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Unisys Enforcing GIF Patents 483

ESR writes "Remember the flap back in 1994-1995 about the GIF format, with Unisys behaving like jerks over the LZW compression method and threatening to charge license fees for use of their bogus patent? Well, brace yourselves. It just got worse. Under Unisys's new policy, they've gone beyond shaking down software authors. They're now threatening to sue even noncommercial websites that carry GIFs for a $5000 license fee, regardless of whether the GIFs were generated by licensed software or not. The gory details are at Don Marti's Burn All GIFs Day site. Time to convert all your GIFs to some other format. I like PNG better than JPEG, as it's lossless. The PNG site carries a gif2png tool that does a good job; I just used it to clean up my personal website. GIF animations won't survive the conversion, however...uh, wait. Maybe Unisys just did us a favor after all... " Here is the Unisys page that started it all.
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Unisys Enforcing Patents

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  • I'll be perfectly happy if I never see another animated gif in my life. They are so distracting on web sites!!! Does Netscape/Mozilla have a way to disable them completely?

    Procedure for browsing the Web: click on link. wait for page to show. wait for "Stop Animations" to become enabled. click "Stop Animations". read page.
  • You can create Javascript based animated PNGs -- and I find it works pretty good for most of the audience of my site. Most people that have support for PNG images in there browser also support Javascript.

    I really don't mind Javascript-animations -- they aren't as resource intensive as Java (or take 5 minutes to load) and are pretty easy to code.

    Finally, Javascript animations are far more flexable then what GIF supports or motion PNG/JPEG images.
  • A few years ago, Telegrafix (of RipTerm fame) proposed, as a solution to the Unisys LZW patent problem, that the LZW compression be replaced by LZHUF leaving the GIF format otherwise unchanged. This idea was published in an open letter [] to Compuserv and the online community in general.

    This apparently didn't get much attention outside of the BBS community, which at that time was already beginning to lose ground due to growing availability of the Internet.

    For anyone who cares, Telegrafix [] still exists, and is currently promoting the latest incarnation of RipScrip as a vector format for the web. It's interesting, but would be a lot more useful if it were more open. Some folks didn't like RIP back in the BBS days, but I always thought it was a fundamentally good idea that just suffered from being too proprietary.

  • No, he is saying that if I want his mp3 format I _must_ pay him and that I cannot develop my own mp3 format because he has patented _any_ music compression technique. ie.. "I have a developed a method of compressing music.. I therefore have patented the compression of music". At this point he is saying _if_ you use my format _without_ paying me or you develop your _own_ format, I will force you to stop using this technology. If you don't beleive that forcing people to do things (or not do things) is wrong then we have a conflict of ideas here that would take a *very* long time to resolve.
  • I deleted the quicktime plugin-dll from the plugins dir, and it worked. I dont remember which file, but it said which on the PNG-site that was linked to in the article.
  • In the case of TIFFs, there are alternative formats- ZIP in TIFF is the prominent one. Sounds like to me that this will merely get the companies that are providing TIFF file engines to "standardize" on ZIP in TIFF just to get the monkey off their back.
  • MSIE5 supports them fine as far as I can tell. (I'm at work), looks fine compared to the gif version of it.
  • Last time I tried to upload a PNG at geocities (that's years ago) they didn't allow me 'because it wasn't a supported extension'. So, you get the idea of the quality of their site.
  • Pharmacutical companies only invest the time/money into drug research because of the legal environment that gives X years free of competition.

    The US provides a particularly healthy environment for these companies and they love it - hence the level of pharmacutical research there VS the rest of the world.

  • Don't bother guys, I just got my patent for E=mc2. I can now legally control all nuclear power and have a say when someone wants to detonate a nuke. Thanks for the inspiration UNISYS!!!!!

  • Oh, come off it. I'm not a troll. My evidence follows.

    • I'm only 6 foot tall, trolls average 9 feet tall.
    • I don't have warts.
    • I can only bench 140.
    • I only weigh 215.
    • I don't live under a bridge and spend my spare time giving sentient goats and small children a hard time.

    So there! =P

    Yes, I do realze that that isn't the kind of troll you ment, but then I don't spend my free time trying to start flame wars on Slashdot eithor, so...

  • The Unisys web page contains instances of question marks where apostrophes should be. This indicates that some Microsoft program was used to construct the HTML. Not only are they assholes, but they look like morons [] too.
  • Absolutely, I mean, if I spent several years developing an algorithm like MP3 - I shouldn't have ANY right to make money off my sweat and blood. I should be elated that someone came along, read my code, and distributed it to the whole world. My family didn't need to be fed this year. Tom

    More like you speant years developing an algorithm like MP3 for your software. Then when you release it, a dozen people sue you into oblivion for using "a method of reducing the size of a file which encodes audio by reducing the amount of data encoded into the file in such a weay that the listner can still recognise that a sound was recorded", and "A method for distributeing a sound by means of a device which follows instructions encoded into a stream of binary values", and finally, use of "a method to induce people to give you money in exchange for something they want for their computing device".

    All invalid, and all backed by more money than you've ever seen in your lifetime, and all willing to make an example of you at a loss so others will toe the line.

    IMHO, unless of until this whole mess can be fixed, most people would be better off without patents existing at all.

