL-3, GPL-3+ etc. which are all covered. -- JariAalto

Comment: I still do not think we need a formal grammar for this. A few guidelines and a review process is all that we should need. We need to make this specification friendly to developer and this unnecessary grammar does not help us with that goal. I say it is unnecessary because neither Debian package developers, implementers of software that uses this specification, nor end users will ever make any use of the grammar. The only time this grammar would ever conceivably be used is when adding a new licence to the specification. I am confident in the current proficiency level of contributors to this effort that we could reasonably decide what is and isn't appropriate without going to this length. I am also struggling to understand the importance of GPL compatibility. Why has this been included? -- ?NoahSlater

Comment: The previous work was based on proposal of "list all licences, and combinations of them with versions". It didn't have structure, it didn't have rules how the licence keywords were supposed to be used and added, it unnecessarily listed every combination of versions, it didn't address problems associated with the license extensions of which "OppenSSL" issues and various other issues with the GPL licenses are examples. The Grammar is compact and handles all these now and in the future. It has been demonstrated to adapt to new requirements easily, like adding a "-Font" clarification for GPL by a user request. The grammar provides rules for machine parseability (lintian), where the original lists didn't. The GPL compatibility is very much an issue, when sources are combined from various licenses. -- JariAalto

Resolved issues:

2008-11-21: <License keyword well known> was broadened to answer to these. New topic <<License keyword "other">> was also added

Comment: What do you mean by "wide recognition", I hardly see how this has any relevance. If we need to use a license, we need to use a license. -- ?NoahSlater

Comment: E.g. using label Apache to refer to particular type of license is widely recognized (cf. FSF, Open Source initiative). This list should include only licenses that are in wide use and refrain from listing all possible past and present licenses. The lesser known licenses can use category "other" with license name and text copied verbatim. -- JariAalto


License names are case-insensitive.

The value of the field should follow the syntax of debian/control's Depends field. The pipe character "|" is used for code that can be used under the terms of either licenses. The comma "," is used for code that must be used under the terms of both licenses (for rare cases where a single file contains code under both licenses).

For instance, this is a simple, "GPL version 2 or later" field:

License: GPL-2+

This is a dual-licensed GPL/Artistic work such as Perl:

License: GPL-2+ | Artistic-2.0

This is for a file that has both GPL and classic BSD code in it:

License: GPL-2+, BSD-C2

And this is for a file that has Perl code and classic BSD code in it:

License: GPL-2+ | Artistic-2.0, BSD-C3

A GPL-2+ work with the OpenSSL exception is in effect a dual-licensed work that can be redistributed either under the GPL-2+, or under the GPL-2+ with the OpenSSL exception. It is thus expressed as GPL-2+-BY-OpenSSL:

License: GPL-2+-BY-OpenSSL
 In addition, as a special exception, the author of this program gives
 permission to link the code of its release with the OpenSSL project's
 "OpenSSL" library (or with modified versions of it that use the same
 license as the "OpenSSL" library), and distribute the linked executables.
 You must obey the GNU General Public License in all respects for all of
 the code used other than "OpenSSL".  If you modify this file, you may
 extend this exception to your version of the file, but you are not
 obligated to do so.  If you do not wish to do so, delete this exception
 statement from your version."


Resolved issues

2008-11-21: The following below has been resolved by the use of EBNF grammar. The GPL/LGPL extensions are defined after "BY" keyword. In this case the -OpenSSL --JariAalto

  • The syntax of this example is not consistent with the syntax description above. The use of GPL-2+ | other is only permissible in a Files section and not in a stand-alone License section. The inclusion of free-form text in the remaining lines of the Licence field of a Files section is not permitted if more than one license keyword is being used. As currently written in this proposal, this needs to be:

  • Files: *
    Copyright: Copyright 1999-2007 John Doe
    License: GPL-2+ | other
    License: GPL-2+
     On Debian systems, [...]
    License: other
     In addition, as a special exception, [...]

Comment: However, this description is still not what the author meant. If the field read License: GPL-2 | Artistic-2.0 then the end-user has the choice of choosing to accept either the GPL-2 or Artistic 2.0 licenses, but this is not the case and this "other" is not really a separate license as it is instead an exception that is added to notice putting the code under the GPL in the first place. There is no choice between "GPL-2+" and "other" as indicated by the use of the | between the license keywords. The problem stems from conflating the statement of what licenses the code is under with the licenses themselves.

