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Re: W3C should drop bespoke licenses, adopt CC0 + OWFa instead (was Re: HTML License Options for Discussion)

From: Jonas Sicking <jonas@sicking.cc>
Date: Thu, 31 Mar 2011 20:55:50 -0700
Message-ID: <AANLkTikqoNLCkNLO5sBpFa+SMPTkEv=Fh+vTPfO3v-WH@mail.gmail.com>
To: Tantek Çelik <tantek@cs.stanford.edu>
Cc: Maciej Stachowiak <mjs@apple.com>, "public-html@w3.org WG" <public-html@w3.org>, PSIG Group <member-psig@w3.org>
On Thu, Mar 31, 2011 at 8:13 PM, Tantek Çelik <tantek@cs.stanford.edu> wrote:
> tldr version:
> The time has come for W3C to abandon bespoke license(s) and re-use
> common licenses/agreements instead, in particular CC0[1] for
> copyright, and OWFa/CLA 1.0[2] for patent concerns. Since license(s)
> are an issue in the HTMLWG, this is a good place to start for W3C to
> make this transition.
> [1] http://creativecommons.org/choose/zero/
> [2] http://www.openwebfoundation.org/announcements/owfaandcla10agreementspublished
> Disclosure: I am on the board of the Open Web Foundation, but this
> proposal/suggestion is my own as an open web standards advocate, and I
> do not speak for the OWF.
> longer:
> There are no longer any substantial reasons why W3C should spend
> time/money on bespoke licenses as it has historically done so.
> The costs, both to W3C, and to anyone who wishes to use W3C
> technologies are unnecessary: time/effort for W3C to develop/maintain
> bespoke licenses vs simply re-use "standard" licenses, and time/effort
> for users of W3C tech to read/evaluate W3C's bespoke licenses vs.
> knowing they can trust previously known licenses/agreements such as
> CC0 and OWFa.
> Related:
> There is the widely propagated illusion / poor framing that W3C's
> limited licenses provide some degree of "protection" against
> "forking". This is wrong on several counts.
> 1. "forking" is not actually a bad thing. As well known from open
> source, the development of independent ideas, which may eventually be
> reincorporated, often benefits open efforts. The burden of proof is on
> those against forking, to provide *any* real world examples where a
> fork of a *web* standard resulting in a bad outcome (due to the fork).
> 2. no company has the leverage to fork a standard and succeed. One of
> common excuses to "protect" against forking is that otherwise some
> company could make their own version of a standard and take control of
> it. While this may have been true with a one or two large browser
> companies when W3C was founded, it is no longer true for open web
> technologies (W3C's focus). There is both sufficient diversity in the
> browser market that no one company could deviate a standard, as well
> as a huge realtime public feedback mechanism (AKA the Web) which would
> harshly criticize any company for attempting to do so. Again the
> burden of proof is on the anti-forking advocates to provide *any* real
> world examples where a company has successfully forked and taken over
> a web standard.
> 3. the alleged "protection" offered by W3C's licenses is toothless and
> self-defeating. W3C has never taken legal action for someone forking a
> W3C specification. And even if they did, the expected result would be
> a chilling effect on the use of that standard and on the W3C efforts
> in general. That is, any legal action taken to "protect" a W3C
> standard would actually likely have the opposite effect, that is, to
> slow, hurt, or even kill that standard in terms its usage/adoption in
> the marketplace. Witness the chilling effects of Java-related
> litigation for example. Or, technology companies simply treat such
> legal action as an obstacle and route around it, reverse engineering /
> clean-rooming as necessary. And once again, the burden of proof is on
> the "protection" advocates to provide even a *single* example where
> legal action taken to "protect" a *web* standard actually *helped* its
> adoption (rather than hurt).

Additionally, copyright doesn't even provide the legal framework to
prevent forking of a standard. Even if W3C claims a very tight
copyright on the specification, the standard can still be forked in at
least two ways:

1. Write a completely new specification document, without copying any
text from the W3C specification. Copyright doesn't provide any
protection of the technical algorithms or constructs defined by the
standard. It just prevents content from being copied.

2. Write a "diff". I.e. anyone can write a document that says "I
define My-HTML to be the W3C html specification, but with the
following changes to the parsing algorithm: ...". In this case no text
is copied and thus no copyright restrictions broken.

These are not theoretical possibilities. Both have already happened.
WHATWG did 1 when it started the document which has now become the
HTML5 spec drafts. ISO did 2 to define their own version of HTML [1]

Fortunately there are other legal mechanisms to prevent the type of
forking that W3C seems to be concerned about. By using trademarks W3C
can prevent others from writing documents and claiming to be a new or
official HTML specification.

This is the way that for example mozilla uses to protect Firefox from
being forked in ways that would harm consumers. For example we don't
let people create forked version of firefox which contains malware but
is still looks like Firefox. If you want to fork firefox then that's
fine. We have written a copyright license that encourages it. Even if
you want to put malware in it. But if you use that fork to try to
cause consumer confusion, then we'll use trademark to prevent you.

So copyright is neither needed nor sufficient to prevent the harmful
forking which would dilute the W3C name or its standards.

[1] http://www.scss.tcd.ie/misc/15445/15445.HTML

While I work at mozilla, this is my personal opinion, not an official
mozilla position. I am also not a lawyer. But I'm damn opinionated :)

Best Regards,
Jonas Sicking
Received on Friday, 1 April 2011 03:56:53 UTC

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