  • Below is copy of an e-mail I sent to Don, the person who runs

    I happen to work for Unisys and disagree with some of the comments on your site. Before I get into explaining them, I would like tell you a bit about myself. I am not your average Unisys guy. I a 22 year old May '99 graduate of West Chester University, who has been with Unisys since January '99. Before that I did financial software for three years. I am not some old Unisys lover who has been with company since Univac.
    First, Unisys is still a well known computer company. We have over 34,000 employees in over 100 countries, our stock is up and if you want a server that never crashes you have to go to us or IBM. That is fact is well known. Our clients are States (PA recently made news with Unisys) and Countries (we recently made a multi-billion dollar deal with Spain).
    If the problem is "a flaw in the US patent system" then what did Unisys do that was so wrong? If a company invests its time and money into something that then it should be able to charge for it. This is one way in which programmers actually get paid for their work and can thus earn a living doing what they love. I just can't see a problem with that. As for the license fee, it is obvious that vendors still have a choice and can use other formats should they not want to pay. What is the problem? Imagine if you didn't get paid for the work you do.
    Next, the MCP article is almost a year old, meaning it proves nothing. From your remarks, it seems that you do not even know what MCP is.
    You are wrong about Unisys not "inventing anything since long before the web." My own group is in the process of getting a patent. It involves off loading I/O (TCP/IP, Raid) processing from a host system on to an intelligent adapter. Our cellular multiprocessing (CMP) architecture is a completely new and innovative invention. Actually, we invent things pretty often around here.
    Your next quote comes from Giga Information Group, not Unisys. It was only re-published with Giga's permission (did you obtain it?). The environment they talk about is Microsoft Windows Terminal Server with Citrix WinFrame. Neither of these are Unisys products. In fact, there is a lot of Unisys development done to address the weaknesses in Microsoft Windows NT to try to make it more like our main frames.
    Unisys is not "counting on the legal department as the main revenue source." Our Services group brings in over half our seven billion dollar revenue. Our Computer Systems group brings in the rest.
    If you are going to attack something, please learn a bit more about it first. Otherwise your argument falls flat on its face.
  • png
  • It's about time someone got this format killed off.

    It does have it's niche for small size web graphics. But there are other, newer, better, more open formats that can do the job just as well.

    I think the biggest potential negative effect this might lead to is the appearance of multiple new formats. We already have way more than enough; I don't think there's much need for more than 2 or 3 bitmap and 2 or 3 vector formats. (BTW it sure would be nice for browsers to support a vector format or two).

  • You shouldn't be able to patent code, software technologies and the like. You can copyright them, but you have no right to patent them.
  • >because to display the gif you would have to use
    >their algorithm.

    This is just plain wrong. The Webserver NEVER uses the LZW scheme!! The browser receives the image STILL compressed, and then uncompresses it. They are trying to charge you even though you, as a web-hoster, may NEVER have used their algorithm! You don't have to use LZW to take a compressed GIF, download it from somewhere, and put it on your page... you only use LZW if YOU create or view the gif.

    This scheme you lay out is not reasonable, because it involves people paying licensing fees while potentially never using the licensed technique.

    However, if they use your GIF Proxy, then YOU, running the GIF Proxy, ARE using the LZW patent, and ARE liable.

    So you take a situation where no liability actually exists, and create a situation where liability is present. I'm sure Unisys would love you for that.
  • This doesn't disappoint me too much - gif was way outdated as it is.

    Hold on? Perhaps they ARE being nice to us after all - I mean, it takes so long to get old deprecated crap out of the worlds computers (Win3.1, etc) - maybe this is the fast track way out of the whole "backwards compatibility" bind!

  • holy crap...mac os X's native document format is PDF!!

    holy crap!!
  • Has nothing to do with Freon.

    Mother nature herself dumped more Chlorine into the upper atmosphere than we did throughout all of Freon's life in one massive eruption of mount Penitubo (SP?) years back. Enough, using the theories given about Freon to eradicate the Ozone layer once and for all- no hole, just no Ozone layer. Guess what- no eradication. No massive enlargement of the "hole". What does that do to the Freon theories? Why did nobody tell you all about this eruption or what it did? Vested interests.

    Clue 1: Freon is heavier than air. How in the hell does it get up to the Ozone layer?

    Clue 2: The international ban on Freon production goes into effect the very second DuPont's international patents run out on Freon.
  • Hello Folks,

    I think it's time for us to accelerate our anti-unisys propagenda. Start by vocing out our concers, making web sites (like the burngifs web site), telling people away from UNISYS products, in favor of other, better products. Calling your local rep and educating them about software patents and the horror that comes from it (give Unysis as an example). Put a UNY$I$ Sucks logo on your bumper. On all your sites put a link to a prominant non-gif site (like and copy's anti-gif policy statement and use it. Use PNG. Write nice and clean letters to the executive branch at UNISYS and demand (nicely) that they back down, reason with them, (like you do with kids), explain to them what a Network is, then what an Internet is, then what GIF represents. Show them how foolish they are. Show them how they are putting the community against them, which would, in the end bring about their downfall. Tell them about other companies that had ventured into this arena and had god eaten alive by the nerds.

    Power to the nerds!

  • By the time Unisys finds me (somewhere on the outskirts of the fine capital of Name of Small Island Nation Withheld), their little shakedown stunt will be history. Right?



  • the browsers I use most don't exactly deal with png in a friendly way. With just one of my sites regularly passing out over 1700 gifs, what kind of solution is there besides telling hundreds of people every day, "hey, go upgrade to something even I don't have!" blah, if netscape 4 for linux supports PNG, i haven't seen it.

  • Does this patent apply in Germany? I wouldn't think so.

    Unisys evidently does think so. Look at the first paragraph of their LZW FAQ [] -- they assert patents in the US, Japan, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the UK.
  • I don't think that that would be a goos idea because Postscript is a format for quality printing. JPEG compression is not meant for quality printing and I suspect PNG isn't either. Anyone heard about PNG coding? I read somewhere that it used a logarithmic scale which I think reduces the quality of the image and that could be noticeable on the printed image.
    Please, anyone correct me if I'm wrong.
  • It's a format with a whopping 256 color palette. It's so out of date right now that I'm surprised its survived as long as it did. I assume that people keep them around because of the possibilty of animated gifs (hooray -- annoying banner ads and cheezy clip art).

