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DPRG: Need a license for GIF images on website?

Subject: DPRG: Need a license for GIF images on website?
From: Eric Yundt eric at facetcorp.com
Date: Sun Aug 29 12:23:58 CDT 1999

Kip,

Kipton Moravec wrote:
> 
> I was looking at the following link after it was brought up on NTLUG.
> 
> http://corp2.unisys.com/LeadStory/lzwfaq.html
> 
> The way I understand it, Unisys has the patent for the LZW compression
> algorithm that everyone is using for GIF, TIFF-LZW, PDF, and
> Postscript(?). You may need a $1500 license from Unisys to have GIF
> images on your website. It does not matter if you created the GIF image
> on a properly licensed program or not.
> 
> Is this the way everyone else reads it too?
> 
> We use JPG and GIF images on our website. We may want to convert
> everything to JPG.
> 
> Kip

JPEG's use a "lossy" compression so in many circumstances they're
not a good substite for GIF, but in spite of that, I don't think
there is anything to worry about in the "use" of GIF images or in
creating GIF images.  If anything, and that still seems subjective,
there may be some licensing issues if you make software that uses
LZW -- for compression and maybe even decompression.  I don't think
the users of such software are subject to the patent.

A while back, our corporate-ones-paid-to-worry-about-such-things
looked into it (consulted our attorneys?) and decided that we didn't
have anything to worry about.

While it's of course not "legal advice", and I haven't a clue about
who Cloanto is, here's a nice paper on the "GIF Controversy"...

    http://cloanto.com/users/mcb/19950127giflzw.html

    Pertinent Excerpt:
    -------------------------------------------------------------------
    GIF files are not covered by the patent. There is no risk in
    distributing GIF files or in using the GIF name. According to
    a CompuServe spokesperson, "Recent discussions of GIF taxes and
    fees are totally without merit. For people who view GIF images,
    who keep GIF images on servers, or who are creating GIF images
    for distribution, the recent licensing discussions have no effect
    on their activities." 

    Only the software employing the LZW algorithm for writing GIF
    files is "at risk". The Unisys patent includes claims which
    specifically cover the decompression of LZW-compressed material,
    so it may also affect simple GIF readers. Several patent attorneys
    consulted on this matter have concluded that decompression-only
    programs do not infringe upon the Unisys patent. Unisys however
    does not appear to share this opinion. 
    -------------------------------------------------------------------

This does seem to be the general consensus...  For example, on this
site about Multimedia and the Internet:

    http://stumac39.music.temple.edu/mmiweb/stillimages.html
    -------------------------------------------------------------------
    GIF was patented by UniSys in the 1980s and popularized by
    CompuServe. In 1994, UniSys explored the possibility of charging
    all GIF developers a fee for creating files in this file format.
    A brief controversy ensued that threated to bring a quick halt to
    the use of graphic files on the web.  Fortunately, UniSys decided
    to create an open license for the use of the GIF format. Had that
    not occurred, another file format would have been created to take
    its place.
    -------------------------------------------------------------------

It would be nice to see an "official" statement on this from Unisys
but I never looked hard enough to find it.  Perhaps someday down the
road PNG or meta-PNG will finally make GIF's obsolete -- most likely
about the time the LZW patent runs out!  ;-)

- --
Eric

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