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non compos mentis

A layman's thoughs on freedom of information, open document standards, and freedom of choice

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A layman’s thoughts on open document formats, free software, freedom of choice,
freedom of information, liberties in general.
(a work in progress)

Consider, for a moment, where the world might be now, if,
say, whoever first developed a means of written communication,
written language, had patented/copyrighted, this means of communication.
I’d like to consider not only copyrighting his particular writing
system, but, even more generally, the concept of symbolically
representing concepts in a written/graphical form.

Had the inventor of writing, if you will, demanded his rights
in terms of the use of such a system, of course, anyone that
wrote anything would owe him for use of this “intellectual property”.
Thus, he would have a right to demand his fee for the conveyance of
any information, of any nature, in a written form.
This would mean, he would have control over any written communication.
He would be able to control what information could be conveyed
in writing, who could have access to that information,
and, of course, he could demand payment for any and everytime
information of any nature was conveyed in this fashion.
Let me just clarify that by being a bit more precise, while
summing up the entire situation in general:
He would have control over the conveyance of any information
in written form.
He would control information.
Anyone with such power, of course, would have immense, if not complete
control over public opinion and knowledge.
I think we can agree that such control centralized in the hands of
one person would be A BAD THING.
This individual could control religious thought, philosophy,
the semination of scientific knowledge, etc., ad infinitum.

Now, consider even if Gutenburg had patented and copyrighted
the printing press, and all printing of any matter would, again,
be his to control.
Or perhaps, say one person controlled all rights to the use of
paper (papyrus), when it was invented, and, thus, could control any use there of
and any matter that was printed or written on paper, etc.
Control over any such process or media would put untold power in the hands
of the individual possessing such power.
I think we can agree that such control centralized in one person (or one company) would be

Freedom of information, freedom of expression and freedom to learn are,
and I believe this is a widely enough held notion that nobody will argue
the contrary, ESSENTIAL freedoms.
Freedoms necessary to the advance of the human species, of knowledge, of
culture and scientific progress.

This is why we need to have open standards for document formats, and why proprietary
document formats are to be avoided.
This is why we should not allow specific software vendors to control the dispersion
of information by allowing their proprietary document formats to become standard to
any industry. Allowing them such control allows them control over that industry.
They will have the ability to stifle choice of software use and will have control over
the publication of knowledge.

In today’s digital, information age, if one individual or one company has control
of the file formats in which information may be shared, or if one company or individual
controls all software capable of accessing information in said formats, that individual
or company has control of all information.
Such a company could extort whatever price they wish for your use of their
product and file formats.
Such a company could refuse you license to use their product and their
file formats if they disagree with or dislike the information you wish to share, even.

This is pretty well the case when speaking of the current situation in reference to various industries where
certain proprietary software vendors have cornered the market, often by untoward
means and with inferior products, and stifled the people’s right to choice.
This is why you spend $300 on Microsoft Windows, and $500 on Microsoft Office, and
have to pay again for them to fix these inferior software products when they fail on you.
This is why translators are almost unanimously being forced to use SDL’s Trados and Tag Editor.
I assume the situation is similar on other industries (graphics/publishing, etc.)
Choice is stifled when a vendor controls a market.

This is why document formats such as
Microsoft’s .doc, .wmp or OOXML,
SDL’s .ttx,
Thomson’s mp3,
and other proprietary formats, specific to one software vendor, are harmful, and to be not only avoided, but completely
eschewed in favor of open document formats, such as .odf, .tmx, .xliff, .xml, .html, and .ogg.

Understand, I am in no way advocating an end to intellectual property rights.
Certainly, those who create works of art, software, literature, music, etc., have a right to their
What I am advocating is free access to information
and the means of manipulating and conveying information.

Play Ogg

relevant links:


Written by tonybaldwin

March 9, 2008 at 1:42 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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