    PNG is far superior in most respects. I'm surprised its taken so long to catch on. I assume that this new Unisys move is going to help it get bigger. :)

  • I'll chip in $5 plus postage and handling. Please tell me I'm not the only one. (Hehe... somebody's USPS mail box is going to be feeling the slashdot effect)
  • Maybe this means we can fianlly get decent support for PNG/MNG in IE/Mozilla w/out needing those lame ass plugins. Maybe PNG will become popular and MNG will actually reach real people! Oh my GAWD I'm breaking a sweat! Please, please, do it!
  • As nice as it might sound to get rid of those damn animated GIFs as banner ads, this might lead to something far more annyoing and evil: Java banner ads.


    Besides GIF, are there any other formats that support animation? From what I understand (which may be false), animation was tacked on to the GIF format after a while; could the same thing be done to PNG (or even JPEG)?


  • Yes, most people do not get direct compensation for their patents. Then again, I assume your friend at Intel was paid during the development process. I also assume he is paid today. Unisys often awards people that get patents with nice bonuses, raises, and new positions. Patent protection is good for Intel and Unisys and thus good for their employees. Both Intel and Unisys have a good amount of employee ownership through stock and stock option plans. If Unisys and Intel did not protect its interests they may not be able to afford as many developers.
  • The solution is quite simple, really (if a little rude).

    Remove all support for displaying GIF images from all future versions of Netscape, Mozilla, Opera, and the like. If you want your web page viewable by the next generation of browsers, DON'T use GIF images. It would be quite simple to strangle Unisys at the source, by making the outdated format which uses their obsolete algorithm inaccessible to most users.

    Those requiring lossless compression could use PNG. Otherwise, JPG is kinder to bandwidth anyway. As for animations -- I believe there are a number of non-GIF methods for supporting them if they are really that necessary (a debatable point).
  • Actually, we are getting into storage area networks. That is one of the main targets of our RAID card. The main point of my post was that the site had not really researched Unisys. Many things that were on that site were just plain incorrect. I see nothing wrong with a company working within the system to protect its interests. I *DO* see a problem with the US patent law that allows it. Is it better to attack one company that is tacking advantage of it or to fix the problem from ever occuring? Do you think that Unisys is the only company to take advantage of patent law?
  • Another important thing to think about:
    A format doesn't suck because it has less support than other formats. If that were true then everyone should go back to using ASCII for documents because, ahem, EVERY platform has support for rendering ASCII perfectly.

    PNG is a superior image format in many ways; instead of shouting nonsense like "PNG SUCKS", how about encouraging more people to use modern browsers that are PNG-aware. You'll also be looking at a size savings, since PNGs are more compact, on average, than GIFs.
  • You shouldn't have to... LZW is a compression algorithm and there is no way to tell if a given image was compressed with a program that licensed the algorithm from Unisys.

    There's been a lot of talk about Unisys forcing you to disclose what program(s) you use to create your GIFs. I really don't think this is feasible. On my Mac, I have at least 10 different programs capable of saving GIFs or compressing images with LZW--everything from Photoshop 5.5 to GIF Builder to Quark. Gods, if you count programs that use QuickTime, that number pops up to 25-30.

  • If Unisys is asking for too much money, then don't use their format. What are you complaining about? You have alternatives. Use other graphics formats, use java for animation. You are charging $50,000 for your product for the same reason Unisys is charging for theirs. Both your company and Unisys put money into something and want to see a return on that investment. The high price is as simple as supply and demand. If nobody demanded GIF then Unisys would not charge as much.
  • PDF can also utilize Flate compression (zlib).
  • . One thing that GIF has that PNG lacks is animation (I think). Of course for a website there is always javascript for that, but that sucks..

    They have MNG, as you may have seen mentioned a few times on this topic.

    For example, Paint Shop Pro 5 comes with Animation Shop to make your animated GIFs. It supports animated GIFs as well as MNG. I always save my original work in MNG format since it has no 256 color ceiling and no compression,etc. Unfortuantely for use in the real world, the MNG file will be exponentially longer than a rendered GIF would.
  • Some operators of Intranet and Billboard Web sites have had difficulty determining whether they need a license from Unisys for use of our LZW patented technology. If you use any of the types of images specified above on your Web site that you received from an unlicensed software developer
    or service, you should have a license from Unisys to use the LZW patent. Or even if the developer
    or service provider has a license, but it doesn't cover your use of the particular application you
    received, you should have a license from Unisys to use the LZW patent.

    Well I'm glad that cleared that up.
    Whats really interesting is if you read theirlicensing definitions [] apparently this $5000 dollar license is strictly for noncommercial websites. Commercial websites need to negotiate the license seperatly for each case. This could easly lead to Unisys choosing to apply a heavy hand to some and not to others.

  • For the LAST time, HTML is NOT PLAINTEXT! :-)
  • "Does Unisys actually make anything important these days?"
    Actually Unisys software and hardware are used many goverments and large financial institutions. I would call that important.
  • There's no such thing as "bad" press.

    I've read that many times before and it never held true for me. Famous for being famous people (celebrities, on e! [], etc..) might get a agree, but if it was revealed my town's mayor was a KKK member - few people would vote for him - and his life would be pants [].

  • Okay how about this. Write a program that takes an input image and then generates all possible output files until it comes across one that, when run through a GIF decoder, looks just like your input file. Certainly that doesn't violate Unisys' patents! How can they possibly require anyone to pay for a file generated in that manner?