  • Comment: I disagree: It was indeed the intention of the author to license as either "GPL2+" or "GPL2+ adjusted to please OpenSSL", which is 2 separate distinct licensing terms, even if written more compact to not repeat the GPL2+ part. In other words, I believe the above is correct. -- JonasSmedegaard

    • Comment: You are right in that license can be reduced to "GPL-2" | "GPL-2 with exception" because the exception is separable for derived works. But expressing "other" as being purely the exception is wrong as it is not a self-contained licence. The way the example is written above illustrates this... the field starts with the words "In addition" and the reader is left wondering "in addition to what?". The human-readable aspect of the copyright file is lost if such ambiguities are left in it and the machine-parsable aspect is also lost if some other licenses are really a self-contained license while others are actually an addition to another section elsewhere in the document. However, this may be the way of solving these problems: can it be expressed as GPL-2+ | GPL-2+ with exceptions where the License stanza for "GPL-2+ with exceptions" states that it is "GPL-2 In addition, as a special exception..."? It would presumably be desirable to make "GPL-2+ with exceptions" into something that doesn't contain whitespace to be consistent with the other keywords though -- StuartPrescott

Comment: Does it instead need to be written explicitly like this:

  • Files: *
    Copyright: Copyright 1999-2007 John Doe
    License: GPL-2+ + exception
     On Debian systems, [...]
     In addition, as a special exception, [...]

    Comment: Notes:

    • I considered GPL-2+, exception, but I think it's important to distinguish between the exception being a separate license and it modifying the previously listed licence hence "+" seems better than "," which already has another meaning in this field.

    • Perhaps resurrecting the License-Terms field would be better than creating an Exception field for this.

    • This is related to the earlier question about the removal of the actual statement of how the code was released from the copyright file (e.g. the "This program is free software ... You should have received ..." text). This openssl exception is part of that statement and not part of a license.
    • -- StuartPrescott

      Comment: I do not like the "+" syntax or the "Exception" field. I think this should be indicated with the "other" keyword exlusively, with an explanation. It is misleading to claim this is still GPL. -- ?NoahSlater

      Comment: To do so would mean that, as JonasSmedegaard noted, we lose the information that GPL+Exception == GPL | GPL+Exception. So while saying "GPL+Exception" == "other" has merits, it would throw away a lot of information from this copyright format, especially since (as noted above) derived works need not follow the exception. Since GPL+Exception are common enough terms for permitting code to be distributed, it would be worth having a syntax that actually allows us to express these terms both accurately and succinctly. Perhaps writing it explicitly as GPL | GPL+Exception rather than just GPL | other is both accurate and self-contained. -- StuartPrescott

      My only issue is with the use of spaces in the license keywords, how about: GPL/extra, GPL2/extra, GPL2+/extra, etc or similar?



A possible copyright file for xsol:

Format-Specification: http://wiki.debian.org/Proposals/CopyrightFormat?action=recall&rev=143
Upstream-Name: X Solitaire
Upstream-Source: ftp://ftp.example.com/pub/games

Files: *
Copyright: Copyright 1998, John Doe <jdoe@example.com>
License: GPL-2+
 On Debian systems the full text of the GNU General Public License can be found
 in the `/usr/share/common-licenses/GPL' file.

Files: debian/*
Copyright: Copyright 1998, Jane Smith <jsmith@example.net>
License: other


A possible copyright file for planet-venus:

Format-Specification: http://wiki.debian.org/Proposals/CopyrightFormat?action=recall&rev=178
Upstream-Name: Planet Venus
Upstream-Maintainer: John Doe <jdoe@example.com>
Upstream-Source: http://www.example.com/code/venus

Files: *
Copyright: Copyright 2008, John Doe <jdoe@example.com>
Copyright: Copyright 2007, Jane Smith <jsmith@example.org>
Copyright: Copyright 2007, Joe Average <joe@example.org>
Copyright: Copyright 2007, J. Random User <jr@users.example.com>
License: PSF-2

Files: debian/*
Copyright: Copyright 2008, Dan Developer <dan@debian.example.com>
License: GAP
 Copying and distribution of this package, with or without modification, are
 permitted in any medium without royalty provided the copyright notice and this
 notice are preserved.

Files: debian/patches/theme-diveintomark.patch
Copyright: Copyright 2008, Joe Hacker <hack@example.org>
License: GPL-2+

Files: planet/vendor/compat_logging/*
Copyright: Copyright 2002, Mark Smith <msmith@example.org>
License: MIT

Files: planet/vendor/httplib2/*
Copyright: Copyright 2006, John Brown <brown@example.org>
License: other
 Unspecified MIT style license.
Files: planet/vendor/feedparser.py
Copyright: Copyright 2007, Mike Smith <mike@example.org>
License: PSF-2

Files: planet/vendor/htmltmpl.py
Copyright: Copyright 2004, Thomas Brown <coder@example.org>
License: GPL-2+
 On Debian systems the full text of the GNU General Public License can be found
 in the `/usr/share/common-licenses/GPL' file.


