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Tiff over GIFs sparks Net uproar

作者:京嫁佬    发布时间:2019-03-07 10:02:00    

By Charles Seife in Washington DC DO YOU put graphics up on the Web? If so, you may owe an American company $5000. Computer giant Unisys of Philadelphia created an uproar on the Internet when it made an announcement to this effect. The row might even lead to the demise of a popular file format. The tiff is over GIFs, image files that conform to the graphics interchange format designed by CompuServe. When you go to any website with graphics, the odds are that some of the pictures on the site are GIFs. However, Unisys owns key patents that entitle it to royalties on programs that create GIFs. The patents are for a compression algorithm called Lempel-Ziv-Welch, which is used to make GIF files small and quick to download. Since Unisys owns the patent to LZW, it can demand money for any use of the algorithm, including the creation and use of GIFs. When Unisys announced that it would accept a single payment of $5000 for a website licence, a storm erupted on the Net late last month. “It’s something of a misunderstanding. We did not change the policy—we changed the pricing,” says Unisys spokesman Oliver Picher, who claims that most websites won’t be affected. Commercial graphics programs such as PhotoShop have already licensed the right to create GIFs, and shareware programs created before December 1994 are also exempt from the fees. However, any GIF created by a post-1994 shareware program is, theoretically, at risk. “The end user is responsible for having the proper licence,” says Picher. Many Net users, particularly those allied to the “open source” movement, are up in arms about the announcement by Unisys. They fear that Unisys might try to police the Web to collect fees from people using GIFs created by unlicensed software. “It’s not that we’re actively seeking them out,” says Picher. “But if you put up a website that becomes the most popular site on the Web,

 

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