    I don't think Unisys would care too much about that program (except perhaps the decoder part) since it would take on the order of 10^(10^10) cycles per image.

  • Ok, so I've converted all my website's GIFs to PNG with gif2png. Unfortunately the transparency doesn't convert, so I had to go through and use Gimp to make them transparent again. Only it doesn't work. In Netscape the transporent are looks white, and in IE it looks gray. Is this because I'm doing something wrong in Gimp? Or can the current browsers not handle transparency in PNG yet?
  • Have you seen PNG? They are crap, nothing reads them right, nothing makes them right, because the format SUCKS, I have several apps that support PNG, but none read the same file the same. I also have an image compressor, and PNG is not smaller than GIF, unless you remove all the quality of the image. And even if PNG was good, there is no way in hell I am going to modify all the HTML on all my web pages! Unisys can't do crap, and I am not going to worry about it.

    $mrp=~s/mrp/elite god/g;
  • With an election comming up, a lot of politicans are posting web sites. When ever you see one, make sure they know that they owe 5k$ to unisys, and that you will report them. Once they start getting bit, then maybe Congress will kill all the absurd software patents.
  • Scrytch wrote:

    Actually their stockholders are by and large, probably wholly ignorant of the whole fiasco, and if they know anything about it, they are clucking their tongues and sighing at silly legal departments trying to squeeze licenses out of end-of-life intellectual property. Because that's what legal departments *do*, among their other jobs. R&D develops, Marketing pushes it out, Sales keeps it rolling, Legal holds it up.

    ROFLOL - If I were a moderator I would bump this up for funniness!

    In my job, I work with a legal department (won't name names, but you could probably find it by looking at my old posts ... name is unimportant, though, really) which is by turns obfuscatory, opaque, unintelligible and inconsistent. Ordinary words are read into in ways which no reasonable person could without getting stomach cramps and a whirling head, even claims and terms which are obviously true or clearly figurative ("this machine flies through 3D graphics") are emasculated as unprovable and possibly misleading. Ridiculous.

    "Holding things up" really does seem to be the job of legal, though of course they recieve plenty of assistance from our loyal gub'mint.


  • Netscape hasn't needed a plugin to show PNG for a long time. It still doesn't support alpha blending, making it still useless for background-independent antialiasing, but it still does view them.

    Of course, with no animated PNG support, MNG notwithstanding, that means all those annoying banner ads will be in javascript ... or applets.
  • > And for every Windows that rears it's ugly head, there is a Wine. :)

    And about a million more whines. Sorry, couldn't resist.
  • kato wrote:

    contact the Unisys Licensing Department at 215-986-5693 (or fax at 215-986-3090) to ensure that you're safe. If they expect me to pay anything, I'll be sure to keep whoever answers the phone talking for a couple hours.

    If you've got a toll-free number for us, more people will do it. I, for one, can't afford to pay for hours of cross-country long distance phone charges, even for a good cause.

  • Like MNG the Merciless?
  • This doesn't sound like my understanding of the patent. They have a claim on the compression/decompresion algorithm, not the output.

    I agree 100%! Unfortunatly, that doesn't stop them from going to court. Court would almost certainly cost more than $5000. Personally, I'll just migrate away from GIF until the patent runs out. PNG and MNG will hopefully have taken over that niche by then anyway.

  • Yes, my friend is still at Intel, and you're likely right that patents lead to raises and bonuses, even stock options, I would expect that as well.

    However if he had moved to another job, been laid off, or fired over a dispute he would no longer be gaining benefit from those patents, other than as nice resume trophies (which are worth money, but enough?)

    My point is that patents are for the benefit of corporations. And hey, I like a vibrant economy as much as you do. They do let it trickle down to their employees. But it is disingenuous to say that their purpose is to allow individual software innovators to profit from their ideas since that rarely happens, except indirectly.

  • by scrytch ( 9198 ) <> on Sunday August 29, 1999 @05:34AM (#1718853)
    Actually their stockholders are by and large, probably wholly ignorant of the whole fiasco, and if they know anything about it, they are clucking their tongues and sighing at silly legal departments trying to squeeze licenses out of end-of-life intellectual property. Because that's what legal departments *do*, among their other jobs. R&D develops, Marketing pushes it out, Sales keeps it rolling, Legal holds it up. Sometimes Marketing wants R&D to keep leveraging old tech, sometimes they push for the impossible. Sales wants Marketing to transfer technology the market won't accept, or find new ways to sell the same junk in different colors. Legal tries to find ways to create licenses for products that are only marginally theirs (e.g. IBM has a patent on LZW too) and tries to keep leveraging IP when it has long since become commoditized. Every department has a shifting concept of what's important now, and they don't all overlap.

    Welcome to the weird world of corporations.
  • Yeah, it's called MotionJPEG, and it renders out every single frame which is why it's popular among film editing systems and high-end video boards. MPEG and Sorensen (Quicktime3) use difference frames, which is why you get weird hiccups when you cut a stream and paste it somewhere else.
  • What you mean is MJPEG commpresion, which is basically every frame a Jpeg image. But mpeg doesnt have this.
    One of the things that mpeg has is ability to have a keyframe every few frames.. think of a keyframe as a jpeg image.. the other frames inbetween keyframes are differential frames. they store only what are the changes between frames.
    This allows to save alot of space, as often frames are almost the same. Now the changes per frames are saved only for sections that have changes. Next the frame is split into a 8x8 pixels boxes, and the framechanges note where did those boxes move to (to save even more space).
    Not all mpeg compressors use this keyframe thing (I heard xing doesnt do it, but then many people dont appreciate xing for quality, but speed only)
    Anyways... so mjpeg is really similiar to an mpeg with every frame being keyframe.. its easy...
    doing keyframe every 3 frames improves quality per file size ratio, but on the other hand for fast pased sequences you can see some artifacts (but then its fast paced, so the artifacts change very fast as well).. this is the point that I heard few people complain about DVDs.

    anyways... hope this clears the confusion a bit..
  • No, he means that when you follow a link that leads to an image zgv is executed to show you the image. Images embeded in html will still show up as [IMAGE] for all those sites that think netscape/msie are the only browsers on the planet.
  • "This is one way in which programmers actually get paid for their work and can thus earn a living doing what they love. I just can't see a problem with that."

