Anne van Kesteren

Response from Jeff Jaffe on copyright

Since I lack comments these days, I thought it would be fair to relay Jeff’s reply here, verbatim:


In W3C TPAC: Copyright you make some good points about copyright and you refer to my opinions, so it makes sense for me to post how I think about this topic today.

There is a clear requirement we have heard from many in the web developer community for open licensing - as you point out since 2009 or possibly earlier. We don’t oppose a more open license per se. But, the web developer community is large and diverse so we should liberalize the document license where there is a consensus. Where there is no consensus yet, we aim to continue the dialog until a consensus emerges.

To illustrate the popularity of the “closed license” point of view, there was a W3C poll in 2009. Roughly 80% of the W3C member organizations who participated in the poll said they would not support having a “forking” license.

Undaunted by this opposition, we set out to find out why there was such opposition. There were many reasons, but the dominant reason differentiated between early development (where forking had tremendous support) and an industry standard. The latter would lose some “status” as a standard if it could be forked.

Based on this research, in 2011 we created Community Groups for developers to work on innovation in W3C with a permissive license. We are gratified that today there are 1900 participants in over 100 Community Groups.

But we didn’t stop there. We asked ourselves, can we create a consensus for a more liberal license for Working Groups. It would permit forking for many uses - just prohibit forking if it would lead to incompatible standards. We suggested three document licenses to the HTML Working Group based on variations of this principle. We hoped that this permissiveness would eliminate developer’s concerns that the license causes them to give up ownership of their creative work. For reasons that Anne points out this did not go far enough and was soundly rejected by the Working Group. But it does illustrate our search for consensus.

W3C has made progress towards open licensing as illustrated by the success of Community Groups. We don’t oppose changes to the document license for standards as illustrated by the proposals mentioned above. But our most abiding principle is to move with consensus, and unfortunately the consensus for full open licensing does not exist today in our large and diverse community.

We encourage developers and organizations active in web development to continue the dialog which could lead to a changing consensus over time. We encourage all to respect that it can take time for a new consensus to emerge, and meanwhile to continue to participate in W3C. When a noted developer like Anne expresses reluctance to be a W3C Invited Expert it saddens us, and we reach out to encourage him to participate. And we continue our partnership with the WHATWG to ensure that innovations that occur anywhere are part of our activities in W3C.