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The Almighty Buck

Unisys Not Suing (most) Webmasters for Using GIFs 323

In the last week I have read (literally) over 1000 online attacks aimed at an alleged attempt by Unisys to make everyone who uses GIFs on a Web site pay $5000 in royalties. A story posted here on Slashdot Sunday helped fan those flames. But nowhere, in any of the many "Unisys is evil" posts I read, here or elsewhere, did I see a single official statement from anyone at Unisys, so I decided to call Unisys and get their take on the matter. (More below)

The Real Unisys GIF Deal
According to Mark Starr, General Patent and Technology Counsel for Unisys, if the GIFs on your Web site were created with software that is licensed by Unisys, you are fine. Nobody at Unisys is going to try to get $5000 or even $0.50 out of you. Period.

And, Starr added, virtually all of the major, heavily-used, commercial graphics programs from what he calls "reputable companies" (e.g. Adobe, Corel, JASC, Macromedia, Microsoft, AOL/Netscape, etc.) are licensed by Unisys. He said that even the "included" software packaged with most scanners and digital cameras is licensed. Use it, create all the GIFs you want with it, post those GIFs to your heart's content, and relax. Unisys will not come after you.

And it's a big but, too. If you use GIF graphics created with certain freeware programs, and your chosen program uses LZW compression to create GIFs without a license to use it, you may be violating a Unisys patent. How would Unisys know what software you used to create a particular GIF? Starr says they'll ask you, and, he says, "...assuming we made an inquiry, we would expect a Web site operator to tell us what he used." I did not ask, "What if someone creates a GIF using licensed software that came with a scanner, then modifies that image with the GIMP or another freeware program?" I really didn't want to know the answer to this question; all of my GIFs have passed through at least one Unisys-licensed program at some point, so if I am asked I can honestly say that they were created (at least partially) in accordance with the Unisys patent.

I specifically asked Starr about the GIMP. He had not heard of it, but said, "We give hundreds of licenses away to non-commercial, non-profit entities. We do not give our technology away to for-profit entities." The rub here is that if you use the GIMP - which was created by a non-profit group - to create GIF graphics for a non-commercial site, you're probably fine, but if you use it to create GIF graphics for a Web site that is intended to make a profit, Unisys wants a cut of the action. How much? E-mail them and ask. And if you want to write a program that incorporates LZW compression technology in its code base, you'd better ask, because you'll be in trouble if you don't - and you may be in trouble even if you do, according to these folks, but that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish we won't get into today.

Do not expect Unisys to release LZW technology under the GPL anytime soon. Unisys is not a free software booster. Starr said, "We do not use freeware in our own products as a matter of policy. It could violate someone's license, it could be trash. Anyone who uses freeware does so at their own risk."

Starr also said, "We have thought of a [GIF patent] giveway, but it's not in the best interests of our shareholders..." He does not believe the potential PR value involved in giving LZW technology away is worth much, either. He said, "We've [given free licenses to] hundreds of non-profit organizations, schools, and governments, but we haven't gotten much good publicity over it."

And, according to Starr, there are plenty of good reasons a company like Unisys should not allow its patented technology to be used for free, even in free software. He specifically described two common situations:

1) A company creates a $200,000 CAD package - then gives away a "free plug-in" that includes LZW. Should not Unisys charge a royalty under these circumstances? Isn't the freeness of the plug-in package that includes LZW somewhat of a sham, possibly made that way specifically to avoid paying royalties to Unisys?

2) A company that sells hardware of some sort (Starr mentioned "Japanese digital camera manufacturers" here) but includes accompanying software "free." Again, to Unisys this freeness is strictly bogus, and they want royalties on the "free" software that comes with the non-free hardware if that software uses LZW technology in any way.

That's Their Story and They're Sticking to It
The stack of e-mails Unisys has gotten this week from Slashdot readers and other free software boosters who disagree with the Unisys GIF patent policy hasn't done much to change Starr's mind. He and Unisys PR dude Oliver Picher both described the e-mail tirades with words like vile, vulgar, obscene, disgusting, and distasteful. Apparently, the dregs of the Open Source Community came out of the woodwork in full force, and, as usual, pissed off the people whose minds they might have had a chance to change if they had exercised a little courtesy.

Those of you who sent those e-mails don't need to apologize. I already did, profusely, on your behalf. And the person to whom I apologized most humbly was not Starr, but Cheryl, the low-paid secretary who had to read all the filth.

Cheryl does not set Unisys policy, and she does not own stock in the company, but she is the person whose job it is to read all the abusive e-mail sent to Unisys via the e-mail address on the relevant corporate Web page. All you do when you send her obscenities is make her - and by extension, her boss, Mark Starr - think that Open Source advocates are crackpots and idiots. But I am going to cut this potential tirade short, because Rob Malda has already given you a similar lecture, Eric S. Raymond has given it, Bruce Perens has given it, and Richard M. Stallman has given it so many times that he probably mumbles it in his sleep.

The Bottom Line
Unisys is unlikely to change its corporate position regarding free software in the near future (especially if they get attacked instead of asked politely) and they have the patent on LZW-compressed GIFs and you don't, so if you're going to use their technology you must play by their rules until or unless software patent laws in the U.S. get a radical makeover. Meanwhile, if you want to use LZW-compressed GIFs on your Intranet or public Web site, and you created them with a Unisys-licensed piece of software, no one from Unisys is going to come around and demand money from you.

And if you plan to create - or have already created - free image-processing software that uses Unisys-patented LZW technology, you might want to ask the company, very politely, for a giveaway license that would cover non-commercial use of your product. I suspect that Mr. Starr (who has final judgement in such matters) might just give you one if you approach him correctly and you manage to convince him that you aren't trying to burn Unisys with some sort of bogus giveaway deal that is really meant to make you or your program's users rich while denying Unisys shareholders the licensing fees that - like it or not - they are legally entitled to collect if you try to earn a profit from your use of their intellectual property.

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Unisys Not Suing (most) Webmasters for Using GIFs

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  • FYI...
    I sent email to Peter Mattis asking him to drop /.
    a note regarding The GIMP and LZW licensing. We'll see...
  • As far as I am concerned, there is only one thing a GIF can do which other format can't, that is the transparent gif (no flames, please, I am not an expert here). If you want to use transparent gifs, use a licensed program. If you want to do anything else, use a different format.

    nope it's more like, jpeg is the only imageformat in wide use, which does not have transparency.
    png, tiff, xcf and psd all have it. in fact their trancparency (alpha channel) is a lot better than gifs.
    (the only problem is, that netscape doesn't yet support the png alpha channel)

    greetings, eMBee.

  • How about an Apache module that converts them on the fly if it detects anyone coming from the ;-)

  • Whatever people feel about Unisys and their actions it is highly immature and not to mention destructive to the image of open source advocates to flame a company that doesn't meet your required licencing standards.
  • There are patents. There are copyrights. There are trademarks. There are lawyers. Folk generally don't favor laws that they feel don't favor them. Sometimes lawyers defend one. It may be important to have a trademark, and it is important to be able to rely on one. Copyrights defend a particular method of expression. They used to be a great idea. They've been extended until they have become oppressive to the majority of software developers, more oppressive than helpful. So the majority of software developers don't support them.

