Open Source Licenses and Embrace-Extend-Extinguish

David Woolley forums at
Thu Feb 14 07:48:14 UTC 2008

msibley at wrote:

> Regarding protocols being copyrightable, I'm pretty sure they can be. 
> They are just formats after all.  Formats like DVD and GIF (or was it 
> jpeg?) are legendary for their IP issues. So can a format holder dictate 

The issues with GIF and arithmetic coding variants of JPEG relate to 
patents. In the case of GIF, the patent was not owned by the people who 
specified the format.  Patents are a serious problem for open source 
because independent development doesn't avoid the patent, not does lack 
of knowledge of the patented product.

As already hinted, you would probably need to use trademark law and that 
might well involve running certification tests which developers would 
have to pay for, in order to maintain the integrity of the trademark.

The other way of protecting protocols is by non-disclosure agreements, 
but those are completely at variance with the spirit of open source.

(One of the reasons for consistent implementation of the Huffman variant 
of JPEG is that nearly everyone uses the open source libjpeg library 
that was created by the specifiers.)
David Woolley
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