    That's very interesting. I'm really glad to hear that L, Z, and W will be getting the money from the license. Silly me, I thought it was just going to the bottom line of a multinational corporation.

    I have a friend at Intel with patents, and he gets zero dollars on those patents, its just an ego thing. Is it not true that nearly all patents are enforced by corporations, and all corporations require surrender of intellectual property that is work-related when you hire on?

    So, explain to me how patents are keeping programmers fed, please. I already understand that they are crucial to keeping lawyers fed.


  • You are a troll by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 29, @12:36 EDT (#) PNG's compress better than GIF's (5% to 25%) in almost every other case PNGs compress better in *only* one case: 256 colors. 128 colors GIF and 256/PNG are about the same, everything less GIF performs better. There's a vast difference between having an honest to god alpha channel and a simple transparent color. PNG's /do/ still compress better, No way! A PNG with a full alpha channel never compresses nearly as good as a "transparent" GIF, except for pathological cases. and an alpha'd PNG image will look antialiased against whatever background you put it against,The same can be done with alpha'd GIFs. There really is no difference between GIF/PNG in a'aliasing Images to the background. PNG can do it in the File Data, it can be done to GIFs after decoding. Of course there is a difference between full alpha and a single transparent color, but that was not the point.

    Try this experiment some time: Create a GIF image with an anti-alised edge on a white background and put that on a web page with a black background. that ghosting around the edge of the GIF is the reason you want a true alpha channel. Sadly most browsers still don't support the alpha channel on PNG (it's not like the format is undocumented or particularly difficult to work with or anything!).
  • pdf is open, you troll. go write your own viewer. the format is extensible, so i would be very surprised if it could not handle jpg and png images.

  • Hrm, topiclinux.gif, topicnews.gif... before Slashdotters go out and raise the hackles at Unisys, perhaps Slashdot should clean up it's own act in regard to Gifs since you are now a bit more of a High Profile Corporate Entity. I'd hate to see you be the test case for this.
  • Not entirely. In civil cases (anything brought on by someone who isn't the government), the accusing party only has to prove that it's more likely that you did than it is that you didn't. Basically they have to convince you 51% that they are right. So if you are brought to court in a civil matter you pretty much have to prove that you are inocent. Hence why OJ got off in the criminal charges but not on the civil charges.
  • Err, I share my office with the guy who last overhauled the EST Inc. web site. I assure you that those are PNG images on the left menu. The version of GIMP that he uses doesn't even support GIF due to the patent issue.
    The banner ads and such, though, are animated GIF's. Those all come from an outside graphics artist, and basically we go with what he sends us.

  • Your article on evolt spreads outdated information -- because Unisys changed their minds since the "Unisys Clarifies Policy" article you reference was published. Unisys has revoked their freeware exception and has been actively going after freeware authors. You did notice that it isn't on the Unisys web site, didn't you? They flushed the original page down the Orwellian memory hole.

    Unfortunately, the word of most corporations is worthless if it is not in a legally binding contract.

    The LPF and their website is pretty much dead.

  • Use JPEG. Netscape 4 for Linux does support PNG, by the way -- see for an example. The little menu images on the left side of the screen are little PNG files.

  • Since I can afford neither their licensing fee nor the commercial software to create LZW-format according to their license, I have removed all gifs from my site.

    Thought this one was over back when it was the "Compuserve-GIF" issue. Guess I was wrong; can't be bothered to beat this horse any more.

  • You have no idea what the purpose of patents is. The purpose of the patent system is to ENCOURAGE the sharing of new ideas. Every patented idea is published to the public.

    Have you ever heard of trade secrets? Trade secrets are the equivalent of proprietary formats. They don't allow your competitors to make use of your innovative new ideas. Patents are open. Anyone can use a patented method. Patents are the nineteenth century equivalent of open source.

    Admittedly, the area of sofware patents is somewhat murky waters, but in general patents are a GOOD THING. Without patents there would be no incentive for inventors and innovators to publish their work, and a strong incentive not to publish (since they would have a monopoly, until someone could reverse engineer their product).

  • I can think of at least one site that relies heavily on GIFs, despite their lackluster palette performance.. in fact, I can't think of another format that would serve this site any better. It's listed in your sig file. Mine too. Three hundred and two comic strips, comprised of over 1700 individual frames, take up less space than a single mp3 (of average length)

    JPGs are total overkill for this comic (>10 colours/frame, no antialiasing, etc.) PNGs would work, except they're not supported nearly as far-spread as gifs.

  • Oh, please. Have you actually read the PDF 1.3 specification? You can download it for free from Adobe's web site; that seems pretty open to me.

    You can have JPEG-compressed images in PDF documents already. As for "PNG compression", there's no such thing. If you're talking about Flate, PDF 1.3 supports that too.

  • If you use any of the types of images specified above on your Web site that you received from an unlicensed software developer or service, you should have a license from Unisys

    Please read it again. It means that if you use an image I created for you, and I didn't pay unisys their $5000 tribute, YOU must pay it, even if I used a graphics editor from someone who DID pay the tribute.