    <rant>The patent system in this country (the usa) is vile. It has been preverted from it's legitimate constitutional purpose into a mechanism for large organizations to suppress small organizations without effective response. The acceptable patents are so vague that only lawyers can even guess what the judge will think. Lawyers, not folk skilled in the art.</rant>

    The patents were supposed to support the development of the engineering arts, and for awhile they did. This started going awry around the time of WWI (or possibly earlier). As technical skills became more specialized, the patent clerks became more and more in the dark about what a patent was describing, so they stopped requiring that the patent make any kind of sense before granting it. So basically, a patent turned into a license to sue people for something that nobody really understood, and the decision would be made by a judge skilled primarily in legal procedures. He would try to figure out whether the patent was valid. So lawyers specialized in writing patents that judges would accept, but which were so broad that they covered as much as possible, and so vague that you couldn't be sure you weren't infringing. This trend has now continued for over 6 decades. During the 1960-70s (there were a series of decisions, I forget the critical dates) it was first decided that mathematical processes could be patented if they were embedded in a physical form, and then this was generalized until now you could probably patent a book, if you did it just right. The one good feature of patents is that they still have a relatively short lifetime.
  • I believe the discussion about licensing and software patents is going in the wrong direction. We are creating two very religious sides: One side wants a patent on everything to increase profit while the other side hates software patents. Sit down and think about it. The reality is that we have software patents and I believe we should at least support those companies who allow open sourced implementation of their patents so that the free world can benefit from them. What is so wrong with buying a version of Linux that specifically has a set of open source software that requires royalties? It would still be cheaper and would still have the higher quality of open source development. It could be set up as a set of libraries that contain those algorithms (MP3, DVD decoding, FAX, soft modem, ...) that require a per station license. The libraries could be developed openly and the software using those algorithms of course, too. Insisting on license fees for GIF is pretty pointless if you look at all the alternatives. It makes perfect sense though for other things.
  • For crying out loud - the internet was developed on open standards, Linux was developed on open standards - how the hell did this one slip by us?

    The Mosaic guys screwed up. And then people kept repeating their mistake because defacto standards are hard to lose.

    Word was already out about the LZW patent problem in the late 80s when the algorithm was explained in DDJ and someone wrote in about it being patented, and then the whole software patent debate flared up. It was a big buzz and a hot topic; there was no way to miss it.

    Anyone working with GIF (especially back then, when libraries were less common, and you really had to get your hands dirty) knew that it used LZW. For some reason, the Mosaic guys used GIF anyway, even though they should have known better. Who knows why? Ask Andresson, I guess.

    Subsequent web browsers then had to do support everything Mosaic did, including the braindead stuff like the IMG tag and GIFs. When, in late '94, Unisys started making noise again about GIFs on the WWW, that should have been the beginning of the end. The PNG group started up lightning fast and by the end of 95, there was really no reason why browsers should not have supported PNG, so that GIF could begin to get phased out.

    Many browsers did. Especially as pnglib matured, it just became so damned easy to support PNG. But the "big two" didn't. They dragged their feet. By '96 they still didn't support it. By '97 they still didn't support it. By '98 they still didn't support it. By '99 they still didn't support it well. Why? Ask Andresson and Bill Gates, I guess.

    The real problem is that 90% of the people are using stone knives and bear skins for browsing the web, and the major web browser makers aren't putting any effort into improving their products, and yet people still continue to download them and use them anyway! It's not going to change until more sites start using PNG and users start screaming for better support in the browsers.

    Even the Linux guys... why are you using Netscape? The Linux communuty all relying on a closed-source commercial web browser is really weird. Doesn't anyone else notice how anomalous it is? Why hasn't the open source community come up with a modern browser? I guess it's just laziness. It's hard to justify the effort when Netscape works "good enough" for most people. Maybe after enough GIF troubles, people will change their mind about whether it's really "good enough" after all.

    Have a Sloppy day!
  • The patent in question, US4558302 I think, was filed in 1983 and issued in 1985. Maybe Unisys is trying to get their last few bucks out of it, before the 17 year time limit...
  • Algorithms, etc. were considered unpatentable until some court decisions during the 60s-70s in regard to, I believe, Intel 4004 chips. Then it was decided that if an algorithm was implemented in hardware that it could be patented. My impression is that the extensions from there were based on court decisions rather than on changes in the law. If so, then officially (as the law is written) a mathematical process is still unpatentable, but in practice judicial case history has developed that it is patentable (at least if you express it physically..I wonder if writing would count?).
  • > General advice for /. morons: whenver in doubt > of some philosophical issue, try to follow
    > Richard Stallman's views.

    That being that acting in a peurile way towards businesses you wish to influence is daft.
    If people were just emailing Unisys to complain and not looking to see them remedy their position then they deserve all they work towards - nothing.

  • Once again. Great job Rob!

    Has anyone attempted to migrate to PNG? What did it take? I would like to create a PHP script to detect the browser and deliver a PNG or a GIF based upon browser support for the format. Has anyone done anything like this? Is there sufficient support for PNG in _any_ browser to even make this useful? True alpha channel support would be very nice but not if .001% of my visitors can experience it.

  • I don' think it's appropriate for one person to "apologize" on behalf of slashdot for "abusive" emails.

    At this point, I think we already know that rich corporations have underpaid individuals whose job is to slog through all the emails and correspondence, however abusive.

    There are two major imaging standards on the WWW. One is free (jpeg), the other is not (gif). When gif was created, Compuserve was too busy to inform us that GIF included some patented technology, and sooner or later, some snot nosed company was going to demand royalties for it. GIF should be replaced by PNG, and good place to start is the mozilla project.

    As for liability, it's hard to say. Unisys did claim that it would go after commercial websites that used unlicensed GIFs, including, presumably, many Linux focused sites.

    Hmm, I wonder if it's possible to batch convert all LZH gifs to gifs using, say, zip compression. And would such gifs be compatible with modern browsers? LZH should die a lonely death, unloved and unknown.

  • There are lots of reasons that the "big two" are the big two. Mozilla may fix things. M11 is supposed to be the first non-developers-only release, and M9 came out a week or so ago. Don't know what it's png implementation is like, but at least it will be fixable.
  • I suggest that everyone who sent a vulgar letter to Unisys and now regrets it should pick up the phone and send flowers to Cheryl.

    What an awful, sexist, materialistic idea.

    First off, you make it sound as if Unisys is somehow absolved from their morally abhorrent behavior because they're not demanding $5000 from every website. Oh, thank you so much Unisys for allowing me to use a technology that you barely even own. Thank you so for continuing to restrict my freedom, but in such a way that is just acceptable enough to keep the angry hordes at bay.

    Second, the notion that women in general are somehow less capable to handle flamage (especially a woman who works for a company whose primary source of income revolves around the Internet) because they are more apt to become emotional is outdated and only serves to propagate negative stereotypes about women. I think we can all agree that if your message had said,

    ...should pick up the phone and send flowers to Mark at Unisys

    People would be like, "why would we send flowers to a guy?".

    I personally didn't flame Unisys, and I think flaming people is a bad idea (well, except maybe you, right now :)) but do I think Unisys, or anybody who works there deserves our sympathy? No! Perhaps this Cheryl, who, for all I know, is very upset, will quit her job because of this, or at least step back from the situation and realize that there are indeed moral issues involved in choosing an employer.

