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I'm curious why Debian created the DFSG when the FSD already existed. There are some differences (conflicts) of course, but was that the main motivation?

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The early definition of free software (set forth in the GNU’s Bullentin Volume 1, Number 1 in 1986) was unknown to the authors of the Debian Free Software Guidelines in 1997. This early definition was much weaker than the DFSG and it seems that The Free Software Definition had not yet been published as such.

Here is an excerpt from a comment by Bruce Perens (the primary author of DFSG) (found as a reference in Wikipedia’s Debian Free Software Guidelines article):

Richard wrote a statement of the Four Freedoms in an early edition of the GNUs Bulletin, which was mostly distributed in paper form on the MIT campus and environs. He did not further promote them until a long time later. So, when I had to write license guidelines for Debian, the Four Freedoms document was unknown. …

Much later, FSF published its statement of the Four Freedoms on its web site as an alternative to the Open Source Definition.

In fact, the 1986 GNU’s Bulletin definition was not the modern “Four Freedoms”, but a simplified version that focuses on the abilities to redistribute and change programs (but not specifically the ability to redistribute changed programs!). This early definition is close to the “modern” freedoms two and one.

The DFSG were first published in the July 1997 announcement of the Debian “Social Contract”. It explicitly mentions the ability to redistribute modified source code (or at least “original plus patches”). This was not explicit in the early GNU’s Bulletin definition, though it is related to “modern” freedom three.

archive.org’s http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html

  • January 1998 - first archived version; (unnumbered) freedoms one through three
  • April 1999 - added freedom zero
  • May 2001 - first version called “The Free Software Definition”
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