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1.2. The Foundation Documents

A few years after its initial launch, Debian formalized the principles that it should follow as a free software project. This deliberately activist decision allows orderly and peaceful growth by ensuring that all members progress in the same direction. To become a Debian developer, any candidate must confirm and prove their support and adherence to the principles established in the project's Foundation Documents.
The development process is constantly debated, but these Foundation Documents are widely and consensually supported, thus rarely change. The Debian constitution also offers other guarantees for their stability: a three-quarter qualified majority is required to approve any amendment.

1.2.1. The Commitment towards Users

The project also has a “social contract”. What place does such a text have in a project only intended for the development of an operating system? It is quite simple: Debian works for its users, and thus, by extension, for society. This contract summarizes the commitments that the project undertakes. Let us study them in greater detail:
  1. Debian will remain 100% free.
    This is Rule No. 1. Debian is and will remain composed entirely and exclusively of free software. Additionally, all software development within the Debian project, itself, will be free.
  2. We will give back to the free software community.
    Any improvement contributed by the Debian project to a work integrated in the distribution is sent back to the author of the work (called “upstream”). In general, Debian will cooperate with the community rather than work in isolation.
  3. We will not hide problems.
    Debian is not perfect, and, there will be new problems to fix every day. Debian will keep its entire bug report database open for public view at all times. Reports that people file on-line will promptly become visible to others.
  4. Our priorities are our users and free software.
    This commitment is more difficult to define. Debian imposes, thus, a bias when a decision must be made, and will discard an easy solution for the developers that will jeopardize the user experience, opting for a more elegant solution, even if it is more difficult to implement. This means to take into account, as a priority, the interests of the users and free software.
  5. Works that do not meet our free software standards.
    Debian accepts and understands that users may want to use some non-free programs. That is why the project allows usage of parts of its infrastructure to distribute Debian packages of non-free software that can safely be redistributed.

1.2.2. The Debian Free Software Guidelines

This reference document defines which software is “free enough” to be included in Debian. If a program's license is in accordance with these principles, it can be included in the main section; on the contrary, and provided that free distribution is permitted, it may be found in the non-free section. The non-free section is not officially part of Debian; it is an added service provided to users.
More than a selection criteria for Debian, this text has become an authority on the subject of free software, and has served as the basis for the “Open Source Definition”. Historically, it is therefore one of the first formal definitions of the concept of “free software”.
The GNU General Public License, the BSD License, and the Artistic License are examples of traditional free licenses that follow the 9 points mentioned in this text. Below you will find the text as it is published on the Debian website.
  1. Free redistribution.
    The license of a Debian component may not restrict any party from selling or giving away the software as a component of an aggregate software distribution containing programs from several different sources. The license may not require a royalty or other fee for such sale.
  2. Source code.
    The program must include source code, and must allow distribution in source code as well as compiled form.
  3. Derived works.
    The license must allow modifications and derived works, and must allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software.
  4. Integrity of the author's source code.
    The license may restrict source code from being distributed in modified form only if the license allows the distribution of “patch files” with the source code for the purpose of modifying the program at build time. The license must explicitly permit distribution of software built from modified source code. The license may require derived works to carry a different name or version number from the original software (This is a compromise. The Debian group encourages all authors not to restrict any files, source or binary, from being modified).
  5. No discrimination against persons or groups.
    The license must not discriminate against any person or group of persons.
  6. No discrimination against fields of endeavor.
    The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.
  7. Distribution of license.
    The rights attached to the program must apply to all to whom the program is redistributed without the need for execution of an additional license by those parties.
  8. License must not be specific to Debian.
    The rights attached to the program must not depend on the program being part of a Debian system. If the program is extracted from Debian and used or distributed without Debian but otherwise within the terms of the program's license, all parties to whom the program is redistributed should have the same rights as those that are granted in conjunction with the Debian system.
  9. License must not contaminate other software.
    The license must not place restrictions on other software that is distributed along with the licensed software. For example, the license must not insist that all other programs distributed on the same medium must be free software.
  10. Example licenses
    The “GPL”, “BSD”, and “Artistic” licenses are examples of licenses that we consider “free”.