    But you don't even give her that chance. She's just an innocent bystander in the man's world of software businesses. She doesn't think or make any decisions herself, she is only acted upon. Her only possible reaction to the situation is defense. I don't know if you personally know Cheryl, or what, but I think if you do, you would be serving her better by explaining to her why she was flamed, rather than just kissing the proberbial "owwie" and saying "It's alright, the mean men are gone now - look, here's some flowers!"
  • Yes, they have existed since the stone ax. Yes, we can all keep growing up (until we start just getting older). OTOH, the 6 year olds keep getting older too, and by the time the 14 year olds turn 21, the 6 year olds turn 13.

    One encourages civility by setting a good example, and doesn't have too high an expectation of teenagers. I'm not certain how much good deploring excessive behavior does, as long as they don't start getting physical. Moderators on the newsgroups help. It might be nice it there were also an unmoderated section.. but there are the unmoderated newsgroups (news.comp.os or whatever seems appropriate)
  • Does anyone have any idea if this patent applies outside the US? I am in the UK and I am JUST starting up a small business.
    Now, yes, I will admit the business is a banner ad company, but dont flame me, as the company is focusing on open source advocacy and products, and also donates a *large* proportion of its income to open-source groups, so please, flames off.
    I have a bit of software that I wrote myself to add a little XXX to the corner of a gif on-the-fly if it leads to a website that may be unsuitable for minors. I want to keep this functionality, as it is irrisponsable to NOT warn of possible offensive content, but my business would be completely overwhealmed by a $5,000 bill just for doing this!
    As it IS a for-profit business, even though we give away a large percentage to good causes, we would probably have to pay this huge bill for such a small change {:-(

    As a final note, heres an idea. Yes, we dont like gifs for a lot of reasons, but they DO have their place. I wonder on the possibility of a group like eff raising the money to buy and open the gif and lzw standards.
  • PNG []

    MNG []

    IMHO, MNG is what we need to be promoting, because image animation is a checkbox item, however irritating some of us old codgers may find it.

  • by adr ( 1928 ) on Tuesday August 31, 1999 @05:09AM (#1715135)
    (sorry for error).

    All the more reason to use PNG, JPG, or some other real format that is created by an open standards group. GIF, for all intents and purposes, is completely outmoded and outdated, and even though we have our "vulgar" Open Source proponents who berate poor secretaries with their harsh e-mails, there's no use feeling sorry for them. Even though they go about it completely the wrong way, the Visigoths are correct; Unisys is a pile of horse doo-doo, and GIFs and the patents concerning GIFs are even bigger piles of horse doo-doo. Let's all make Unisys (or at least GIFs) obsolete: if you need lossless graphics, use PNG, if you don't mind lossy, use jpegs.

    -- adr
  • I would imagine that what is needed is a "virgin" whose never seen the algorithm for LZW sit down and read LZ78, and create an algorithm based on the paper. It would not be LZW, but something entirely new. I think this would work as I haven't heard of anyone patenting scientific papers.

  • They're going to be dead also?
  • There are two sides to the story here as I see it. I can completly understand why they want a cut of the profit for software that sells for 500 bucks.. who wouldn't?

    But I can agree with how programmers have to get a license from them in order to use their stuff. Just when I thought maybe open-source and it's beliefs would change some stuff, it's just getting weirder and worse in some ways.

    My advise to Unisys, end the policy of having to give out licenses for small time programmers to use your work. But, if they finish the program, and it's popularity grows and grows, then be forced to take a cut.

    Scott Miga
  • Unisys is in the right. They do not use free software, so they have every right to charge for there's. It may be a real pain that they own the patent, but you have to remember that they paid for it too. On the other hand, if they used free software, one could get upset. I think the Linux Advocacy HOWTO should be read by everyone that flamed Unisys; it may not be Linux but alot of it applies here.
  • Comments elsewhere in this tree cast doubts on exactly how one qualifies for one of these "hundreds of free licenses". My best guess is that if one is a developer for a government agency that is in the process of evaluating a bid, then one would qualify.
    "Hundreds" isn't exactly a large number.

  • I like GIFs, mainly because of the transparency feature. I use tools like xv, gifsicle, and giftrans to create them. Are any of these tools in violation of the Unisys patent?
  • Obviously algorithms are subject to patents. Whether or not you like this fact is irrelevant. You may be correct that patent protection may not extend to processes (then again you may not be - not my area), but they are specifically intended to protect the utility of an idea or invention. RSA is an example of an algorithm using basic mathematics which is prima facie patented. It's not the math - it's not the process that's patented - it's the utility arising from the math and process that's patented.

    Your assertion of money and business interest winning out over the law is just FUD until you can support it.
  • by smileyy ( 11535 )

    I thought GIMP used libungif to produce non-LZW compressed GIFs, thus avoiding the whole patent problem?

  • I agree completely about the precise language.

    One thing I am still unclear on, suppose a commercial web page uses donated GIF's? Do they have to make sure all their contributors (some of whom may be anonymous) use the proper software to create them? Or else pay the license fee?

    I'm also wondering how the net porn industry will react to this. Though many have converted to jpeg, not all have, and there's lots of animated banners probably too. Most are commercial sites. Might be a lobby and some bucks for a trial there.

  • Thanks for doing the research.

    This demonstrates that Slashdot does more than simply direct readers to organizations that do the reporting.

  • > Unisys did the same thing then, and there was an > effort way back then to come up
    > with a LZW-free image compression. I don't know > what ever happened to that issue,

    It is alive and well and known as PNG.
  • I just can't see how anyone in this day and age can claim a patent on peanut butter.
  • Free software is not freeware. My understanding is that freeware is not copyrighted. Or if it is, it is free as in free beer. For some reason a lot of those freeware authors also stipulate "You cannot use it for things I don't want you to use it for." e.g. commercial purposes, government, defense, etc. If you were using, say, LGPL'd libraries you would never have to pull a library from your software just because you wanted to make money from it. That is truely free software.
  • I might be wrong here, but it seems everyone is throwing stones at the wrong target.

    Why are so many people trashing Unisys over the LZW patent and their general evil in wanting money to create and view GIF's when that that's been done before over and over again.

    The NEW point here is that they seem to want money even when you are NOT using the LZW algorithm.

    I've been having a few days correspondence with the much maligned and newly famous Cheryl. It takes overnight because I'm down-under in Australia. I've been trying to get a clearer idea of their claim, I waiting for a reply to my latest letter. (given its midday in Oz Cheryl is, I hope, not at work at the moment) :

    =section from my latest letter=
    Does that mean Unisys are claiming royalties/licenses from John in the following scenario?

    John operates a Web Server distributing GIF files, on that server (and associated computers) NO software (licensed or unlicensed) using LZW algorithms is run.

    Mary created those GIF files with software that uses unlicensed LZW algorithms.

    And this, it seem to me, is the whole point. Forget about how the GIF's were created, forget whether its freeware, gimp, licensed or whatever. Surely they hold only a patent on the LZW algorithm, and can only claim on people that use it. Are they really claiming that you have to pay them even when you don't use it ? Remember you don't need photoshop to simply copy files.

    I'm not for one minute imagining that the convolutions of the US legal system may not let them do just this. Stranger things than this seem to happen all the time over there (just look at the music industry) to this observer from the other side of the planet. And yes, I don't really think that they should be able to patent an algorithm either, but your law says they can, argue it with courts as well as Unisys.