I find the file format is very ugly to look at. [… different example file, non-conformant with the rest of this document] — ChristophBerg

Christoph, your suggestion isn't very clear. As far as I can tell, you want the fields in the header to change completely? If so, the best thing to do is to discuss the specific changes you want to see, with your reasoning for each change, in the appropriate places for each change. — BenFinney

Question: I am not quite sure this is the right place... Some licenses must be presented to the *user* that install the system (like sun-java, AFAIK), and forbid preseeding. Some other licenses simply must be presented(like [http://intellinuxwireless.org/?n=faq&s=license#license_1 intel ipw2200] license). Some other licenses should be presented and allow special case for automated installation. A filed like LicenseAcceptation could then be used in preinst/postinst script. FranklinPiat

Question: The current version now requires that the entire file be in RFC 2822 format, which leaves no place for additional commentary that doesn't fit into the existing fields. I have some packages that use the older version of this format that allowed free-form text with such text to explain issues like PDF files for which no other source still exists. Where do I put those comments now? Can we perhaps add a new field to the header section for such free-form commentary about issues relevant to the licensing but not fitting into a license section or one of the existing header fields? -- RussAllbery

Answer: It sounds like this information should be put in the README.source file. -- ?NoahSlater

Answer2: It was suggested before to use arbitrary fields prefixed by X-. I routinely use X-Debian-Comment for instance. -- CharlesPlessy

Putting such information in README.source doesn't make any sense to me. It has nothing to do with the purpose of that file; it's information about the source and licensing of the upstream software, which is the purpose of debian/copyright, not information about how to work with the source package.

Another example of information that is supposed to go into debian/copyright for which this proposal doesn't currently leave room is information about how the upstream source has been repacked for DFSG purposes. After several discussions on debian-devel and debian-mentors, my impression is that consensus was reached that such information should be in debian/copyright. See devref I see that's already noted in a comment above, though. -- RussAllbery

Recent Changes

  • 2008-12-09: Propose X-* fields for hints not agreed upon, e.g. X-Upstream-Source-Repackaged for documenting non-DFSG parts stripped from source.

  • 2008-11-21: Removed Upstream-Vcs-Browser and Upstream-Vcs-URI from the proposal after informal consensus period resulting in one to keep and three to delete. A concern was raised that "[the] URL mentioned cannot be used alone to retrieve the sources in any machine automated way." The Upstream-Source field is meant for human consumption, and is intended to be used as a general pointer to the upstream source, not as a machine readable way of automating upstream source repackaging. If someone wants to develop a machine readable upstream source specification, perhaps using the README.source file, I would suggest that this is done separately to this specification. -- ?NoahSlater

  • 2008-11-21: Add to EBNF new topic Notes: and explain treatment of point-zero versions, -OpenSSL and -Font exceptions. Cite Mark ?McLoughlin as source for OpenSSL clarification. The -Font exception was suggested by TheppitakKaroonboonyanan. Add -path to File::Format::Syntax. In "<License keyword well known>" add new column "Version needed?" and add URLs for license versions. Add GPL compatible column and fill in version and data to license tables. Add color coding to tables. —JariAalto

  • 2008-11-20: Add to EBNF new "-OpenSSL" clarification for GPL, LGPL. Add version number to Artistic licenses; also add URLs to point to 1.0 and 2.0. Change obsolete GPL-1+ examples to more in use GPL-2+ examples. Change other-BSD keywords to proposed BSD-C2 keywords in examples. Add new new section Resolved issues. Add topic Problematic Licenses and add to table PHP, QPL. —JariAalto

  • 2008-11-08: Simplify Upstream-Vcs-URI. Use example.{org,com,net} in all URLs. —JariAalto

  • 2008-11-07: License Keywords: Write generic EBNF. Divide BSD cases to proposals 1,2,3. Make generic keyword tables. Add BSD table for proposal 2. Add Comment: indicators. Add Discussion sections. Properly indent all comments. (MAJOR CHANGES). —JariAalto

  • 2008-11-02: License Keywords: Add table about FSF recognized names for use with BSD licenses. —JariAalto

  • 2008-10-21: Header Section: Add Upstream-Vcs-Browser and Upstream-Vcs-URI. —JariAalto

  • 2008-10-15: Proposal for abbreviations that indicate *which* BSD-style license is referenced. —BenFinney

  • 2008-09-27: Re-work some of the provisional language, as this is shaping up more as a specification to be recommended (not there yet, but the document wording should get ready for this). —BenFinney

  • 2008-09-27: Clarify the "match order" explanation and example, using positive rather than negative examples; negative examples proved confusing to multiple readers. —BenFinney

