World Wide Web, RAND, and people without a lot of money

RAND licensing is a disaster for World Wide Web use by any person or
nation lacking great wealth.  RAND licensing will prevent these people
from fully using WWW technology for communication.  In doing so, RAND will
destroy one of the most valuable applications of the WWW.

The WWW in the last decade has enabled communication between anyone with
the desire to do so.  To read the WWW, one only needs a computer account
and a web browser.  Publishing requires a trivial understanding of a few
standards and the means to move information via the network.  The WWW
presents a low barrier of entry almost any person or group can overcome.

The WWW has an effect on its users analagous to the effect of radio on
Third World nations.  The introduction of cheap radio sets into
impoverished, embattled, or oppressed regions is a powerful liberating
agent.  People quickly learn to communicate with each other, exchanging
news, information, and ideas.  Even the very asymmetrical medium of radio
is able to band people together to overcome their problems and overthrow
their oppressors.  The WWW is as powerful amongst its users.  It enables
low-cost two way communication between normal people.  It creates
communities, catalyzes change, and generally opens the sluices of the
information like no other medium has.

RAND licensing will destroy this by excluding almost everyone from the
conversation.  RAND places royalty systems under the umbrella of
non-discrimination.  This is a paradox.  Royalty systems are the most
discriminatory of all licensing schemes.  They exclude all people who
cannot pay the royalty (the impoverished, oppressed, imprisoned, and even
the very wealthy in some case), those who cannot control and therefore
cannot account for the rate of distribution of their software (free
software authors, academics, and the underground), and even those who do
not practice a monetary system (cooperatives, communes, and mutual
societies).  Any scheme that requires a fee excludes these groups, and
therefore cannot be described as non-discriminatory.

The discrimination of RAND will allow patent holders and other
intellectual property rights protectors to pick and choose the benefactors
of W3C standards.  By arbitrarily setting the price of their license, a
patent holder will be able to include only those large corporations with
whom they choose to do business.  After enough W3C standards are subverted
by patents, the patent holders and their licensees will de facto control
the Internet, and will be free to ignore the W3C in the future.

I respectfully submit that the W3C follow this course:

1) Reform the patent policy working group to include the free software
community, academia, governments, and other entities other than
corporations.  That the working group is comprised only of representatives
from American Fortune 500 companies is a shameful attempt by those
companies to undermine the traditional role of free software, academia,
and governments in the development of the WWW.

2) Extend the comment period for this proposal through the end of 2001.

3) Either scrap the RAND name, or remove the provision for discriminatory
licensing under the RAND definition.

Jeffrey W. Baker

Received on Sunday, 30 September 2001 20:05:03 UTC