    But this keep your eye on the point that should be in dispute, and its not Unisys's original claim on LZW and the graphic software that uses it. In the above John and Mary scenario, you can't argue that Mary doesn't owe them money/license/royalty, given the current laws. Sure you may not think she should, but forget Mary.

    The whole point is: WHAT ABOUT JOHN? He's not using any Unisys product, why should he have to pay?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The Constitution (Art.1-Congress, Sec.8-Powers)
    To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;

    So, all you guys got a very important point wrong. Patents are not issued with the primary idea of protecting the perpetual incorporation which "owns" the invention, not in the least. The are issued to protect the progress of science and useful arts for the nation. A patent cannot be issued if it can be shown to be counterproductive to the required progress of science and technology.

    This is not a small distinction. And, this principle certainly applies to the case in hand, i.e. Unisys, GIF and graphic communications. Software technology, from the perspective of building actual usable wealth for the "we the people" nation, moves too fast, and requires too little input (stop crying), to warrant national protection for 17 years, when compared to say, development of a fusion engine, or development of a more productive GPL agriculture.

    IMHO, but for utter economic incompetance and/or corruption of our congress, there would be no federal protection (patent, trademark, or copyright) for software. The life cycle, or if you like the curvature of the Riemann surface for software wealth-creation, is simple too steep to warrant 17 years of protection. It becomes counterproductive in comparison to required rate of change for growth, and the actual human effort involved.

  • If he doesn't want to do business with us, he can deride us without much loss. Unfortunately, it can be rather hard to decide just who "us" is. I, for instance, am no longer young, tend to be restrained in my conversation, and frequently comment upon purchases. It is also true that I don't generally decide upon major purchases. Others will have different profiles. Lots of different profiles. A part of my profile is that I am irritated with UniSys (actually, I have been since the original incident with CompuServe, but the level of irritation varies significantly). This will certainly cause me to ask hostile question if any of their products come up for review. Not a deciding factor. But not one without weight.
    OTOH, they ARE in a different market place. The last time we knowingly bought anything from them, it was a keypunch. So perhaps they can afford to be as offensive as a teenager. The teenagers will probably grow out of it.

  • GD has been doing non-lzw gif creation and suggesting PNG for a while now (as of 1.3) As of v1.6, gif support was removed. The release notes for 1.3 state:

    Non-LZW-based GIF compression code

    Version 1.3 contained GIF compression code that uses simple Run Length Encoding instead of LZW compression, while still retaining compatibility with normal LZW-based GIF decoders (your browser will still like your GIFs). LZW compression is patented by Unisys. We are currently reevaluating the approach taken by gd 1.3. The current release of gd does not support this approach. We recommend that you use the current release, and generate PNG images. Thanks to Hutchison Avenue Software Corporation for contributing the RLE GIF code.
  • Animation isn't _always_ bad. For instance, the Mavica we have has an option to take 9 pictures, separated by a .25 second interval. I postprocess that into an animated gif so my family can see minimovies from our vacation. MPEG would be way overkill for 9 frames.
  • You wrote:

    The market will prove who is right, the wrong ones will either switch sides or diseapper.

    This is like the old saying: Might makes right!

    And that is simply not true. There are many cases where a better technology didn't become standard because it wasn't marketed as well as another inferior technology (can you say Beta v. VHS?).

    Some one here on /. has the sig that sys it all: War doesn't determine who's right, Only who's left.

    But other than that I would have to say I completly agree with everying else you have said.

  • Every non-commercial graphics program that compresses GIFs must get the license. I use Graphic Converter (a mighty nice program), and T. Lemke must pay a portion of the $35 he charges for his shareware. Every copy of Photoshop, Canvas, etc. gives Uni$y$ more money. They are just flexing their legal rights. Now, they don't want a for-profit, such as VA Research, to make a web site with the Gimp and not get a piece of the pie.

    I wouldn't call them morons, just greedy people. Anyway, if you can get a program that handles 100 different file formats, and by the way handles GIF, for $35, Unisys can't be asking for much.

    My $.02 (or is it for Unisys:)
  • Theft? Whence arises this drivel? Are my ideas morally public property? Not unless I choose to make them so there not. You're also free to not accept ownership of my ideas - much like I reject ownership of your ridiculous stance on this issue.
  • their butt for all it matters. They know it and that's why they are putting the squeeze on. We need to start a countdown and plan a party, because the patent is public domain that day. This would be a good time to replace it with better technology though.

    You can bet that they try to get an extension - maybe slashdot can alert readers when their thug lawyers go to congress - give them a taste of heavy handedness...

    Same nonsense happens with drug companies "They haven't made enough billions" to let their drugs go to the generics when patents expire, so they ask for extensions left and right. Would be real interesting to keep track of it.
  • You ever been to a Chicago City Council meeting?
  • Another thing that would be nice to hear from the horse's mouth is whether Unisys claims that their patent covers decoding of GIFs as well as creation of them. My understanding is that it only covers creation, but I have heard rumors that Unisys believes otherwise. It would be good to have a definitive answer on what Unisys's opinion on that actually is.

    Thanks for calling them, Rob! Good job. Slashdot needs more of this sort of thing.

  • Why should IBM buy this? They already own it. The LZW stuff was first patented generally as no. 4 464 650 by the scientists and then as no. 4 558 302 (Unisys) and no. 4 814 746 (IBM) by their employees. Way back in the OS/2 days, there was a statement by IBM on the Compuserve GIF enforcing debate, that any kind of GIFs under OS/2 are covered by IBMs license. --Detlef
  • When someone tells me how to convert a GIF animation into PNG format, without a loss of graphical quality -- Then I will convert, not before.
  • Roblimo wrote:

    > But nowhere, in any of the many "Unisys is evil"
    > posts I read, here or elsewhere, did I see a
    > single official statement from anyone at Unisys,

    I suppose the link to Unisys' official statement doesn't count.

    > According to Mark Starr, General Patent and
    > Technology Counsel for Unisys, if the GIFs
    > on your Web site were created with software
    > that is licensed by Unisys, you are fine.
    > Nobody at Unisys is going to try to get
    > $5000 or even $0.50 out of you. Period.

    Translation: don't use GIFs from anyone else's site if you don't know for a fact that they used licensed software (and licensed for your particular purpose, at that).

    The official statement includes:
    > Why should you get an LZW Web site license?
    > You'll be able to deal with any vendors, developers, services or
    > Webmasters whether they have an LZW license agreement from Unisys or
    > not. You won't have to go to the trouble of verifying that each vendor is
    > licensed by Unisys.

    That sounds pretty clear to me: "C'mon, better safe than sorry! You don't want to take a chance, do you?"

    back to Roblimo:
    > How would Unisys know what software you used to create
    > a particular GIF?

    Good question. Now, how would I know the answer to that question if I saw a GIF at another site and thought "hey, that's nifty!" I'd like to use that!

    > I did not ask, "What if someone creates a GIF using licensed
    > software that came with a scanner, then modifies that image with
    > the GIMP or another freeware program?"

    > I really didn't want to know the answer to this question;

    Why not? You say they're being really reasonable!

    > all of my GIFs have passed through at least one
    > Unisys-licensed program at some point, so if I
    > am asked I can honestly say that they were created
    > (at least partially) in accordance with the Unisys patent.

