The user is a rapidly evolving creature being defined by possibility.
opinions from the head lemur
[Posted] Wednesday, October 03, 2001
No RAND for Me
The web works because HTML is an open system.
The majority of what you see on your screen is written in Hyper Text Markup Language. This language has been carefully created to extend the capabilities of what can be communicated from one computer to another. The source for this is the W3C World Wide Web Consortium.
The W3C holds a special position in our little world. We in concert, without clubs, memberships, secret handshakes, or free mouse pads, have decided to agree on the W3C Recommendations as the stone tablets of our universe of the web. We are here as these 'standards' are non-propriatary, open source, and do not 'belong' to anybody. This means that we have a baseline to begin our exploration and experimentation with what we can get to show up in a browser.
The W3C is currently exploring RAND as a method of allowing commercial entities to incorporate proprietary or closed technology to be adopted into the Recommendations that are known in the web development community as THE STANDARDS.
RAND stands for "reasonable and non-discriminatory"
The Danger with "reasonable and non-discriminatory"
They are neither. They sound good, and seem to be fair, but they are not.
I see this RAND business as a coercion attempt on the part of private companies to subvert the work of the W3C and to control the web through license intimidation.
This is a preliminary document outlining a mechanism for including intellectual property, patents of questionable validity and proprietary code and software components into the W3C Standards as Recommendations.
The W3C is a world wide resource. If it is to remain the authority that we have made it, we cannot allow it to be blackmailed by private companies looking to bleed every developer, business, and user from Boston to Bangladesh.
If this draft proposal is adopted, it will sink the web.
RAND stands for "reasonable and non-discriminatory" terms. A "RAND License" shall mean a license that:
1. shall be available to all implementers worldwide, whether or not they are W3C Members;
2. shall extend to all Essential Claims owned or controlled by the licensor and its Affiliates (except as described in section 8.2 concerning licenses relating to Contributions);
3. may be limited to implementations of the Recommendation, and to what is required by the Recommendation;
4. may be conditioned on a grant of a reciprocal RAND License to all Essential Claims owned or controlled by the licensee and its Affiliates. For example, a reciprocal license may be required to be available to all, and a reciprocal license may itself be conditioned on a further reciprocal license from all (including, in the case of a license to a Contribution, the original licensee).
5. may be conditioned on payment of reasonable, non-discriminatory royalties or fees;
6. may not impose any further conditions or restrictions on the use of any technology, intellectual property rights, or other restrictions on behavior of the licensee, but may include reasonable, customary terms relating to operation or maintenance of the license relationship such as the following: audit (when relevant to fees), choice of law, and dispute resolution.
This should be fought with every ounce of strength of you possess.
As an observation, the W3C is one of the few committees that can create standards ahead of the companies most directly able to benefit from them. This is exciting in that it points to a methodology for discussion and consensus that can be used to facilitate cooperation beyond the browser and the web. This also had an indirect effect on the current state of the browsers and a few of the tools we use to create the web.
The most telling illustration of this is the Web Standards Project.
The WaSP was created to get the browser makers to adhere to the standards that they were instrumental in creating by their membership in the W3C. As designers we had agreed that we would use these standards to create the web. We asked that the browser makers support these standards. For the most part this was successful
All of the companies that are members of the W3C to this point have been able to capitalize on the web. They all have web sites to make them money, in software, hardware, intellectual property, and to save them money in customer support costs, drivers, FAQ's, manuals, and even in new products.
Now they want to co-opt the standards and rent these things. Oh not today or tommorrow, but as sure as you are reading this they will make the attempt. It is my view that these companies who insist on the RAND will not help the web but will break it.
I mentioned patents of questionable validity in the beginning. In MY opinion, Patents on Software are absurd. Some poor bastard working late after reading yet another perpetual motion project patent application picked up a software patent application and said why not. Software is Intellectual Property. From your brain to my machine. This does not imply that all software should be open source. It does mean that it should be protected by Copyright. Which gives the creators a far better method for assigning rights.
The validity of Software Patents is an area of law outside the scope of the current situation, but is noted, as it has been attempted in the past.
Killing us softly
Historically, Three previous attempts have been made to play this game. All revolved around software patents.
The first was the LZW compression algorithm patent owned by the Unisys Corporation.
The short and sweet is that if you have any .gif images created with the LZW compression algorithm on your sites and do not have a license agreement with Unisys, you are in violation and may be subject to prosecution. From Unisys comes this tidbit: "Other forms of LZW are, for example, TIFF-LZW, PDF and Postscript-2."
There are very few gifs on the web today.
The second is the P3P or Platform for Privacy Preferences originally a W3C project. Then a private company Intermind, as a member of this working group declared that it has a patent on key elements of the standard. They got their asses handed to them.
The third and the one in play is SVG Scalable Vector Graphics. This is the most disturbing as it is currently under consideration. The table of Patent Statements on this page is of particular note as it explicitly mentioned RAND as a License Summary.
Noticing who is holding a gun to the W3C and by extension you and I, under the RAND and who is providing a royalty free license is instructive. You can draw your own conclusions. This implies that the current comment period is smoke and mirrors and the response to this draft that this is a done deal.
Don't give up quite yet. The opportunity to voice your opinion has been extended.
UPDATE: 2 October 2001: In response to developer protests, W3C has extended the review period to 11 October 2001. We ask Web developers and users to read the Patent Policy draft and mail comments to the W3C. "Substantial comments" will be weighted more heavily than sarcasm or cries of outrage.
Hat Tip: Web Standards Project
The web works because HTML is an open system.
It's pretty simple. If a member wants to contribute something to the cause, great. If they want to license it, show them the door. This is not AMCE Corporation's web, This is your web.
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