Re: The GIF format as intellectual property (fwd)

Harold Frydman (
Tue, 10 Jan 1995 01:15:20 +0100

On Mon, 9 Jan 1995, Kee Hinckley wrote:

> [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.