    Oops! Does the official statement say anything about "passed through a Unisys-licensed program at some point"? Nope. Does it say "you can display any GIF as long as you OWN licensed software"? Nope. Why else would a web site operator be advised "buy the $5000 (or more) license" instead of "buy the $500 licensed software package".

    Perhaps you didn't ask because you thought you were in a gray area, and didn't care to get slapped with a $5000 license fee (that is, if you don't sell any services or products) if you were wrong?

    > you're probably fine, but if you use it to create
    > GIF graphics for a Web site that is intended to
    > make a profit, Unisys wants a cut of the action
    > How much? E-mail them and ask.

    And keep in mind that they want $5000 if you DON'T make a profit. Do you really think they'll want less from a business? For a real life example, what about the fellow who wanted enough licenses for approximately 100 copies of a downloadable program, and was told "sorry, the starting point is 200,000 licenses".

    Starr can _talk_ all he wants about company policy, but the official policy (assuming that it's official if it's posted on a Unisys page) and the actual practice diverge from his remarks. Which do you think a judge will lend more weight to when you're hauled into court? The official stated policy, or what some guy said to some other guy in a phone interview?

    If Starr is being truthful about company policy, perhaps HE should rewrite that offical page.

    > He and Unisys PR dude Oliver Picher both described the e-mail
    > tirades with words like vile, vulgar, obscene, disgusting, and
    > distasteful.

    Then I'm very glad my email simply said "1) I could build 2 low-end web servers for about $1500, 2) you want $5000 dollars for the GIF license for that setup?, and 3) I'll be sure to convert all my GIFs to PNGs". No abuse, no foul language, just "I choose not to use a product which you can control".

  • There are no programs containing LZW compression or any other proprietary items on the official Debian CDs. While GIMP does come with Debian, a quick check will show you their version doesn't do GIFs. For precisely the reasons you mention. Packages to add this support are available, but they don't come on the CD.
  • Try gzip then tar. Then you can do all of what pkzip does.

    Write a #$@#*& perl script to do it.

  • Unisys has no reason to go straight after
    users/consumers for their inability to control their patents. Why aren't they going after developers? One reason. Money!!!!!! Imagine all these companies they can milk because of ignorance to patents. Sorry Unisys, you're still evil.

    Save your sanctimonius working class tragedy for people who are easily moved. Any secretary worth her salt knows when to hold down the delete key and let it fly. Right now I'm picturing her running to her boss with the 20+ mail order ads they get every hour and somewhere a slashdot Indian is crying.

  • What about dynamically generated gifs? Say I use PHP's functions to create some GIF buttons on my site -- are these covered or are they in violation of the rule?
  • Debian is very, very careful to separate out the non-free software from the official distribution. Programs like the GIMP will have both free [] and non-free [] packages available. The free package is fully operational, except for GIF and TIFF support, for which you will have to download the non-free add-on (at your own legal risk). Only the free stuff is included in the official CD-ROM images. Read the Debian Social Contract [] for more information.
  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is the first time I remember someone from Slashdot actually going out and finding news, rather than let us bring it to them. Regardless of my feelings about Unisys, I congratulate Roblimo for going out and finding out what is really going on.
  • To the extent that Unisys is a single entity, yes, you have the right to communicate your feelings to it. You can even swear at it, or insult its parentage, if thats the kind of thing you enjoy.

    However it is impossible to communicate with the entity called Unisys, you have to talk to its employees instead. Unfortunately mail from ordinary people sent to large companies does not get read by the people responsible for their decisions (and in this case, I might add, Unisys isn't doing much wrong). It gets read by other ordinary people, who really cannot do very much about said decisions. If you insult them, then frankly, thats just rude, and you should apologise.
  • Unfortunately you can only manufacture your improvement on the original patent if you wait until the first patent runs out, or if you can get the first patent-holder to licence the earlier technology to you (good-luck is you are REALLY trying to run them out of business).

    Your improvement patent will however keep the original company from using YOUR improvement ideas without paying you.

    More than likely they would just come up with some other improvement to work around your idea, while you still have to wait for the prior patent to expire.
  • Why use gifs at all? Use PNGs. They have better compression, are capable of being inline images in both 4.0+ browsers (don't know about opera), and are, noteably, GPLed. Well, the codec is, anyway. Replace GIFs!
  • We are all using a site that makes extensive use of GIFs. Could /. take the lead? Then we could continue the compaign with all the Open Source sites (someone really needs to post an "LZW Free" button). The Mozilla folks will be quick enough to enhance their PNG support (they're probably unlicensed for LZW for the Free Mozilla product).

    Worse comes to worse, we can start to threaten to "turn-in" the non-compliant sites... :)
  • I use GD to create GIFs on the fly.

    What is the best replacement for GD?
    Is there a suitable replacement?

    Are they working on a PNG creating GD?
  • Sit down and think about it. The reality is that we have software patents and I believe we should at least support those companies who allow open sourced implementation of their patents so that the free world can benefit from them.

    This "reality" exists only in US and maybe few other countries. Much more healthy environment can be achieved if we ju all move to Europe and create enough political noistse to prevent the adoption of software patents there -- after all it's Americans who are so fond of replying "if you don't like what our government does, move somewhere else" to any kind of criticism.

  • He isnt "there for the customers". He is there to make money and satisfy the shareholders. He doesnt need a product - he has a software patent. He could tell all his "customers" to their faces to go fsck themselves, and they would still have to pay him, thanks to US laws.

    Sure, its sad, its greedy etc, but its a pretty neat situation for him. Money for nothing.

  • Speaking of LZW and image formats; How about all those LZW compressed TIFFs out there? I myself use an amiga as workstation, and I do not have any software that can read those LZW TIFFs, as all painters/image-processing/viewer programs specificly do not support it, due to licensing. Still I find almost 95% of the TIFFs used in window manager bitmaps and backdrop over at etc, compressed with LZW.

    Tells you something about the so called open/free communities, doesnt it?

  • IIRC LZW was neither novel or unintuitive. Wasn't it just a modification of LZ77 with "performance enhancements" that made it compress faster by reducing the ammount of compression done? I think gzip uses LZ77 and compress and pkzip use LZW. That's why gzip does a better job compressing.
  • foo!
    I just released a C library [] that generates animated (or if you want, 24-bit true-color that really works on browsers) GIFs that are LZW-free.
  • Starr said that if your GIFs are created with a licensed program, AND Unisys routinely gives out license free to non-profits.

    Why can't the authors/maintainers of Open Source GIF creation software, and especially libraries such as libgif, apply for a free license?

    Wouldn't that fix the problem?
  • Web counters can easily use PNG or JPEG. Both have libraries available for programmers (for sure in C/C++, surely also in Perl, perhaps even in Python/TCL). You can also generate LZW-free GIF if you want (angif, gd, libungif). Another technique is to extract the LZW data block from an existing GIF generated by a Unisys-licensed program, for each digit, and piece them together into a multi-image-block (angif can help in this part) GIF file. If your digit collection is already in GIF and was produced by legal code (but how would you know?) this way you can build new GIFs without doing any compress or uncompress operations. The LZW patent only covers LZW, and hence only the data portion of the image block of GIF, not the whole GIF file.
  • IMHO, there hasn't been any delay. Unisys has been defending their LZW patent all along. The patent does run out in about 3 years. They have simply changed their course of enforcement to deal with several issues that have been changing. One of those is the rising freeware popularity. I suspect they realize they won't get much out of a non-commercial site using GIFs generated by freeware, but a commercial site is certainly a potential revenue source. And it is legal to collect royalties on the use of a patent, in addition to the implementation of it. And all the while that the use of GIF is growing due to the web growth, Unisys is probably preparing for the coming phase out of the Welch Licensing department. With that, and the lack of future revenue streams, it will soon (before the 3 years are up) not be worth pursuing infringers. So get them for everything for the next 3 years and get it now. And there is the time-value of money gotten sooner, too.
  • When lossless compression is required, just use PNGs. PNG offers good compression, and it's lossless, and it's FREE.

