Calling All EPUB Contributors: Ensure EPUB Remains Free and Open
IDPF recently requested that all organizations that have contributed to EPUB, whether or not current IDPF members, authorize their inclusion as a co-submitter with IDPF on the submission of the latest version of EPUB to W3C as part of implementation of the combination of IDPF with W3C, which was overwhelmingly approved last November by the IDPF membership. Some questions and misinformation has arisen regarding this request so we are publishing this follow-up covering several frequently-asked questions about the request.
To stand with other EPUB contributors and keep EPUB free and open for everyone please submit a completed and signed copy of the authorization form via email to email@example.com (update 1/19/2017: there is now a list of EPUB contributors who are already on board).
What's the big deal about "royalty free" standards development?
W3C follows a royalty-free (RF) patent policy, which means that all W3C specifications include a broad patent grant from contributors that helps keep them free to use and open for all to implement.
IDPF, by contrast, has historically asked members only to make commitments to license essential patents on a "Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory" (RAND) basis. Which in practice means patent holders can charge whatever they like for patent licenses... even for patents that they might have deliberately inserted into theoretically "open" standards (aka "submarine patents").
The IDPF Board, realizing that the EPUB community had simply been lucky that no one had asserted patent claims around use of EPUB in the past, suggested to the IDPF membership two years ago that EPUB should move to a RF policy and solicited member feedback on doing so based on the W3C process. This was long before there was any discussion of a potential merger with W3C and was only about keeping EPUB free and open. A royalty-free patent policy has become the "gold standard" in recent years and IDPF's RAND policy was increasingly perceived to be somewhat archaic and unhelpful to our mission. Only supportive comments were received regarding the idea to move to a W3C-style RF policy but because EPUB was in the process of incremental revisions, it seemed timely to delay the shift to a RF model. Now, as part of the plan to combine with W3C, and with EPUB 3.1 newly completed, it's timely to make this change.
Since all versions of EPUB have been developed under IDPF's RAND policy, IDPF and W3C are requesting that contributors to EPUB make royalty-free commitments to help ensure that EPUB stays free and open, not by luck but by design,
Why is IDPF planning a multi-party submission of EPUB to W3C?
A group submission of EPUB to W3C by IDPF and other willing EPUB contributors is simply a convenient way to effect a transition to EPUB development moving to a royalty-free model and demonstrate the collective intention of the EPUB community to keep EPUB free and open for everyone to use.
If my organization didn't make substantial contributions to EPUB, and has no EPUB-related patents, is it still important for us to authorize being Included?
Yes. It is important to signal to the broader IT Standards community represented in W3C that, despite IDPF's historical RAND-based IP policy, that we are as committed to EPUB being free and open as the overall Web community is to the Web being open. The more co-submitters we have for EPUB as it moves to W3C, the louder and clearer that message will be heard. More concretely, a quorum of co-submitters providing royalty-free IP grants to W3C will facilitate future development of EPUB and other publishing technologies at W3C to be compatible with EPUB 3 while also royalty-free according to W3C's policies.
As well many organizations that participated in EPUB working groups in various revisions were explicitly acknowledged, even though they may not have made specific contributions. For avoidance of doubt, having royalty-free commitments from as many as possible of the orrganizations that were specifically acknowledged will be helpful, regardless of what level of actual contributions were made and regardless of whether there are applicable patents (in fact IDPF has no knowledge of any patents appliable to EPUB so this is hopefully just a theoretical concern).
If my organization didn't vote for the merger with W3C, should we withhold our authorization?
No. If you truly want to "save EPUB", you should want to help ensure it's free and open, regardless of the merger. Again the plan to move EPUB to royalty-free development was announced two years ago and originally had nothing to do with the W3C merger.
In any case nearly 90% of IDPF members voted in favor of the combination. Withholding your authorization in an ill-advised attempt to create obstacles to implementing the combination would be disrespectful to your fellow IDPF members. Worst case, it could lead to others withholding their authorizations which could harm your organization and the community.
Over 30 organizations that contributed to EPUB have already provided their authorizations. Not all of them voted for the combination; not all of them are even IDPF members at this time. Whether or not your were in favor of the combination, we call on you to join with your peers and stand up for EPUB as a free and open standard.
Does signing the authorization "give away" any of my intellectual property rights?
No. You still own all your intellectual property. This authorization only grants a non-exclusive license to W3C.
The point of requesting co-submitters is to achieve a smooth transition for future EPUB development to be done via a royalty-free patent policy, to ensure that it remains open and free to use. However, the patent license applicable to the authorization is strictly limited to "essential claims", defined as claims that would necessarily be infringed in implementing a W3C Recommendation. That is further narrowed to be applicable "only when it is not possible to avoid infringing [a claim] because there is no non-infringing alternative for implementing the normative portions of the Recommendation". So if you own patents relating to EPUB, you still own them and you retain all your rights to them (subject to any licenses you may have previously granted), other than this narrow grant that may be applicable to to future W3C Recommendation(s), such as an EPUB 4.
The copyright license applicable to the authorization is mainly for IDPF as the primary submitter. IDPF owns the copyright in the EPUB specifications that will be submitted to W3C, and all IDPF members and former members have, per the IDPF IP Policy, already acknowledged that IDPF is the sole copyright owner of EPUB and also granted IDPF a broad perpetual license to any copyrights in member contributions.
Is it expected that every organization that ever contributed to EPUB will be a co-submitter to W3C?
No. Nearly 150 organizations are acknowledged as contributors in various versions of the EPUB specifications that, including EPUB's precursor OEBF format, date back over 15 years. Many of them are no longer IDPF members and quite a few of them are defunct. Various mergers have occured in the consolidating publishing industry. And since earlier EPUB development was done under a RAND IP policy, IDPF members and former members are under no obligation to grant the royalty-free patent license that IDPF is requesting. But early indications are that the vast majority of organizations that contributed to EPUB recognize the substantial benefits of EPUB evolving to a royalty-free development model. So we are confident that we can achieve a large cohort of contributors who stand together in the interests of EPUB remaining open and free. If your organization contributed to EPUB, we sincerely hope that you will accept our request that you join this cohort.