I'm all in favor of the ability to be selectively anonymous, both online and in real life. But I do take a bit of offense when people write out otherwise well-intentioned, thoughtful emails that deserve equally thoughtful responses, but I can't really reply due to their anonymity. There's no need to hide behind the curtain - I'm not about to judge you or think less of you because you were committed enough to take a public stand. If anything, I'd admire you moreso.
In this case, someone used Cypherpunks (Anonymous via the Cypherpunks Tonga Remailer <email@example.com>) to respond to my last blog entry. Personally, I'd prefer that discussions that start out public stay public. So I'm going to make portions of this mystery man's statements public in order to respond to them. I hope that my doing so doesn't upset this anonymous OSS denizen.
Like many OSS people, this well-intentioned poster confuses "Open" with "Free". The poster also confuses "open" with "available for download". Since RMS and the FSF concern themselves with Free (and publicly and adamantly disavow/distance themselves of "Open"), my previous and current arguments focus on asking how the Free software founder and Foundation can advocate using a non-Free format over another (perhaps equally) non-Free format.
I also want to say that I have some intimate knowledge of both the PDF and DOC standards and their licenses, having worked at Appligent on wvWare, AbiWord, GnomePrint, etc., and having had some IP law training. With that said (and having just given myself enough rope to hang myself with), let's get to the email.
[ANON] Yes, Adobe owns PDF but 1) the specs are open - and remain open.
The specs are available and remain available, and I never claimed otherwise. I remarked that the spec is not Free. I'll also show that the specs are not Open. And, given the copyright and restrictions Adobe has placed on the format itself (as we'll see in later paragraphs), it is doubtful that a PDF reader or writer could truly be Free or Open as well.
[ANON] 2) Adobe freely licenses the format, in a manner that is consistent with all open source licenses.
I don't think that the format's or spec's license is consistent with any OSS licenses (re-distribution of the spec is forbidden), let alone all of them. That is an awfully big brush to paint with. What's certain is that Adobe publishes the format, but the terms under which it does so (and the conditions under which one might make software to implement said format) is not consistent with the GNU licenses, which is the inconsistency I allege. In my previous blog, I made no reference to the spec being Open, merely it not being Free. But it is neither. I quote from the PDF 1.5 reference:
NOTICE: All information contained herein is the property of Adobe Systems Incorporated. No part of this publication (whether in hardcopy or electronic form) may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of Adobe Systems Incorporated. Please note that the content in this guide is protected under copyright law even if it is not distributed with software that includes an end user license agreement.
This limited right to use the copyrighted list of data structures and operators does not include the right to copy this book, other copyrighted material from Adobe, or the software in any of Adobe's products that use the Portable Document Format, in whole or in part, nor does it include the right to use any Adobe patents, except as may be permitted by an official Adobe Patent Clarification Notice (see the Bibliography).
That's in reference to the documentation itself, which is neither GFDL, CC, Open, or public domain. It's not even close. The SPEC itself is not Free - it is the wholly owned, proprietary property of Adobe. The spec is not Open, as the terms and conditions of its license/copyright still enjoin you from creating derivitive works of that spec or even re-distributing the spec, unaltered. Later on page 7 of the 1.5 reference:
The general idea of using an interchange format for electronic documents is in the public domain. Anyone is free to devise a set of unique data structures and operators that define an interchange format for electronic documents. However, Adobe Systems Incorporated owns the copyright for the particular data structures and operators and the written specification constituting the interchange format called the Portable Document Format. Thus, these elements of the Portable Document Format may not be copied without Adobe's permission. Adobe will enforce its copyright.
Authors of software that accepts input in the form of the Portable Document Format must make reasonable efforts to ensure that the software they create respects the access permissions and permissions controls
Anyone who uses the copyrighted list of data structures and operators, as stated above, must include an appropriate copyright notice.
After that, Adobe gives some set of exceptions, meaning that one could create an implementation that reads or writes the format, within some (large-ish) set of constraints.
But notice how you must also enforce Adobe's (lousy, hole-filled) DRM standard if you wish to do so, as well as include a BSD-ish advertizing clause when you do so. Note that your right to make software around this "open" spec is a "limited right" that Adobe may rescind if they so choose. Note that the format may include patented bits which Adobe explicitly says you can't use.
Adobe owns and will police this particular, unique implementation of an interchange format. These elements of the Portable Document Format may not be copied without Adobe's permission. Adobe will enforce its copyright.
[ANON] Compare to traditional DOC: 1) no specs (pulled, as you state), and 2) no license.
These specs exist, and were published by Microsoft. The binary MSFT Office formats have not changed substantially since 1997, when the last specs were published. As far as I know, the specs are under the same license as all content on MSDN. There are Free and Open implementations of the spec (wvware, antiword, catdoc, wv2, OpenOffice.org, etc.).
[ANON] Compare to the new Word XML: 1) specs
are provided, but 2) the license invokes patents and many believe that clauses in the license are designed to be incompatible with some open source licenses including GPL.
Adobe's license also invokes patents and clauses which are incompatible with the GPL. The license and spec have many clauses that are designed to prevent Openness and Freeness. When you take into account the evidence I've provided, one can only conclude that PDF is not substantially more Free than DOC, despite any warm feelings one might have toward Adobe or hostile ones toward Microsoft. I'd argue that PDF isn't particularly even more Open than DOC. That's not my concern, but I think that I've proven that anyway. My concern is merely to show the inconsistency of the RMS anti-DOC stance, when one takes into account his proposed PDF alternative.
Also, please note that Adobe has invoked the DMCA to stop people from reading their own, purchased eBooks, which are essentially encrypted PDFs. This company is not a big, cute, cuddly teddy bear, and if I were RMS or the FSF, I wouldn't want to advocate in favor of using one of their standards simply because of this point.
So in conclusion, PDF is non-Free. DOC is non-Free. RMS says he "can't" read DOC, but "can" read PDF. I contend that this is inconsistent behavior. Either RMS should stick to his guns and discourage use of PDF as well (or better still, convince Adobe to free the PDF spec), or he should bite the bullet and use wvware, antiword, catdoc, or some other GPL'd program/library to read MSFT Office documents. Anything short of that is tantamount to hypocricy.
I'm not arguing in favor of boycotting Adobe, using Microsoft products, vice-versa, or anything in-between. Mine is to only point out the inconsistency in RMS' "use PDF and not DOC because DOC is eeeviiil" paper. If you're going to argue for Freedom, stick to your guns. If you're going to argue for Openness, stick with that. I don't think that Adobe's spec or format meets either criteria. But having written things that read and write both PDF and MSFT Office formats, you can guess how much I do or don't care about the formats and their specs so much as the ability to inter-operate with the things that generate and consume these formats. Reform comes in excruciatingly small increments.
Anyway, thanks for the thoughtful email, and I'm quite happy that you enjoy using AbiWord! If you're a FOSS hacker or otherwise a cool cat, thanks for keeping-on keeping-on.