    GIF only offers better compression on small, simple images that require low (or zero) loss. That's rare. On these images, the difference in bandwidth between GIF and PNG would be slight.
  • GIF does support multiple image blocks with positioning and size info. The LZW data is in those blocks. If your LZW data is legal (from a GIF file generated by a legal program) then you can extract the LZW part and build a composite image from other images and you wouldn't be doing any LZW at all. That won't be useful for most image work, but for some things it could be, such as image counter CGIs where each digit comes from a digits file (if your digits are legal).
  • >Actually, the original poster is right. The patent system was never intended to cover things
    >like algorithms (it was quite specific on the point) and to allow such patents or to apply for
    >them is theft or attempted theft from the whole of mankind. Ideas are morally public property and
    >a system which prevents free use of the human intellect are immoral. 'Intellectual property' is
    >not synonymous with 'patents'.

    No, he's not. The original poster is an infantile socialist, who wants everything which he likes but doesn't own to be public property.

    That is a separate matter from the question of whether algorithms are patentable. I believe that algorithms should not be patentable, though mechanisms or devices to implement them should be protected. So LZW should be public domain, but Unisys' code for performing it should be patentable. Then someone could avoid the royalties by creating their own device (program) to perform the compression. In the chemical industry, the sequence of reactions to convert one set of materials into another set is not patentable, but the equipment used to do so is. If you want to make alcohol from raw materials, you must not use (unless purchased from licenced vendors) patented equipment, but you may make your own. (Ignoring that any patent on fermentation and distillation as a process would have expired long ago.)
  • The problem is not Unisys, they are just another predator. The problem is the law. Algorithms shouldn`t be allowed to be patented. Ah, one moment... THEY ARE NOT allowed to be patented! At least in 95% of the world :-)

    But still something is terribly wrong - png is out for five years, its much better - more efficient, faster, more powerfull - than gif and completely free. It was invented to replace gif when Unisys started to rampage.


    It took AGES for ns and ie to learn png. BAD.

    Noone knows PNG. BAD.

    And instead of supporting the open standard PNG ns and ms do nothing for the "open standard".
  • pkzip and gzip use LZ77, but compress uses LZW. LZW is a "performance enhancement" of LZ77, which esentially reduced the amount of compression done by the algorithm to make it faster. Somehow this qualified for a patent even though it seems like it's obviously a derived work. Maybe there are some facts of which I am not aware.

    From the gzip man page:

    Gzip uses the Lempel-Ziv algorithm used in zip and PKZIP. The amount of compression obtained depends on the size of the input and the distribution of common substrings. Typically, text such as source code or English is reduced by 60-70%. Compression is generally much better than that achieved by LZW (as used in compress), Huffman coding (as used in pack), or adaptive Huffman coding (compact).
  • Few things, first you can use tar to extract a single file w/o gunziping. If you're using GNU tar just tar -zxf blarg.tgz file_you_want_to_extract. Second, the method of compression has nothing to do with being able to store multiple files. PKZip is essentially just tar and gzip rolled into one product. The compression algorithm just takes a big chunk of data and makes it smaller, it doesn't care what info is stored in that data.
  • Can't we all grow up, please??

    "We" can, unfortunately new people keep coming along all the time and they have to grow up too. I would guess the average age of the flamers is about 18, testorone running high, ready to take on all the world. Many have seen the light that is free software and want to fight the darkness of proprietary expoitation software. Youthful exhuberance, foul language, and e-mail are a potent mix.

    The best way to "fight" this is to voice your own coherent, polite, and flame-free outrage (if you have it) and try to let the law of averages work to its full extent.
  • by Hrunting ( 2191 ) on Tuesday August 31, 1999 @05:13AM (#1715245) Homepage
    What the HELL are you talking about? Unisys 'customers' aren't going to benefitted by giving away the GIF compression scheme for free. They're going to cease being customers and start being users. Basically, Unisys loses a whole bunch of money by ending the licensing scheme, pissing off a whole lot of companies that have already paid money for the license, and gets absolutely nothing in return. Explain to me how this hurts or doesn't hurt Unisys' customers?

    I, for one, and probably one of the few on Slashdot, applaud Unisys for their business model. It is not harsh to the freeware community (the GIMP can still develop using GIF LZW technology so long as they don't profit from it) and they still can make money off the $400 graphics suites like Photoshop. I can think of companies that have been less sympathetic to non-profit and not-for-profit organizations.

    Quit your complaining! The entire world does not need to be free to be perfect.
  • I don't see a big difference to what has been previously reported. UNISYS isn't giving in at all--they can't sue people who created software with, say, Photoshop, because that's almost certainly prohibited by the license terms they have with Adobe.

    In any case, who UNISYS sues or doesn't sue doesn't matter much. The reason why UNISYS is getting such bad press out of it is not because they are pursuing an iffy patent--lots of companies are doing that.

    What irks people is that UNISYS seems to have allowed GIF to become a de-facto standard on the web without ever asserting their intellectual property rights. If they had made their intentions clear from the beginning, nobody would have used their technology. LZW isn't intrinsically valuable (there are lots of reasonable compression algorithms), it's only valuable because people have widely chosen to adopt it.

    In fact, in other areas of property rights, UNISYS would have forfeited their rights through non-enforcement (c.f., real-estate easements, trademark law, etc.); it's an oddity of patent law that they are getting away with this. I think it also reflects poorly on their ethical standards; as a business partner, I'd be left wondering what kinds of rabbits the UNISYS legal department might be pulling out of their hat after I had signed a contract with them.

  • Do any free programs that you can think of off the top of your head actually use Unisys technology? I know there's libungif which doesn't use the same patented technology. If these programs do use the technology, what happens when a company like Redhat bundles them and then sells them? Who pays the licensing fee (if any)?
  • Sorry, but as General Patent and Technology Counsel for Unisys the people that keep him in business are the shareholders and he's serving them well. The purpose of a business is to make money, after all, and maxinmize the way that happens. If they thought that "being there for the customers" would make them more money, they'd do it.
  • by xyzzy ( 10685 ) on Tuesday August 31, 1999 @05:17AM (#1715264) Homepage
    ...for doing some actual *RESEARCH* instead of instantly hitting the "flame" key.

    He forgot to mention one thing, however -- patents are only valid for 17 years. The LZW patent was filed in 1985. This whole issue will be moot in three more years!

    (if you want to see the LZW patent, it is available here: )
  • It is is immoral for Unisys to hold a patent on the LZW compression algorithm in the first instance, and even more immoral for them to charge $5000 for `unlicensed' images.

