tonybaldwin | blog

non compos mentis

A Layman's Thoughts on Freedom of Information and Open File Formats

with 6 comments

(a work in progress / originally penned in 2008, reposted here from mylivejournal)

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 every time 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 dissemination 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 thereof 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 A BAD THING.

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,
  • Adobe .pdf

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 created according to open standards, such as .odf, .tmx, .xliff, .xml, .html, .djvu 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 creations.
What I am advocating is free access to information and the means of manipulating and conveying information.

What are open standards?
From Free Software Foundation, Europe:

Definition

An Open Standard refers to a format or protocol that is

  1. subject to full public assessment and use without constraints in a manner equally available to all parties;
  2. without any components or extensions that have dependencies on formats or protocols that do not meet the definition of an Open Standard themselves;
  3. free from legal or technical clauses that limit its utilisation by any party or in any business model;
  4. managed and further developed independently of any single vendor in a process open to the equal participation of competitors and third parties;
  5. available in multiple complete implementations by competing vendors, or as a complete implementation equally available to all parties.

Relevant links:

tony

  1. click here for a copy of this article in the free/open document format .djvu
  2. click here for a copy of this article in open document text format .odt
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Written by tonybaldwin

February 18, 2010 at 2:22 am

6 Responses

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  1. […] release, because I believe these programs are extremely important. I’ve already discussed why I believe open document formats are important at some length, but it is a topic I am likely to revisit, and my original article touching on the […]

  2. […] release, because I believe these programs are extremely important. I’ve already discussed why I believe open document formats are important at some length, but it is a topic I am likely to revisit, and my original article touching on the […]

  3. […] a bit of ranting about open standards and free file formats: Okay, you know I’m always harping about using Open Document Formats. So, on the LibreOffice user list today there was discussion of a […]

  4. "Freedom of information, freedom of expression and freedom to learn are ESSENTIAL freedoms.
    Freedoms necessary to the advance of the human species, of knowledge, of culture and scientific progress."
    Yes….and
    When an individual or corporate entity owns the means by which we share information, however, these freedoms become gravely endangered.

    tonybaldwin

    January 25, 2011 at 10:43 pm

  5. […] a bit of ranting about open standards and free file formats: Okay, you know I’m always harping about using Open Document Formats. So, on the LibreOffice user list today there was discussion of a […]


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