Patents and the W3C
Sunday, September 30, 2001 by Dave Winer.
The World Wide Web Consortium, W3C, is the keeper of many important Web standards including HTML, XML and HTTP.
The W3C is a consortium of companies of all sizes. My company, UserLand Software, is a member. We agree on a common philosophy -- a level playing field, interoperation between software, and choice for users and developers. That's the foundation that the Web was built on, it's what kept the Web ticking through the dotcom lunacy.
Now several large companies, led by Microsoft, Philips, Apple and Hewlett-Packard, are trying to become the platform vendor that the Internet never had, and imho that's totally counter to the charter for the Internet, and therefore, the W3C.
We may not have the support of the US government in re freedom for developers, but at least we can shame the abusers, force them back into hiding, lest their customers and partners get wind of their greed.
I'm sorry that I tuned in to this so late -- with the confusion around the WTC disaster, we need more time to investigate and build public opinion, but the deadline for comment on this change is today.
Software patents are bad. Period. Investment in new practice happens without them, and choice is essential for progress in our art.
The economics of software favor small independent developers, patents change that. To develop in the world these companies envision, you'd have to have their legal and financial resources to create and publish software. No more small developers. Not good for anyone but the shareholders of the BigCo's -- and long-term it's not good for them either. Where do you think the BigCo's get their ideas? Heh. We've seen what happens when monopolies take over, utter stagnation. Keep them on their toes, let them constantly worry about competition from left field. The W3C used to help us, now they're talking about switching over to the dark side.
Further, I believe that none of these patents will stand up to a First Amendment test. The line between software and speech is non-existent. The act of writing software is very much like writing a short story, a novel, or a news story. I could add a line of code to this piece (I do all the time) and reading the page on the Web could cause code to execute on our server (it does) and then, where is the line? If I write about something that Microsoft or Apple have a patent on, can I explain the idea with a demo? Technically I could often do that. And if the law stops me, where is the First Amendment of the US Constitution? (In the dumpster.)
In an open letter to Stephen King, I wrote on 7/24/00: "To put it in analogous terms for writers, imagine if you couldn't write a story because Dean Koontz had already written it. What if the idea were as basic as Boy Meets Girl? That's what's going on in another creative space, software."
There's also a new law pending in Washington called the SSSCA, which, if passed, would also shut down the independent software developers, to benefit the entertainment business. I'm sorry that I can't cover this in detail, there aren't enough hours in the day. In the meantime, a general statement follows.
To our government, we're turning the resources of the Internet to watch and report on all aspects of the current crisis. It's a national priority to both improve security and preserve freedom. We have new power to inform, more people who think are turning to weblogs. I support the US and our President because of the threat to our lives and way of life. However, don't use this time of crisis to shut down free industries. We're helping because it makes sense, but these changes do not make sense, and they will not pass without observation by informed citizens.
Here's a page that explains the proposed change at the W3C.
If you're a W3C member, or know one, please spread the word.
Freedom in software development is the issue, and it's rare that we get a chance to support it so clearly.
It's time to speak up in favor of freedom.