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Additional thoughts against RAND (long, rambling, possibly incoherent)

From: Tony Sellers <tony_sellers@yahoo.com>
Date: Thu, 11 Oct 2001 23:04:10 -0700 (PDT)
Message-ID: <20011012060410.77599.qmail@web13307.mail.yahoo.com>
To: www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org
Wrestling again with a swirl of ideas, I find myself
again ill equipped to express the fullness of my
objection to to the proposed "RAND" licensing proposal
for WC3 promulgated but privately patented standards
(hereafter RAND).  The alternate futures at stake in
rand range too greatly to be analyzed in the limited
amount of time provided by the committee both before
and after the extension of the public comments period.
 Understand: I appreciate the extension given by the
W3C; it is nonetheless true that the power of this
brief proposal is greater than can be considered by
any average individual in the space of a few short
days, weeks, or months.  I suspect years of individual
pondering would leave the matter incompletely
Luckily, the previous work of the W3C and others has
provided a mechanism by which we lesser participants
may know the minds of others if they should wish to
reveal themselves.  From each greater or lesser
thinker who freely offers his work, we may learn and
select the best ideas.  In the end we are all richer
for having this exchange--the readers for having
learned and the authors for being recognized and
understood.  Throughout the process we are all free to
continue if we wish to pursue compensation in the
measure we desire.  We are not obliged to leave our
families or ourselves hungry, poorly sheltered, or
even wanting for vast riches if we choose to
participate in this exchange.  

Consider the extent of patents.  In the United States,
home to the companies who sponsor RAND by employee
proxy, patents last seventeen years.  Seventeen years
ago the internet was a nascent technology comprising
the brilliant works of people like Crocker, Cerf, and
Postel (to name ony a very few) which is still
recognizable today.  By opening their work they did
not deprive themselves or their companies of
legitimate revenue, but built a system in which they
prospered, or at least had an equal opportunity to
prosper. Their works were extended by other
researchers who devised standards like RARP, TFTP
booting, POP, and TACACS, which remain to this day. 
Some implementations remain essentially as
standardized.  Others evolved.  Others died.  This was
eleven years before 'HTML' appeared in an IETF RFC. 
This was ten years before the W3C was founded.  This
was 1984.  This was the year that a pioneer personal
computer company reintroduced itself to the world in
an ad more famous for its cinematic acumen than for
its commercial effect.  Apple's vigorous young avatar
sought to smash te hegemony of the IBM/Microsoft
business environment.  She failed, but not so
miserably as to bankrupt herself.  Apple remains, and
curiously supports the bland new hegemony of RAND. 
The real threat to computing freedom apparently was
not 1984, but 2001.  What dark monolith do we ponder
today, and how can we be sure of its intentions for
us?  Who will smash it if need be?

Seventeen years is too long to enshrine a standard
when only months ago the world embraced 'internet
time' as the new standard for development cycles. 
Ironically, 'internet time', as a popular buzzword,
passed in its approximate definition--six months. 
Andy Oram covered this ground far better than I can in
his piece "The Ghosts of Internet Time" (
http://www.webreview.com/pi/2000/12_22_00.shtml ) 
Still I feel the need to compare the common protocol
standards of yesterday and today to the closed patent
traditions of today and standards of tomorrow and to
question the proposed change in standards making.  

The old standards didn't go out of their way initially
to embrace non-English or disabled audiences, but they
didn't intentionally exclude those potential users
either.  Today, web sites make broad use of
Macromedia's Flash.  This frequently disenfranchises
several groups from the discussion.  Non-speakers of
the dominant language of the site must muddle through
translations or settle for what gist they can glean. 
The blind are often totally excluded.  Others, like
myself do not view Flash-intensive sites (like
http://wwww.miami-airport.com ) because either there
is no Flash plug-in for their browser on their
platform of choice or because they choose (if they can
afford otherwise) to adhere to the thin client ideal
of the web.  I concede that Flash neither sufficient
nor necessary to cause this exclusion and I apologize
for singling out this actually interesting technology.
 Its current use is however emblematic of one future
we face under RAND, a web where only the most common
browser with certain patented plug-ins (how many?),
available only for the most popular architecture, and
tolerable only at a costly performance point can view
a vast amount of content on the web.  Others, unable
to view this content may form discrete sub-communities
on a web of babel.  Market forces will moderate this
tendency, as they do today, but some organizations or
their web designers will prefer artistic
self-indulgence over communication in service to their
customers and peers.  W3C endorsement not of RAND but
of only those simpler protocols necessary to online
communication and commerce, and insistence on
accomodating the use of the minimum necessary
protocols could form a levee against technology for
its own sake.  

Alternatively, lower-common-denominator standards can
enable the extension of web benefits to consumers and
individuals of lesser physical and monetary ability
without seriously crimping the ability of content
providers to deliver the most polished product they
can concieve to more advantaged users.  I offer an
example, a sight impaired user.  Specifically, the key
technology is text (ASCII or Unicode).  Text-based web
tools can take web content and render it into speech
via adaptation to speech synthesis products.  Control
can be achieved through rudimentary speech recognition
systems or by using the speech synthesis system to
provide feedback to the browser user regarding cursor
position.  Strip away the speech products and text or
low resolution graphics browsers can provide poorer
users the same content with trivial costs because of
minimal hardware requirements.  Site developers can
maintain showier content in parallel if they want. 
Try a text browser on several sites.  You'll be
surprised at the result both positively and
negatively.  The positive option is a choice worth

As Jon Snayder recently wrote, "If member companies
are concerned with recouping their '`significant
research efforts,'' let them compete in the
marketplace rather than trying to use the W3C as a tax
collector." (
)  The possibly fictional Alex Simons poses an
interesting question: "Why create new [intellectual
property] when you have to risk it as part of the W3C
procedures?" (
) The true meaning here is 'no one will do so'.  The
W3C concedes that this has not been the case in the
past, and I regretfully remind Alex that the last time
I looked closely at one of his company's operating
systems, a grep of Microsoft's own TCP/IP stack DLL
did show a copyright of the Regents of the University
of California, who chose to license that technology
royalty free.  UC WROTE the BSD license.  If profit is
always more important than providing something useful
to the community which built your industry, why have
all major web browser vendors given their product away
at one time or another?  True artists create because
the urge lives within them.  Some can pay their bills
with their labors.  A few become wealthy.  Some die in
poverty unless they make their living otherwise (e.g.,
James Joyce).  To endorse RAND at the expense of users
for the enrichment of developers who have the choice
of exploiting their own work without the artificial
demand of its inclusion in a standard would be an
abrogation of the W3Cs self-image.

The W3C proclaims its origins thus: "The World Wide
Web Consortium was created in October 1994 to lead the
World Wide Web to its full potential by developing
common protocols that promote its evolution and ensure
its interoperability." ( http://www.w3.org/Consortium/
)  I submit that no patent encumbered standard can
ever be developed as a "common protocol" and that to
attempt the promulgation of such would hinder the
evolution and interoperability of devices, and more
importantly of people on the World Wide Web.

The risks of RAND are too great to justify breaking
from the status quo.  Please reject RAND.  

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Received on Friday, 12 October 2001 02:04:11 UTC

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