Tempers cool in Pay to Play Web row

Knives, forks buried

The W3C has invited Bruce Perens and Free Software Foundation counsel Eben Moglen to join the next round of debate on whether to allow companies the right to charge for using future web standards that come under its proposed 'RAND' license.

The two are to join the W3C's Patent Policy working group, as "invited experts", the W3C announced late on Friday.

Membership of the group is currently drawn from W3C staff or $5,000 a head members, which means views from the free software community and citizens rights groups don't get heard. Although it should be pointed out that Danny Weitzner, chair of the PPWG, was a patent policy advisor to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Perens was most vocal when the W3C's intention to bless pay-to-play emerged, promising to "fork" the web by encouraging alternatives royalty-free web standards.

The news drew a cautious welcome from Linux kernel developer Daniel Philips, who helped lead the charge against RAND licenses on the W3C PPWG mailing list, and in these pages.

In all, the W3C received 2,000 comments, almost all fiercely critical, and Weitzner confirmed that after these have been digested, a second draft policy paper will be pubished.

Which way now?
Of the two thousand comments, one crept in from Apple at the very death of the extended consultation period, but it's a highly significant comment.

Apple manages to look both ways: after declaring that it prefers royalty-free licenses for web technology, it goes on to defend its right not to royalty-bearing technologies to the W3C. This is how it has always been, with the market leader du jour (in browsers, it was Netscape, now it's Microsoft) preferring to go its own way on bleeding edge technology.

With its tiny market share, Apple is a negligible influence on the most end-users but a significant player in vertical multimedia markets, which represent an area where the W3C wants to be playing if it's to remain relevant. So while an Apple can't disrupt consumers in the way that a Microsoft can, by implementing non standard http or html extensions for example, it does mean that much of the W3C's multimedia work can be stalled, or rendered (no pun intended) marginal.

Plus ca change, there then. But while Apple and Adobe can carry on with business as usual, IBM is left with some awkward decisions. It was Big Blue, remember, that asked for the traditional W3C royalty-free model to be supplemented with RAND licenses, with its own SOAP submissions the primary concern. This sits at odds with IBM's much vaunted pitch to compete on implementation and services rather than competing standards, and so persuading IBM to drop the royalty-option on its XML work will be the key political battle in the W3C in the coming weeks. ®

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