Re: The GIF format as intellectual property (fwd)

Kee Hinckley (
Mon, 9 Jan 1995 18:45:31 +0100

[For those on the cc list, who may not have seen the news, Compuserve and
Unisys have decided to charge royalties for all software that uses GIF.
This being based on Unisys' patent for LZW compression, and (I assume)
Compuserve's copyright on the image format. The licensing agreement is even
worse than the royalty.]

As far as I'm concerned, this is not a battle worth fighting. If Compuserve
(although I suspect the blame lies more with Unisys finally deciding to
pursue software implementations of LZW) wants to force people to pay them
for software using GIF, we should just drop GIF like a hot-potato - it's
not worth keeping.

I'd propose the following.

1) (Moves are already being made in this direction.) Get code out there for
all existing browsers to gain JPEG support ASAP.

2) Draft a spec, similar in concept to GIF, but using an alternative
non-lossy compression mechanism - GNU's gz utility uses one (GNIF?), I'm
not sure if it's available in a form that can be used in commercial
software though. That will handle cases where lossy compression isn't
desired and/or JPEG compression results in a larger file than
straightforward compression. Don't worry about transparency, do allow for
N-bit colormaps instead of just 256.

3) Add a "mask" attribute to <img> which specifies an 8-bit grayscale mask
for handling anti-aliasing (aka "transparency"). Its argument is any
format supported by "src". That will more than make up for the loss of the
transparency option in GIFs. The only disadvantage I can think of for not
providing this in the image format is that you can't provide a mask with an
non-in-line image, but I think the benefits of doing this without creating
a new image format outweigh that minor issue.

None of this is rocket science. If those three things can be pushed forward
with a minimum of fuss, and no time wasted fighting with Compuserve and/or
Unisys, I think the Web could be using JPEG and GNIF as its primary format
within two months. We'd also show that the internet isn't all flame and no
action - that kind of concerted movement around an obstacle would prove a
substantial warning to anyone else who thinks of playing this kind of legal
game in the future.

=46ighting the Compuserve/Unisys stuff isn't worth it. Mind you, I think the
negative publicity would cause Unisys to give up the fight within a few
months. But in the same time we could not only make their patent worthless,
we could also improve the standards available on the Web. No argument.

Kee Hinckley Utopia Inc. - Cyberspace Architects=81 617/721-4671

I'm not sure which upsets me more: that people are so unwilling to accept
responsibility for their own actions, or that they are so eager to regulate
everyone else's.