    Patents are supposed to protect small-time inventors and operators, not be a bargaining chip for multinationals to use to bully people (which is just what this is---pure extortion on Unisys's part.)

    I've seen many people talking about Unisys's inability to prove an image was generated with unlicensed software; this double-edged sword means it's impossible for someone who wants to become compliant to know where ver GIFs came from, so they'll have to be re-created, or cough up the $5000 fee.

    The answer? Realise Unisys's patent and subsequent ``offer'' for what they are: further abuse of the patent system to get a few more dollars from an idea that just simply isn't worth what they're asking.

  • If both PKZIP and Gzip use the Lempel-Ziv algorithm, why can PKZIP compress multiple files into one archive, and then extract them all, or extract an individual file separately, while Gzip can only compress and extract a single file. If PKZIP can use LW to compress multiple files, why can Gzip only do one at a time? (yes, i know you can first tar your multiple files and gzip the tar file, but gzip is still only compressing one file, the tar file, and you can't extract the individual original files have to un-gzip and then un-tar everything).
  • by Zoop ( 59907 ) on Tuesday August 31, 1999 @05:21AM (#1715279)
    If Unisys had used more precise language on their page (anyone remember the flap over the APSL?), then much of this could have been avoided. As it was, it seems to me they were hoping to create the impression that any website with a GIF, a PDF, or a TIFF would need to cough up to get a get-out-of-lawsuit-free card.

    When I read the page, I suspected that as long as you use Photoshop or some other licensed program, you're fine, but they made none of the distinctions that Star did in his explanations. The fact is, they were trying to reach a broad audience, and should have written it to make sense to a large audience. I'm really surprised that their counsel let that imprecise a wording escape to the web, but then, that's probably why he's working for a coporation and not a law firm.

    Perhaps Unisys should ask themselves if their attitudes and PR strategies as demonstrated here have more to do with their lack of good PR from license giveaways than any lack of appreciation on the part of the recipients.
  • by timur ( 2029 ) on Tuesday August 31, 1999 @05:21AM (#1715281)
    I suggest that everyone who sent a vulgar letter to Unisys and now regrets it should pick up the phone and send flowers to Cheryl. You'll have to call Unisys to get the address first, of course. A popular site for ordering flowers is [] (1-800-468-1141).
  • Nice reporting job there - going straight to the source, getting the facts. (And showing Slashdotters once again that "Your Mother is a *****" emails really don't help.)

    I would love to see more of this sort of thing on Slashdot - preferably before the quick-n-dirty article (like Sunday's) is released. We can do a lot more with facts than we can with rumors. Often, all the discussion in the world (what was it, 470 comments on Sunday?) can't replace the value of a single phone call to the company to get the facts.

  • 'cause he's dead....
  • by Manuka ( 4415 ) on Tuesday August 31, 1999 @05:31AM (#1715304)
    Neat idea to turn her office into a jungle.

    On a side note, once again, what makes it OK to verbally abuse someone the way these idiots do, online, when if you did it in person, you'd probably get clocked? Not a real good way to get your point across.

  • by daviddennis ( 10926 ) <> on Tuesday August 31, 1999 @05:32AM (#1715306) Homepage
    I think a lot of the anger about this comes out of the obvious lack of realism in the license terms. Adobe Photoshop costs somewhere around $695. If I create an image using Photoshop, it's legal. So why, under any conceivable situation, should I be obligated to pay $ 5,000 for a license, when I could buy the same thing (and get a FREE program!) for $ 695?

    Now, I own a legal copy of Photoshop. Let's say I want to do some image processing on my Unix machine, so I use the GIMP to create a GIF file. Since I've already paid Unisys for a license to distribute GIFs by purchasing Photoshop, should I have to pay again for the GIMP?

    Now, I'm sure most of the revenues from Photoshop go to Adobe, not Unisys. Let's say I don't have a legal copy of Photoshop, and I want to make my copy of the GIMP legal to produce GIFs. Would it not be reasonable for me to write, say, a $10 check to Unisys to pay for LZW? I really doubt they get more than that from Adobe for the license. If I was using the GIMP to produce GIFs, I wouldn't mind writing that check - $ 10 isn't exactly going to send me to the bankruptcy court or anything.

    Bluntly, I don't think even a small fraction of those who run non-commercial web sites have $5,000 for a license, no matter what program they used to create GIFs. As a result, I believe the Unisys program to be hopelessly wrong-headed, even if it's directed only at people without licenses of any kind.

    Finally, I'll bet most people simply don't know if they own a license or not. Say I create an animated GIF using e-Picture on the BeOS. Beatware is a tiny company that sells a $149 package. Do they have a license? How the heck should I know? I certainly don't know how they run their business! What about Paint Shop Pro, which many people buy for around $ 79? Does that include a license? Search me. I certainly don't think it's fair for Unisys to come out with this kind of nebulous warning without explaining what software they're targeting and why.

    I suppose's GD library was a major violator here. Let's say you use GD to dynamically create GIFs. I'd argue that you owe Unisys $10 or so, just as I mentioned above for the GIMP. If there was a reasonable program to collect this money, I think most of us would pay.

    Unisys doesn't need to make the software free, but they need to be reasonable and fair about their license conditions. Trying to charge $5,000 to sites that have gross revenues of $ 0 is insane, no matter what use they make of the technology. Charging them $10 would make Unisys a little money, make us lose a little money, and everyone would be more or less happy.


  • by DrNO ( 61310 ) on Tuesday August 31, 1999 @05:39AM (#1715322)
    You wrote:

    "Patents are supposed to protect small-time inventors and operators, not be a bargaining chip for multinationals to use to bully people (which is just what this is---pure extortion on Unisys's part.)"

    Just where does this idea come from? It may well be a valid personal perspective, but there's no basis that I'm aware of from a historical perspective that supports this view. A patent is intended to protect an inventor from competition for a time so that the inventor can realize a return for the work and risk that was undertaken to produce the invention. Whether this effort and risk is undertaken by a "small-time" inventor or a large multi-national corporation is of no import.

    Researchers working for large corporations assign rights from their work to the corporate entity in return for access to resources necessary to undertake the research and protection from the personal risk involved with the possibility that the research time will be for naught. Corporations employing researchers (inventors) are certainly entitled to patent protection as much as the lone "garage" hobbyist / inventor.

    Whether many of the software patents currently being awarded are legitimate is another question entirely.
  • lots of people has been saying about this, PNG sounds better every day....then again, I don't have any gifs on my sites so...jpg is good, and there's no silly animations :)

    As for the pseudo-advocates that can't stay away from the hurt the Free Software/Open Source movement a lot more than you can help it with your silly tirades...most people out there will be hearing about FS/OS for the first time the day s/he gets one gazillion emails because of something that /. (or whatever other site) posted....and they will NOT have kind thoughts about us, because people who is insulted doesn't have kind thoughts about those that insult them, so....use your brains, if you have any. Or, at the very least, shut up.

    Vox, who really dislikes "advocates" who don't have a clue

  • Why not read the PNG specs, which are easy enough to find that I shouldn't have to be bothered telling you where to find them? PNG, as a format, supports both chromakey transparency (like GIF) and alpha transparency (like a GIMP layer), and MPNG is an animation-capable extension to PNG. Just because there's no web browsers which fully support PNG right now doesn't mean the format itself doesn't support those features.
    "'Is not a quine' is not a quine" is a quine.
  • by rc-flyer ( 20492 ) on Tuesday August 31, 1999 @05:47AM (#1715342)
    Why is it immoral for a company to want to get a return on it's investment?

