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DEMML

Distributable Educational Material Markup LanguageTM

News:

First Alpha version of schema published.

Though it is still rough and only covers the fundamental constituents of a DEMML™ topic, the DEMML_0.1 schema is available for viewing here.

Created DEMML™ blog site.

It took me a while to get around to creating a blog but it is finally up. (Updated July 8, 2009)
click here...

Added new Features and Benefits page.

DEMML is truely unique but I seem to have a hard time getting people to see that. Hopefully this will help. (Updated Dec. 10, 2007)
full story...

New Powerpoint about Communications Systems

full story...


History:

How DEMML™ was Invented

Necessity truly is the mother of invention.
full story...

Licensing Issues

This page discusses the issues involved with licensing the DEMML™ standard in a manner that best promotes the use of the standard for the educational benefit of all. It is a rather long web page because there are a lot of issues involved. I chose not to break it up into several separate pages so it would be easier to print out. Later, I will break it up and provide one of those links to a printable version. I felt getting it out was more important than making it pretty

Neiher the standard or the license are complete. Both will take some time. I will need help crafting a license that will achieve the goals listed below. I do intend to consult with an attorney. Before I do, I want to gather as much advice from the open-source community as I can. I will soon create a blog for discussing these issues. Until then you can contact me directly.

Thank you,
Grant S. Robertson

Differences Between a Standard and Software

First, let me be clear, a standard is not software. A standard does not benefit from the same types of things that open-source software does. When each developer takes a piece of code, modifies it, and passes it on, then the code generally matures, gets more sophisticated and reliable. When people take a standard and modify it for their purposes it simply kills the standard. You end up with nothing but a mish-mash of proprietary data that can not be interchanged. While it is good for software to be modified by as many different developers as possible, a standard must be controlled by a central standards body and everyone must adhere to that standard. Naturally, for a standard to be considered open, that standards body must be a good steward of the standard. "Defining Open Standards" by Lawrence Rosen (http://www.rosenlaw.com/DefiningOpenStandards.pdf) is an excellent reference about what is required for a standard to be considered "open." (Pay particular attention to the list on page 9.)

Software and standard licensing have similar goals but those goals must be reached in different ways. An open source license for software has as it's primary goal to ensure that everyone can benefit from that source code. That no one can take code which someone else put a lot of work into, change a few things, and then claim the whole thing as their own to sell. This is generally done by requiring that anyone who takes existing open-source code and modifies it must also license that modified code for anyone to use. This is known as "the principle of reciprocity." An open standard's primary goal is also to ensure that the most people can benefit from the standard. However, it reaches that goal by allowing everyone to have input into the design of the standard but then requiring everyone to adhere to the standard agreed upon by consensus.

What all this means is that one can not guarantee the long term viability of an open standard by releasing it under the GNU General Public License (GPL). In fact, releasing a standard under the GPL would be the surest way to kill it. Therefore, all suggestions to release the DEMML™ standard under the GPL will be summarily ignored.

General Goals of this License

Primary Goal: Ensure that everyone can receive the benefits of easy, inexpensive education by promoting the most widespread adoption of the standard by software developers, content authors, publishers, educators, and students of all kinds.

Secondary Goal: Ensure that the DEMML™ organization has the funds to continue promoting the standard and the educational benefits it promises.

Why the license needs to cover more than just the standard itself

When most people discuss licensing for an open standard they only consider controlling the standard itself and what limits are placed on using, copying, and modifying that standard. Unfortunately, this does not adequately protect and promote the use of the standard. It still leaves open the possibility of people attempting to patent any and all software that does anything with that standard. We have seen this with recent attempts to claim patent rights to doing certain things with XML itself. All standards have what are called "base" uses. These are things that one could do using the standard that any reasonable person would consider obvious and natural, such as storing XML data in a file and reading that XML data into computer memory in a structured manner. In order to protect and promote the standard, it is also necessary to ensure that no one is allowed to patent or control these base uses of the standard. To that end, the license for a standard must not allow anyone to patent or lay claim to any of the base uses of the standard.

There are generally two ways of doing this. One is to patent all of those base uses and license them for free to anyone. This is an expensive and time consuming process. Another way is to simply publish a full description of all possible base uses. This makes the use into "prior art" and prevents others from patenting it. The DEMML™ license will attempt to go further by requiring that anyone who uses any part of the standard must not attempt to patent any method or software which is considered a "base use" of any part of the standard. In addition, if someone wants to implement any part of the standard in software then they may not use any code for any base use that is patented or requires a royalty payment. Hopefully, by publishing as many uses as possible and imposing these restrictions we can effectively kill any market for patented software that uses the DEMML™ standard.

