W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org > September 2001

"Standards" with licensing restrictions disasterous to free software

From: Seth Nickell <snickell@stanford.edu>
Date: 29 Sep 2001 22:18:03 -0700
To: www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org
Message-Id: <1001827084.2691.18.camel@null>
I am extremely concerned with a few probable effects of the W3C allowing
standards to be created that have licensing restrictions (e.g. you need
to obtain a license). The phrase "Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory" is
extremely dangerous and open to wide interpretation. As a free software
author, I sincerely doubt that "reasonable" (particularly with the
non-discriminatory clause) will allow me to continue my work without
paying licensing fees...though from my perspective it would be
unreasonable for me to pay licensing fees when I gain no benefit from
the work myself. Could this point please be publicly clarified?

To a company a few thousand, or tens of thousands of dollars isn't a
terrible amount. For me, its the difference between being able to
(legally) implement a standard or not. I suspect this is true of most
free software authors. We already have enough standards boards
implementing "standards" that only companies can implement legally, I
would hope that given its non-commercial / educational roots the W3C
will maintain some distance from the profit making process in favour of
standards that better the experience of the internet for all users. You
see, developers are not the only ones affected by non-free standards. My
users may be unable to access critical features or content.

As time goes on, I predict more and more content will only be available
with some form of licensing if *any* is allowed. Can you imagine the
result if free software authors had to pay $2000 to CompanyX every time
they wanted to implement HTML4 or CSS? The first adopters of W3C
standards often (perhaps usually) are free software projects...we thrive
off standards. Where is SVG widely implemented? MathML? Mostly in the
free software world. I can assure you that most of the authors of these
programs have a hard enough time justifying the time they spend on
gratis development, very few if any will be willing to cough up
thousands of dollars to implement a non-free standard. Just consider the
problems encountered by free software developers implementing the ISO
MPEG standards, in particular MP3 (which are covered by Fraunhofer

Then of course there are inherent conflicts in the licensing model with
free software, like if licensing is done on a per-user basis, or the
very viability of implementing something under the GPL when it is
already covered by a non-public-domain patent... Under many
interpretations of the GPL this would not be legal.

Please don't turn the W3C into yet another forum for corporations to
exert their muscle and try to eek money out of developers and the
public. How is it a standard when a significant contingent of the
development community is legally prohibited from implementing the
"standard"? If specific exception were provided for development done
under a license which meets the Debian free software guidelines, perhaps
I could stomach a change like this (though even then I'd prefer that
license encumbered standards never be used). 


-Seth A. Nickell (GNOME/Nautilus developer, http://www.gnome.org)
Received on Sunday, 30 September 2001 01:18:07 GMT

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