    Note that if I am your employee, one of us must pay the tribute. (and it wouldn't be ME!)

  • Now, I'm not say'in nothing, but you know that accidents WILL happen. Everyone needs insurance...

    From the same company that PROUDLY advertises that their employees are expected to work 24/7 wether they're at the office or not (the 'monitorhead' commercials).

  • Go to all of the government websites.. offshore websites.. private websites...

    the courts would be FILLED... I don't believe ONE thing will come of it.
  • by Kyobu ( 12511 ) on Sunday August 29, 1999 @08:52AM (#1718974) Homepage
    USA 800-328-0440
    Canada 800-387-6181
    Canadian French 800-361-8097

  • by kato ( 5369 ) on Saturday August 28, 1999 @11:35PM (#1718993) Homepage
    After reviewing this site: y/lzw-license.html []

    It looks like this thing is for real, but there's a bit too much confusion. Essentially, it looks like a web site operator would need to get one of these licenses if they either write their own gif-making software or if the people/products that they use to get GIF's make the images without giving Unisys a piece of the cake. So, if you use Photoshop, you're fine. However, I'm not sure what the implications would be for something like the GIMP. Since I'm not sure if the creators of the GIMP paid Unisys their "fair share," I think it would be on me to pay the fee. Damn.

    My best advice is for everyone (and I do mean everyone) to contact the Unisys Licensing Department at 215-986-5693 (or fax at 215-986-3090) to ensure that you're safe. If they expect me to pay anything, I'll be sure to keep whoever answers the phone talking for a couple hours. I'm sure they'll have enough people to handle a phone slashdotting. Or maybe not. We'll see.
  • Unfortunately, Opera doesn't yet support PNG. Until it does, I'll be using JPGs and GIFs on my pages. When it does, I'll switch over. I'm not going to use crappy Netscape just so I can see some PNGs.
  • by jbuhler ( 489 ) on Saturday August 28, 1999 @11:35PM (#1718999) Homepage
    I scanned Unisys's page, and it appears they are claiming their licensing fees from everyone who uses any LZW-using formats. That includes PDF and PostScript files with compressed bitmaps.

    I could care less if GIF bites the dust, but I'm more than a little perturbed about PDF. Does the PDF format define any alternate compression schemes?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 28, 1999 @11:41PM (#1719005)
    First: I'm not a lawyer.

    The Unisys patent is only on the process of compressing or decompressing via LZW. Images aren't covered. The reason they are going after websites, are to "protect" the website against liability if they use unlicensed products to create their GIFs.

    Their website license is outlined here: Stupid Unisys page []

    There's several solutions:

    • Go with PNG or JPEG. Long term, this is of course the best, to show Unisys we don't like assholes with software patents...
    • Use a program that has licensed LZW for creating images for web content (notice that Unisys operate with very restrictive licenses, so a program may have been licensed for too restricted use for web usage of the images)
    • Refuse to give out details on how you create your GIFs. Also make sure that there's no comment in the GIF saying what program you used. May be risky, but if Unisys can get a court order to get you to reveal what software you've used to compress the images, then it's time for a revolution...
    • Find someone with a machine outside the US. Create PNG's, and get them to convert the images to PNG with unlicensed software in a country where the patent isn't valid, and make sure you document the process... Then refuse to give out details to Unisys if asked, and piss them off, get them to sue you for infringement without any proof, find a good lawyer who does pro bono work, and slap them with a counter suit for frivolous lawsuit...
    • Keep your gifs on a server somewhere the patent isn't valid...
  • [I]f Unisys can get a court order to get you to reveal what software you've used to compress the images, then it's time for a revolution...

    I have news for you: They can. The plaintiff in a civil suit is entitled to the defendant's evidence, or the plaintiff wins. The question isn't even close.

    Find someone with a machine outside the US. Create PNG's, and get them to convert the images to [? GIF ?] with unlicensed software in a country where the patent isn't valid, and make sure you document the process... Then refuse to give out details to Unisys if asked, and piss them off, get them to sue you for infringement without any proof, find a good lawyer who does pro bono work, and slap them with a counter suit for frivolous lawsuit.

    In fact, most law-school graduates, and a fair majority of judges, are bright enough to recognize that procuring a violation of your duties under the patent law is the same as violating them yourself. The tricks that work to avoid exporting crypto software don't work here.

    "A good lawyer who does pro bono work." Imagine the scene: You go into a law office, and explain you want them to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries, rents, and expenses, in order to defend a lawsuit you deliberately incurred because you assumed they'd bail you out for free. Instead of doing less-expensive work in defense of the rights of a genuinely poor person. And your chances of success are...?

    Also, the ugly fact of American law is that it is in the hands of lawyers, judges, and legislators who sincerely believe there is no such thing as a frivolous lawsuit. To them, filing suit is a sacrament of a free people, like voting or going to high school. The system does not even admit that being sued costs defendants anything, lest plaintiffs and their lawyers be held accountable for abuses. A filing would have to be the obvious product of paranoid schizophrenia before your lawyer would expect to get sanctions for it. Effectively, there is no ethical limit on filing a lawsuit in America.

    This does suggest that as Open Source assets become rich enough to invite legal predation (see the SW patent proliferation topic of 8/28), the community ought to set aside part of its IPO gold rush to defend itself.

  • After the patent expires then they are open. So the inventor of the perfect steam train throttle valve could enjoy its profits for 17 years and after that every manufacturer could improve their product with it.

    If Coca-Cola had been patented on some basis, the recipe would be available to everyone by now. I'm sure that company prefers the trade secret approach at this time...