On the other hand, we do not want to dissuade all commercial development of software for use with DEMML™ so this notion is fine tuned a little bit and some exceptions will be allowed for truly unique innovations that would not be considered a base use of the standard. The goal here is to keep individuals from patenting every little possible use of the standard while still encouraging them to innovate. If they have to give away all of their ideas they may not come up with any at all. However, if they can patent every little idea then they will kill the standard.

Content Issues

Unlike many other standards, the DEMML™ standard will be used to create content that has market value in and of itself. This content, by its very nature, will be stored and distributed around the world. This is the way DEMML™ is designed. Much of this content will be created by individual authors but officially vetted and approved by DEMML™ certified educators. The authors of this content must agree to have their works stored in the DEMML™ distribution system and distributed to users' computers all over the world. These authors must be assured that no one will take their content, collect it, and resell it without compensating them for their work. Therefore, the DEMML™ license must not allow anyone to distribute the official DEMML™ vetted content for a fee without adequately compensating each individual author of each individual item of content. Web sites which emulate DEMML™ software online should be able to display the content just like the separate software is allowed to display the content. However, those web sites must not be allowed to charge for that content.

On the other hand, yet again, not all content created using the DEMML™ standard will be submitted for official vetting and distribution within the DEMML™ system. In order to best promote the use of the standard it would not be wise to require all content to be submitted and given away for free. Some authors or publishers may desire to create large bodies of work in the DEMML™ format and then sell those works on the open market. Considering the rich additional functionality and educational benefits provided by the DEMML™ standard, it would not be right to deny users the ability to study both free and commercial content using the same software. It would be like creating a web browser that could only go to free web sites. No one would use it. Therefore, content authors and publishers will be allowed to sell content in the DEMML™ format. But they will not be allowed to claim that content is officially vetted by the DEMML™ organization or its certified educators. There will be a distinction between content that is merely in the DEMML™ format and officially vetted DEMML™ content.

Funding

Creators and publishers of this commercial content will be deriving a great benefit from the existence and wide adoption of the DEMML™ standard. Once nearly every person in the world is using some form of DEMML™ software, there will be an enormous market for commercial DEMML™ content. These commercial content publishers will be reaping huge profits from the use of the DEMML™ standard. Much more so than if they simply sold proprietary computer based training (CBT) material to the few individual consumers who would buy it. Therefore, it is only fair that they use some of those profits to support the organization which created the market for them in the first place. For this reason, I propose that commercial content publishers be required to pay a modest licensing fee for their use of the standard.

There will undoubtedly be quite a bit of controversy over this proposal. Many will say that W3C does not charge commercial web sites a licensing fee for HTML. However, the W3C receives quite a bit of financial support from the industry and government. The W3C's stewardship of HTML, XML, and many other standards have greased the wheels of multi-billion dollar industries. Both the industry and government realize that continued support of W3C is necessary to enable efficient commerce in the 21st century. I guarantee you that Tim Berners-Lee is not forced to ride a scooter to work due to lack of money. Neither does HTML require a lot of money to support and maintain. Industry partners pay quite a bit of cash for the privilege of helping to design each version of HTML. Once a given version is finished, all that is required is to post the standard on a web server, which requires only a few megabytes of space. DEMML, on the other hand will be relatively expensive to maintain. All of that free, vetted, DEMML™ content will take up quite a bit of space. Probably into the multi-terabytes. It won't require as much space as Google™ uses to cache the entire darn internet, but it will not be insignificant. There will be the cost of ongoing research into the best way to design the content. There will be the cost of developing software modules for use by open-source developers so that it will be easier for them to create software to use the DEMML™ standard. Finally, there will be the cost of promoting the standard all over the world and organizing all those certified vettors for every language in the world.

Some may say the DEMML™ organization should just depend on the government and donations for all of its financing. Unfortunately, education is becoming more politicized and "religiousized" in the U.S. every day. It would not be wise for the DEMML™ organization to become dependent on an entity which has a record of forcing institutions to teach educationally unsound and scientifically inaccurate information. Allowing political or religious censorship of DEMML™ content would be counter to the very principles which inspired its creation. Therefore, the DEMML™ organization must be ensured of funding that depends only on the benefits it provides to others. If large commercial publishers benefit financially from the existence of DEMML, then DEMML™ should, in turn, be supported by those profits. It is the only way to ensure that no donors or governmental agency can threaten to withhold necessary funding in order to censure the content and destroy the educational integrity of the DEMML™ system.

Outline of the goals of the DEMML™ license

This page, like the rest of the site, is ©2007 Grant Robertson. Other than short quotes for reference, you may not copy this to another web site nor may you post it in any listserve that claims the right to republish content in perpetuity. You may, however, print or copy this page for your own reference and that of your friends and colleagues.

First Published: April 12, 2007 — Last Modified: April 16, 2007
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