Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Software as Freedom of Speech

My reporting manager said today "We are going to support MP3 playback in our next release " . Surely I know that it has licensing implications which he is not aware at this point of time. Now days every one thinks that MP3 is free. It is certainly not.

MP3 was developed at Fraunhofer IIS a German R&D institute by a guy called Thomson . These people have obtained various patents regarding MP3 before it has been adopted by the MPEG group. According to the license terms of these guys, all developers have to pay in whatever form they use the MP3 encoding or decoding (including third party libraries). The open source community is in a dilemma because these guys license terms are not compatible with GPL .

When I was going through all this my thoughts came across some people’s idea about patenting ideas in software are evil or it is like there is no freedom of speech. They say that software ideas are like literary ideas so some one (govt. organizations) should not censor them.

Recently I have come across news about is M$ trying to generate revenue by enforcing people to pay up for FAT file system (they have some patents in some aspects of FAT). FAT has become so popular that it looks very evil on M$ part, to kill other market players and to have mono-ploy over digital media market. Even a non-profit organization which protects consumer & market interests appealed to US Patents office to revoke those patents. Also recently the Electronic Frontier Foundation in US listed top 10 patents which they want to kill because they are limiting the freedom of expression.

Other news today is that idiots at SCO who are harassing Linux community for a while saying Linux kernel contains some of their intellectual property, claimed that the binary format ELF used in Linux is lifted from them. As far as my memory of IIT-K goes ELF is an open standard defined by Tools Interface Standards Committee which says it is as free as the air you are breathing. Of course, SCO is a member of TIS along with bunch of other guys like Intel etc.

I certainly feel that limiting people to use their ideas in software is like not allowing the freedom of speech. Software Development is some thing revolutionary and very different from other industries. I feel patents in software really hurt people. There are many aspects to this like the end user, a market player and the government policies regarding software patents. I feel governments have to look at software patents differently considering fair market competition and consumer interests.

Are we not willing to write code for fun and give out to people free although it contains some great patentable ideas?


At 7/21/2004 8:13 PM, Blogger  said...

what about supporting OGG format? I am hoping more and more devices (read iPod) support ogg format to get me out of mp3 encoding misery. I wish my car audio player too played ogg. I wouldn't have to feel bad about it then :-)

At 7/22/2004 11:36 AM, Blogger Subhash Chandra Y said...

Ya I also wished MPEG group adopted some thing like Ogg. Todays news is that apperently SCO has been thrown out of court regarding their case against Daimler-Chrysler.


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