[Foundation-l] Re: File format policy

Robert Scott Horning robert_horning at netzero.net
Wed Feb 15 16:45:43 UTC 2006

Gregory Maxwell wrote:

>On 2/15/06, Delirium <delirium at hackish.org> wrote:
>>That's not even remotely close to the case here, though.  We're not
>>talking about having content *only* in patent-encumbered formats, but in
>>offering a user the option to receive it in a patent-encumbered formats
>>while also having it available in a non-encumbered format as the
>>preferred format.
>>That is more analogous to taking some content, putting one copy of it up
>>freely on the internet, and the other copy in a safe.  The fact that you
>>have a copy in a safe does not make the copy on the internet less free.
>Lets not get too carried away with the metaphors... We're not talking
>about putting it away where it will not effect the outside world.
>Would you support the foundation distributing a DRM inhibited copy of
>Wikipedia so long as there was a free copy available somewhere?
>If we were to permit encumbered formats what would ensure that there
>was always a non-encumbered version available if the content was not
>lost entirely?
I think you missed the argument I made earlier.  Often times, and 
unanticipated as well, propriatory file format "owners" have pulled the 
rug out from under the people who are using the data format, charging 
royalties for even distributing content in that file format.  From a 
purely economic standpoint, the Wikimedia Foudnation can't afford to 
distribute video files for even one cent per file downloaded (other than 
bandwidth costs... which is another issue altogether).  If you don't 
believe that this would happen for MPEG-4 files or Real Video, you have 
not paid attention to the issues for file formats like GIF, where the 
spec was placed into open publication, freely distributed, and the 
original creator (CompuServe) refused to collect royalties on any aspect 
of file creation, distribution, or playback.  It was only when some 
idiot lawyer discovered that they held a patent that covered some aspect 
of the file format that royalties were changed, and it was the patent 
holder, not the file format creator, who charged the royalties.

BTW, Theora (and Vorbis for that matter) are still on somewhat shaky 
ground in regards to not having somebody who has done a very through job 
of trying to make sure that it is not encumbered by software patents, 
but at least it wasn't explictly designed to be using patented concepts, 
as MPEG-4, Real Video,  and MJPEG have been.

Make sure, and check again to really make sure, that there are no 
distribution costs for content in some sort of data format before it is 
allowed for upload to Wikimedia servers.  Even afterward make sure that 
all propritary file formats are tagged in some category so that they can 
all be deleted if the terms of use change somehow, and provide clear 
notice that these files will be likely deleted at some point in the 
future without prior notice to the uploader or to the pages that link to 
that content.  If we stick with just open file formats, this is 
something that we don't have to be worrying about.

I'm not being paranoid here, I'm being realistic.  And I've been burned 
too much in the past to have to see it happen all over again to those 
who may not know better.

Robert Scott Horning

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