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Please reconsider this course of action

From: Pete Stewart <stwrtpj@earthlink.net>
Date: Sun, 30 Sep 2001 07:22:59 -0600
Message-ID: <3BB71CB3.6BD6BF49@earthlink.net>
To: www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org
I have just read with mounting dismay the proposed new policy to give
the option to companies to charge royalties for standards submitted to
and implemented by the W3C. Please reconsider this course of action.

It does not strike me as right - either from a technical standpoint or
an ethical one - to charge people merely for using or implementing a
particular web standard in a browser, web server, or web page. To me
this would seem like a very poorly disguised way for the large companies
to generate more revenue at the expense of smaller companies. Ironicly,
the RAND promises to be non-discriminatory, but by its very nature it is
discriminatory.

The logic: A large company has a lot of money and resources. If they
choose to implement a web standard that has royalties attatched, no
problem. Their pockets are deep enough. They can buy off-the-shelf
commercial software, or develop it themselves and pay the royalty fee.
But what if a small company, non-profit organization, charity,
educational institution, and so on, tries to do the same thing? Such an
organization would tend to use free software as a way to cut costs. At
the moment, there is a number of very fine products in this area out
there that suit the purpose. But if you allow companies that submit
standards to charge royalties, this would effectively kill the free
software side of it, since free software could not be produced that
requires these royalty payments. This could potentially lock out these
users, and thus you have set up a discriminatory situation.

The concept of a "standard" or similar thing being charged a royalty has
failed in the past. Either it becomes unenforceable, or the user
community comes up with something to replace it. The danger here is that
the thing that could be replaced in this manner is the W3C itself. Then
you would have competing standards groups. Eventually, the open group
would most likely win out, but not after a lot of friction, bad
feelings, and confusion.

Examples of standards or attempts at standards in the past that have
been or are being circumvented in this manner:

  Microsoft media format (led to the creation of DivX, which is becoming
increasingly popular)
  MP3 audio format (there are rumblings of royalties in this area, so in
steps Ogg Vorbis)
  GIF image format (UNISYS started to charge for this, so now we have
PNG)
  CSS encoding on DVDs (led someone to create DeCSS, which is causing a
big uproar everywhere. It was made illegal, only causing an even bigger
uproar and placing the MPAA in the position of being the Bad Guys)

Let me mention one word that may get you to reconsider: Apache.

Apache software runs more than half of the webservers out there. If you
allow companies to charge royalties for web standards, many of which are
implemented in Apache, which is a free software project, this could very
well be the death of Apache. This would force Apache to begin charging
for their product, which would force a lot of small companies and
non-profit organizations to shut down their websites. Apache would see
its user base decline. That could be considered unfair business
practice.

Does the W3C really wanted to be known as the Killer of Apache? Does it
really want to be known as the Bad Guys? If you continue to pursue this
line of action, it could very well be.

Peter Stewart
Denver, Colorado
Received on Sunday, 30 September 2001 09:20:06 GMT

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