  • 2008-07-25: Show that "©" is valid for copyright statement but use "Copyright" in most examples, as the latter is easier for most people to type. -- ?NoahSlater, BenFinney

  • 2008-07-25: Incorporate suggestion of repeatable Copyright field, as no significant drawbacks have been raised. —BenFinney

  • 2008-07-22: Note line-length problems with long Format-Specification URLs, and fix examples to avoid lintian warnings in packages that use the examples. —BenFinney

  • 2008-07-12: I propose a new header field, Disclaimer, for contrib and non-free package to comply with the suggestion introduced by Policy 3.8.0 to state that they are not part of Debian. -- CharlesPlessy

  • 2008-07-11: Improved explanation around the License field. -- ?NoahSlater

  • 2008-07-11: Removed the mention of License-Terms field following no reply to criticisms. -- ?NoahSlater

  • 2008-06-14: Moved discussion of broader change to date+time format to ["Proposals/DatetimeFormat"] -- BenFinney

  • 2008-05-28: Changed Packaged-Date time format to ISO 8601. Corrected examples as well. -- ?TeemuIkonen

  • 2008-05-26: Added Upstream-Maintainer field, which should point to the current upstream contact (some packages have retired authors which should be named in the Upstream-Author field, but are not active anymore) -- ?TeemuIkonen

  • 2008-05-19: Implement ?NoahSlater's suggested change, "Can we take this oportunity to use the word "packaged" instead of "debianized"?

  • 2008-05-02: Removed the section on Notice because I don't see a use case for this. Any licenses in /usr/share/common-licenses should be expressed using a regular License field with the standard Debian notice text being used as the long description. Unknown or uncommon licenses can be expressed using the "other" license type with the long description serving as normal.

  • 2008-05-01: Once more: reorganisation (by sections, by fields) -- ?MathieuParent

  • 2008-04-29: Added TOC, recent changes at bottom, separating sections with empty lines is mandatory to parse "Multiple license fields" -- ?MathieuParent

  • 2008-04-28: Added clarified multiple License field behaviour. -- ?NoahSlater

  • 2008-04-28: Added back Original-Source-* style header fields as these are required for packages where the upstream source is taken directly from a repository or an unversioned tarball. -- ?NoahSlater

  • 2008-04-28: Simplify, make it rfc2822 compatible, disambiguation (I've changed/removed stuff from other people, please don't be upset !, old is in ["Proposals/CopyrightFormat/Archive"] ) -- ?MathieuParent

  • 2008-04-01: Added proposal to use License independently to avoid repetition.
  • 2008-03-30: Added GFDL 1.1 and 1.1+ -- ?GustavoMontesino

  • 2008-03-26: Added CC-BY-SA-3 license. -- ?NoritadaKobayashi

  • 2008-03-19: Proposed X-Non-Free-Autobuild field for non-free packages -- CharlesPlessy

  • 2008-02-29: Added EFL-2 license. -- ?NoahSlater

  • 2008-02-14: Added ZLIB license (the zlib/libpng one). -- Kaeso
  • 2008-01-12: Added section describing proposal for full RFC822 specfication. -- ?MortenKjeldgaard, Discussion on -devel http://lists.debian.org/debian-devel/2007/08/msg00242.html

  • 2007-10-20: Added CC-BY-3 license. -- ?NoahSlater

  • 2007-10-09: Added proposal for all-permissive licenses. -- ?NoahSlater

  • 2007-10-09: Added the MPL-1.1 and EPL-1.1 licenses. -- ?NoahSlater

  • 2007-08-09: replaced "GPLvX" with "GPL-X" to match /usr/share/common-licenses filenames. Replaced "BSD" with "BSD-3". --Sam

  • 2007-08-09: reverted the parentheses proposal for /usr/share/common-licenses, it made lines too long. --Sam

  • 2007-08-06: add Artistic-2.0. -- Josh Triplett
  • 2007-08-06: added MIT licenses to the "Stuff that we might want" section; needs disambiguation. -- Josh Triplett
  • 2007-08-06: clarified "Artistic" with a specific reference to the original license as found in common-licenses. -- Josh Triplett
  • 2007-08-06: added several more licenses; suggested changing BSD to BSD3; refer to the Library or Lesser GPL as appropriate to the version. -- Josh Triplett
  • 2007-08-05: suggested a way to get rid of the "On Debian GNU/Linux systems, the text of the GPL blahblah" text.
  • 2007-08-05: changed the Files behaviour as suggested by several people on debian-devel.

  • Aug 2007-08-05: removed Packaging-Copyright and Packaging-License in favour of the Files: debian/* technique. --Sam

  • 2007-08-05: dropped the Source field. It was not really needed for any machine-interpretable work, there's the watch file for that. --Sam