[whatwg] terminology (proprietary, standard, and so on)

Dave Singer singer at apple.com
Thu Dec 13 19:51:37 PST 2007

At 15:53  -0500 13/12/07, Jeff McAdams wrote:
>Charles wrote:
>>>  It's a standard because it has a public spec and because an
>>>  organization issues those spec.
>>  In my experience, an organization (non-profit or not) can't simply
>>  publish their own specification and claim, "hey, this is a standard".
>>  That would certainly be easier.
>Sure it can.  Its not like there's some magic voodoo that has to happen
>in order for someone to be able to write a document up that specifies
>how something happens.  (that's obviously a way-oversimplified version
>of what a standard is, but you get my drift, here).

Actually, I think you are debasing a useful and well-defined term, in 
exactly the same way that large companies try to, and I resist it on 
both counts.  We have all seen large companies claim that what they 
do is "standard", "because it's used in over X% of <something>". 
They are wrong, and with respect, you are also, and you are playing 
the same game.

I have every respect for open-source and collaborative efforts, but 
they are not formal standards.  Heck, they don't even have the 
"implementation agreement" or "specification" status of documents 
published by trade associations like ISMA or OMA.

Standards organizations have a formal status and a wealth of rules 
etc. over such questions as "who can propose and contribute?  how are 
decisions made? what are the IPR rules and disclosures? how do you 
claim conformance? how is the specification made available, and in 
what languages?" and so on.  If we get further down the road with the 
open-source codecs, I expect that one of the questions that will come 
up will be "should these be stabilized by having them published as 
specifications by a recognized organization?" (like the W3C), 
precisely to settle questions like these.

The ITU, for example, has international treaty status;  ISO is also 
formally recognized, and there are various national or international 
standards organizations (e.g. INCITS in the USA, BSI in the UK). 
Properly, documents issued by bodies that are not formally recognized 
as standards bodies are not standards, but specifications, 
implementation agreements, etc.  I know this is not a hard-and-fast 
distinction, but it is a useful one. Let's not blur it.

At 16:22  -0500 13/12/07, Manuel Amador (Rudd-O) wrote:
>Just because AVC is not a standard doesn't mean it's not proprietary.  We call
>proprietary anything that can't be implemented by the whole world without
>third-party permission.  If it serves the interest of the discussion better,
>let's eschew the world proprietary and use the words "non-free" or "unfree",
>both of which describe AVC well.

The word you may be looking for is "encumbered", I think.  (Though 
non-free is also true).  And many open-source efforts are also 
encumbered, but various permissions are granted.  Sometimes those 
permissions are even conditional, by the way.

Proprietary is usually reserved to technologies that are *controlled* 
by a single company (e.g. Dolby AC-3 is controlled by Dolby).

Questions of implementability and use are different again.  AFAIK the 
patent owners in H.264/AVC don't worry about implementations, they 
worry about sale and use.  In fact, I rather suspect that they like 
more implementations to exist :-).
David Singer

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