    A company spends money developing a new idea, and then patents it. The patent lasts for 17 years, after which it becomes public domain.

    A company would not be in business if they did not earn more money than they spend. The fact that YOU would like the company to give away it's intellectual ideas does not make it immoral for the company to simply say NO. The open source movement is wonderful, but there is not law or moral imperative which says that all companies need to release their property.

    While Unisys may not have directly developed the gif format (I think that compuserve did), they now own it due to their purchasing (with real dollars) another company which did develop it. The patent was part of the purchase, and therefore Unisys now owns the patent.

    While you (and others) may feel that the $5000 fee is too high, there is nothing either legally wrong or immoral with what they are doing.

    I have read a lot of responses here, and feel that the demigogs just want free stuff without any feeling of responsibility to the originators of the stuff. Open source is an idea, which many companies do not believe in. That is their right. It may be a wrong belief, but YOU have no law on your side. The market will prove who is right, the wrong ones will either switch sides or diseapper.

    The answer? Follow the law, even if you disagree. Use another format, there are many others to choose from. Stop feeling that you are totally rightous, you have no basis for that belief.

    As far as I am concerned, there is only one thing a GIF can do which other format can't, that is the transparent gif (no flames, please, I am not an expert here). If you want to use transparent gifs, use a licensed program. If you want to do anything else, use a different format.

  • I don't see why all the comments to this article have to be so "anti-'advocate'"; just because someone has done a better job of presenting facts doesn't make the facts any better.

    In an open-source world (note I didn't say GPL is the only One True License), there should be *NO* restrictions, legal or financial, on the things you can do with software.

    So unisys isn't into open source - do we really need to depend on gif/lzw that much?
    As far as I'm concerned, they deserve a good explanation why some of us are going to be taking our custom elsewhere - it doesn't have to be flamey, let alone flowery, but it can press the point that they're not doing the community (and probably themselves) any favours.

    At the end of the day, lzw is just an algorithm: how dare they restrict its use?!

  • Unisys (or someone) could probably avoid much confusion and agita by posting a list of GIF creation software whose makers have gotten the license. Even if it isn't absolutely complete (it would, of course be good if the list were actively maintained), it would answer an FAQ.

  • By customers, you're presumably talking about the people
    who have paid to use Unisys' intelectual property, or
    have bought a licensed product. Unisys seems to be serving
    those customers just fine.

    How are they being disadvantaged?

    If by 'customers' you mean peoiple who are missapropriating
    unisis' intelectual property, or using unlicensed and
    therefore illegal software, this is some new definition of the
    term 'customer' I've previously not been aware of.

    Simon Hibbs
  • by angelo ( 21182 ) on Tuesday August 31, 1999 @06:21AM (#1715354) Homepage
    1) remove any libs under /usr/local/lib/libgif*
    2) download libungif from either GNU or from
    3) compile libungif
    4) compile gimp

    this should work, if you cleaned up your libs thouroughly.
  • the compressession schemes that the two use are completely different. What is a small, crisp picture in a GIF is crap as a JPEG, and visa-versa.

    Try this little experiment: Make a plain, boring, unaliased white text on a black background...and then save it as a JPEG. Because JPEG defines deviation from an average in a image, you're going to get annoying grey specs all over the place.

    GIF, on the other hand, defines horizontal lines of the same color...therefore, 2 colors, not many changes, great compression.

    And yet, the opposite's true, too, as there's times when GIF sucks, and JPEG is the way to go..
    anything with photorealistic shading, for example.

    Know your file formats. Even if you have to read the JPEG and GIF sections of The Encyclopedia of Graphical File Formats while at a bookstore, people should learn when to use what formats, for maximum compression, and help preserve the bandwidth that we have.

    The Bandwidth Conservation Society [] also has good info.
  • You are wrong to 'applaud' Unisys for their business model. If proprietary algorithms really were desirable on the Web, we'd all be using FIF or something (remember, Fractal Image Format? Impressive ability to zoom in on images)
    Unisys kept mum for long enough to let GIF become substantially established on the Web- causing the majority of web browsers to make it the single most compatible web graphics format (I remember browsers that couldn't even display inline jpegs, and does your browser do jpegs as _background_ pictures?), and only then did they start trying to extort money out of people. This constitutes bait-and-switch tactics, and isn't acceptable behavior. Since Unisys cannot cause the whole Web to change to a new format no matter how obnoxious they act, they should lose LZW. They did not adequately warn adopters that they were going to be exercising extremely arbitrary control over access to LZW at the time that it was being widely adopted, and it's too late to un-adopt it.
    If you think inferior technology is easily supplanted by different technology, are you using a computer that uses near and far pointers? ;P
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The following was taken from the "Why no GIFs []" page of the GNU website:

    "Many people think that Unisys has given permission for distributing free software to make GIF format. Unfortunately that is not what Unisys has actually done. Here is what Unisys actually says about the matter:

    No license or license fees are required for non-commercial, not-for-profit GIF-based applications or for non-commercial, not-for-profit GIF-freeware, so long as the LZW capability provided is only for GIF. However, a license is required if freeware is incorporated into, or sold or distributed with a commercial or for-profit product, introduced in 1995 [or later], or enhancements of products that were introduced prior to 1995.

    In other words, Unisys may allow the community to develop a program like the GIMP, but it can't be included in the Red Hat Boxed Set, or even the Cheapbytes $1.99 Debian CD, without Red Hat and Cheapbytes each paying royalties. This is NOT a good solution. Again, according to the GNU website, this turns Red Hat and Debian into "semi-free" operating systems. "[T]he distribution terms for the operating system as a whole are the conjunction of the distribution terms for all the programs in it. Adding one semi-free program to the system would make the system as a whole just semi-free. [...] Including one semi-free program in an operating system would cut off commercial CD-ROM distribution for it."

    This is not a reasonable solution. I encourage everyone to convert their GIFs to JPEGs or PNGs instead. A good PNG overview site can be found at []. Good luck!

  • Any idea how much he paid? I'd be surprised if he would have agreed to more than $ 5 a copy, which makes this situation all the more bizarre.

    To the other fellow who said that I don't really own Photoshop - didn't I say that I owned a license? The license is shorthand for exactly the type of agreement you're talking about.


  • What if I'm using a library like GD that creates GIFs on the fly? As far as I know, GD has no non-free alternative. I'd like to be able to pay Unisys a reasonable royalty to make my use of GD legal.

    (Disclaimer: I don't currently use GD, but I recognize its usefulness for many projects).


  • That is, they can patent the new model, but it would be perfectly legal to produce the old model with the expired patent.

    The new patent covers the changes, but does not extend the old.
  • Well, I don't think any any other dead people will introduce relevant bills either. :-)
  • Patents, whether for software or mousetraps, must be novel and unintuitive to an expert in the field. You just can't do it in a different way and expect a patent to hold up. The US Patent office works by issuing a patent, then seeing if it holds up.

    When the LZW was invented, it was novel and unintuitive. Thus it qualified for a patent. This patent has also been upheld over time. It may seem a trivial algorithm now, but it wasn't then.

"I will make no bargains with terrorist hardware." -- Peter da Silva