    • Prove that frogs are disappearing.
    • Show the connection between the Ozone Hole and frogs.
    • Show an Ozone Hole other than at a pole.
    • Show that a polar Ozone Hole is caused by something other than lack of sunlight.
    • Alternatively, show that the lack of sunlight during a polar winter is not natural.
  • I'm not an intellectual property attorney but it seems to me this is the ultimate unenforceable stance. I've been cranking out GIFs for years and I defy you to tell me what software created the file and which software merely modified the file, and to prove that you can do squat about it even if you can prove how I made the file.
    And everyone had who said it was time for a new vector based graphic format was correct too. However, how many such formats have those of us who pay attention to such things seen come and go. At current we have Flash and Shockwave for vector based graphics WITH animation (the only reason i use GIFs)AND interactivity. But everybody's dragging their feet about making them the standard, so they won't be. And 5 years from now GIF will still be around.
  • I'll admit that at the poles, under the winter ozone hole, there do not seem to be many frogs on the ice.
  • by jesdynf ( 42915 ) on Saturday August 28, 1999 @11:57PM (#1719048) Homepage
    Like, you know, RMS. Ever taken a look at Sorta funny.

    Every blasted picture has the same silly tag attached, "no gifs due to patent problems".

    It links to, and talks about how they think GIFs suck and that they won't use them for various and sundry reasons, the gist of which essentially states that not doing so is both a defensive measure and a protest of the patent.

    "RMS is an alarmist." "RMS is a fanatic." Looks like he hit it square on the head, folkses -- Unisys has officially Cracked Down on the use of their patent.

    Not that I can figure out how this is going to profit Unisys one single dime. Is someone spiking the water?
  • Actually, it looks like if you have any kind of advertising on your site - even pathetically low-paying things like Amazon link banners and Commonwealth Network ads - you have to negotiate with them.

    What we should really do is ask to negotiate a license, write down our revenues as $ 50 a month, and see what they do. After all, it would cost their attorneys more to draft the agreement than they'd get in a million lifetimes!

    What amazes me is that a big corporation like Unisys, with plenty of legal firepower and what-not, does this kind of thing without thinking it through. Can they really afford to negotiate all the contracts they plan to negotiate, or file all the lawsuits they plan to file?

    I doubt it. Hey, not even the Church of Scientology could.


  • Someone replied to one of my comments before and directed me to this site [].. I just wanted to say thank you to that person and share this url with anyone else who is interested in the downfall of Intellectual Property. Some of my friends have made (and continue to make) a lot of money off IP. Hell, my own father is a composer, but as much as I try I still don't fathom the justification of IP. Share your ideas.

  • That's if the info was public before the patent. There is a one-year exception, where the inventor has one year after publication to file his patent. The publishing of a patent makes the process public, so your statement makes no sense if you know the process. Obviously you're not aware that the patent is public info -- anyone can go look at that precious patented process, but the patent blocks them from using it freely until the patent expires. The advantage to society is that the patent does eventually expire.
  • according to

    the patent should expire in 2003.. []
  • by dermond ( 33903 ) on Sunday August 29, 1999 @12:37AM (#1719140)
    hmm.. if unisys only wants money from people who have created it with programs that are not licensed... then someone should write a gif2gif program and pay the $50000.-- licence for that and then give away the gif2gif programm for free on the web.. the program would convert gif with or without lzw into gif with lzw. if we collect the $50k that should be easy and we would not have to worry about gif anymore.. or maybe someone with money would want to sponsor this.. (redhat? ibm? ..) one would not even need to have downloaded the gif2gif as one could always claim that it was mad with that..(thus the gif2gif should leave the "createy by" string of the original program..)

    just an idea..

    greetings from vienna, austria.

  • It's very possible to create uncompressed GIFs anyway (pseudo-gifs), but that's really not an answer to the problem.

  • Aren't films made up of series of jpegs called mjpegs? I seem to remember some software (Xing?) that made video too mjpeg while you worked with it (for obvious reasons, there are problems with cutting and stuff in mpeg video).

    /. is like a steer's horns, a point here, a point there and a lot of bull in between.
  • Get a real job. You make an mp3 format because you want to compress music.. you plant radishes because you want to eat radishes.. at what point in the universe does mp3 format = food? Some time in the not too distant future I hope we will develop a solution to your question (yes, I do think nanotech will save the world, at that point ideas will equal food because you can "design" the food or scan it in and replicate it add infinitum) but at the moment I don't know how to make money out of IP without forcing people to pay you. Sorry, forcing people to do stuff is *bad*.
  • If you create a new algorithm, you can choose not to share the source with the world. Feel free to make money with it. But I doubt that it will be used a lot as the world is full of proprietary data formats.

    If you want the world to use your algorithm, publish it. Many will love it and start using it. But you can't expect to sit on your butt for the rest of your life collecting money from that one idea of yours. Make own products using it. At least you have the edge because it was you who created the idea in the first place.

    If in the end the whole world uses your algorithm, you won't have any problems whatsoever to get a good job. Think about it, this is exactly how Linus Torvalds did it and he's not whining. Instead, he has a nice steady paycheck at Transmeta and he can choose any place to work at.

  • My company makes software that uses GIFs... you would not BELIEVE the bullshit these guys put you through.

    Because of our license agreement with UNISYS, all of our customers are required to register with them before they can use our software. (We did this because we could not afford to license the technology out right.) Basically they have to get a special code to enter into our software before the GIF stuff will work. They also require some of our customers to pay an extra fee WHICH THEY DETERMINE ON A CASE BY CASE BASIS! "Hmmm, how much you got?"

