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Posted by netwebly | spring 2000

There's a lot of talk about liberal bias in the media. A lot of complaining. There's a simple reason journalists come across this way. It's easy to pick on big corporations. It's also fun.

Large corporations, in fact, probably make the best targets there are. They're large. They're slow. They're frequently stupid. In short, they're about the easiest target to hit there is. And most of the time, people don't like them, even the people who work for the corporations themselves. Conveniently, from the point of view of a critic, they also routinely go to great lengths to perform deeds that will cause maximum public resentment and anger. See: Layoffs, Plant closures, obscenely bloated executive compensation packages.

The massive Unisysis corporation is a case in point. In a move apparently calculated to cause widespread disgust and the premature death of a graphics format the company happens to own the patent for, Uniysis announced that it would begin enforcing royalty payments from web sites that use the popular .GIF format.

While Uniysis does not in fact own the patent for .GIF, it does own the rights to the compression algorigthim the format uses to shrink graphics down to an acceptable size.

So from a legal point of a view, the company is perfectly within it's rights to ask that every web site that uses the .GIF format pay a licensing fee of five thousand dollars. (Actually it's a little more complicated than that. A web site's liabilty hinges on the specific graphics program that was used to create the images that appear on the site. Images created with software that is licensed to use the algorithim, as is the case with most of the major graphics programs on the market, don't have to pay a cent. Images created with software that has not been licensed to use the algorithim, however, are liable.)

Exactly how the company plans to enforce payments remains a mystery. For one thing, it's almost impossible to tell what graphics program was used to create an image. The company will have to rely on the word of web site owners. Under the circumstances, webmasters may feel, quite justifiably, that the situation is one of those gray areas where honesty may not necessarily be the best policy.

After an period of incredulous silence, following the announcement of the new policy, public reaction was understandably negative, bordering on savage. The move was seen on the part of many as another example of corporate greed in action, a symbolic attack on the values that have empowered the Net community - nothing less than an eighties-style power play by the Gordon Geckos of the world to make money the old fashioned greedhead way.Without earning it.

A group of net activists declared November 11 burn all .gifs day, in a gesture intended to rally support against the plan. Some web site owners have begun the the transition from .GIF to a the .PNG format, removing old .GIF files and replacing them with the new standard, which tends to compress almost as easily and uses much less memory on surfer's computers. The irony is obvious.

The Unysis plan could not have had worse timing. The end result will probably be the extinction of what was the most popular graphics format on the web

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