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Date: 1999-09-03

Unisys: Enemy of the Net


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Erst kamen sie auf, dann wurden die Pläne wieder fallen
gelassen, jetzt macht Unisys offensichtlich Ernst. Weil die
alt/eingesessene Company seit Jahren im "Besitz" eines
Patents für gif-Komprimierung ist, versucht man,
flächendeckend zu kassieren. 5000 Dollar von ganz normalen
User/innen, die mit Freeware/programmen generierte GIFs
auf ihren Sites verwenden.
So wird man: Enemy of the Net.

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A few years ago Unisys, the company that owns the patent
on the compression method used in creasing GIF graphics,
announced plans to charge a license fee to use their GIF-
related technology. Controversy developed and the company
dropped the proposal. Now, they've revived it and are
threatening to sue users of GIFs created with freeware or
other software produced by developers who haven't paid for a
license to use this technology.

Since well known commercial graphics software programs
like Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, and Macromedia
are expensive, there is a good chance that some small or
cash-strapped nonprofits have been using freeware or other
unlicensed software to create GIFs. These organizations
need to be aware that there is some risk of being sued for
license fees of $5000 or more. This would be a good time to
take stock of what software your organization uses to build
web site graphics. If your organization is using freeware to
develop web site graphics, this might be a good time to
switch to one of the less costly licensed graphics software
programs, like Paint Shop Pro for PCs.

But even if your organization isn't at risk, Unisys' decision to
demand license fees represents a move toward limiting
access to technology being used for the public good.
Ultimately, this could create barriers to the public interest
community's use of technology as a tool for outreach,
organizing, and advocacy.

According to various reports on the Unisys initiative, web
sites that would be required to pay a license fee include
"billboard" sites that are:

** Fully open to the general public without cost or restrictions
on access.

** Does not display third-party advertising.

** Does not require membership, access codes, passwords,
or a business relationship to gain access to any portion of
the web site.

** Does not provide for online ordering or purchase of goods
or services via the web site.

Many nonprofit organizations operate web sites that meet
this definition.

There are some alternatives for organizations that want to
switch to something other than the GIF format. The best
option at this time is the .JPG (also referred to as .JPEG)
But the .JPG format doesn't allow for transparent
backgrounds or animation.

Another alternative is .PNG (pronounced
PING)<http://graphicwiz.com/png/>. While it may eventually
prove to be very useful, at present this format is limited
because it isn't supported by many browsers. It is somewhat
usable with Netscape & IE 4.x & higher, and will be
supported in future releases. MNG (pronounced MING) is a
related technology that supports animations. It doesn't work
with 4.x level browsers but will be supported in future
releases.

For more on this issue see:
<http://lpf.ai.mit.edu/Patents/Gif/Gif.html> and
<http://burnallgifs.org/>. For Unisys' perspective, see:
<http://corp2.unisys.com/LeadStory/lzw-license.html> and
<http://corp2.unisys.com/LeadStory/lzw-license-def.html>.

relayed by
audrie@netaction.org

http://www.netaction.org
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edited by Harkank
published on: 1999-09-03
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