    The worst part is most of our customers are non-profit government entities who don't have a lot of money to start with. In these cases UNISYS says that they can get the code for free, but requires them to pay a 500 dollar processing fee.


    :-) It /sounds/ cool.

    The spec is finalised, which is cool. Now we just have to wait for some cool hacker to put it in Mozilla. Screw IE, it can't even show PNGs semi-properly, except on Win32 platforms (Mac, etc, ports are b0rked).
  • 1) Will this really hold up? Not only is GIF use so widely spread among commercial vendors, but it is also spread among the ~users of the world, that built up their web pages with shareware programs (read: Paint Shop Pro). Is Unisys going to go after every ~user home page???? Additionally, while they have been pushing people around trying to defend their patent for *YEARS* (that is, shortly after NS 2.0 came out), they havent done anything until now. This seems not only unethical, but illegal as well as they didn't strive legally to defend their patent. Additionally, isn't this a bit late to defend this? IANAL, but this move seems to have no legal ground for what already exists on the web.

    2) Exactly what should we do as web site operators? I realize that the best thing is to switch everything to .png, however, the question is when, if ever? (I do plan to, myself). I know that Burn all Gifs day is yet set, but question is, when if any is Unisys Police going to start combing the web sites? Right now is not the best time for me (defense is within a month) though I'll find the time if the UP will be out soon enough...

    1. PNG's compress better than GIF's (5% to 25%) in almost every other case.
    2. There's a vast difference between having an honest to god alpha channel and a simple transparent color. PNG's /do/ still compress better, and an alpha'd PNG image will look antialiased against whatever background you put it against, as opposed to GIF images, where you will frequently see light and dark background versions.
    3. I can do without animations. :-)
    So don't go around accusing others of looking stupid for preferring PNG. There are reasons.

    Ian Peters
  • Note that they claim that a product that licenses the GIF format doesn't necessarily confer a license on it's output. For that, you must negotiate with them seperatly (for a lot more $$$ I'll bet).

  • by Andra ( 80907 ) on Sunday August 29, 1999 @06:23AM (#1719218) Homepage
    Why don't you admit you are a marxist? You believe no one should own property or ideas. Everyone should be forced to work for the good of man kind.

    Part I

    You "argument" lacks all logic. You seem to imply that because one doesn't believe in IP, that one is a Marxist. This does not follow. The set of people who don't believe in IP is not identical with the set of Marxists. For example, many anarchists do not believe in IP, but are definitely not Marxists. 2nd, "Everyone should be..." does not follow from "You believe no one ..."

    Part II

    Regarding another thread -- the one with the twit "Tom" asking how he was supposed to feed his family, blah blah blah -- I'm going to assume (perhaps mistakenly, but oh well) that your views overlap to some extent with Tom's.

    The whole "anti-IP people are Marxists, commies, etc." is bogus. One could easily make the argument that instead it is those looking for IP protection ("intellectual property" -- how can you "own" something in your head ... can someone steal it so that you no longer have it?) who are supporters of a strong, centralized government -- a government which provides so-called IP-trade-barriers and time-limited-subsidies (you get to have this idea all to your little lonesome for 17 years ...). A government that encourages monopolies in a so-called open/free market could hardly be called a supporter of free-market capitalism, which is what so many of the pro-IP people around here so vehemently support (although not necessarily all).

    Part III (getting off topic)

    I find it hard if not impossible to believe that Tom or anybody else working with algorithms (ooh --- that is, people writing computer programs) has a right to any patents on such algorithms and such. There is the BS argument "if Einstein and Newton wanted to share their ideas, fine, but I don't have to share mine ... don't take away my freedom". 1) Einstein and Newton didn't have any patent-able ideas --- no 'inventions', no specific processes. 2) Such algorithms are quite often merely applications of already-known mathematical relations, etc. How can you 'own' work somebody else did months, years, decades, etc. ago. That's called a free-ride. "Ooh look, I made a copy of the Mona Lisa, but I changed her smile a bit. Now, nobody else can make a copy with a smile like this, it's *mine*." You may have derived something from something else, but as long as that which is derived has no physical existence (scratches on paper or impulses on a magnetic medium notwithstanding), I find it very difficult to believe that such 'results' can be called 'property', and futhermore, giving them so-called 'IP Protection' sounds like a 'free ride' to me. Your freedom isn't being taken away -- you're not losing property, as you never owned it; but patents do take away the freedom of others (to independently come up with something, then have others tell them, 'no, you can't use that idea, someone else "owns it" already.')

    Part IV (closing remarks)

    A final note: who owns all these patents? Not family-feeding, 'God fearing' (sarcasm) Americans -- rather, it's the mega-corporations that employ them: IBM, MS, Apple, Unisys, Intel, Motorola, Xerox, etc. It is a myth that patents help the lonely little inventor/programmer -- that may have been the case once, but it sure doesn't seem that way now.



  • Hmmmm.... now that you mention it... this might be a good way for them to get a wake up call... if they get overloaded with calls asking if people are OK for their patent, then they might get a clue and stop this non-sense. Of course, the other ways of getting them to stop it are to feed a few news hounds a headline like "Unisys to enforce patent on the Net", and let their PR people try to spin that away ;)

    Although I do admit one thing - if several thousand people start calling Unisys, then some really clueless PHB type might just see that as several thousand X 5K, and decide to keep it too.

    This whole thing is rediculous, and in my view (IANAL) unenforceable - if you figure that there are several million sites in the US alone that use GIF images (GEOCities, AOL, @HOME to name just a few), does even a VERY large company like Unisys have enough resources to make this meaningful?

From Sharp minds come... pointed heads. -- Bryan Sparrowhawk