I want to create a website which hosts some GNU Emacs manuals in a more accessible format. To do so, I convert the HTML pages at https://www.gnu.org/manual/manual.html to Markdown.

Does this count as a "modification"? I am not changing any of the content of the manual (barring some links), but the new format is undoubtedly "modified", and since I'm not that terrific of a programmer I cannot ensure that every single word remains unchanged.

I would think that a different markup format would not constitute a modification, as the HTML versions of the manuals do not appear to have a different license than the TeXInfo versions, but since my process is a little more crude I'm really not sure.

I would like it to count as a verbatim copy as I don't feel like licensing the manuals myself (feels somewhat strange as I add very little).

1 Answer 1


Generally, if it is not verbatim, it is a modification.

That is especially true, if you are 'changing links' and cannot ensure that every single word remains unchanged.

However, where is the issue with stating that your work is an adoption of "linked site" into "whatever markup"? Those being GNU manuals, they will be FLOSS licenses, so use the same license as the original, preferrably link to it, and state that you did the adoptation to the new format and all is fine.

This being said, depending on your jurisdiction, these modifications you mention might not require any consent beyond the permission to distribute it verbatim - as long as your work exclusively only constitutes technically necessary adoptions to display it as needed.

  • Thank you, that makes sense! Using the GFDL requires a statement which gives express permission to distribute, copy or modify the document. My problem with "modification", however, is that the GFDL does state that I cannot use the same title as the original manual without permission. However, I am unsure what that title refers to for my "work": I feel like it refers to the title of the whole "Aggregation" as defined in section 7, which might mean that I could keep the titles "The GNU Emacs Manual" for the sections of the website containing that manual. Am I right in assuming so?
    – tefkah
    Nov 29, 2021 at 20:26
  • GNU documentation is notorious for using the GFDL, sometimes with invariant sections, and you cannot modify invariant sections. This has actually caused Debian to classify some GNU manuals as non-free.
    – Kevin
    Nov 29, 2021 at 21:44
  • Indeed, the title might then be a problem. I'd probably solve that by an asterix which links to the note which contains like "This is an adoption into (format) from (name - with link to original), retrieved from (date) by (your name). But this might already be stretching the boundaries as Kevin points out Nov 29, 2021 at 22:01
  • The invariant sections (in my case just being 2 sections of the GNU Emacs Manual) are left invariant, so that should check out. I guess I am more confused about the titles, but that is outside of the scope of this question, and I'll consider the main question (whether markup translation counts as modification) answered.
    – tefkah
    Nov 30, 2021 at 12:57

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