Programmers: license for SignWriting symbols (ISWA)

Sandy Fleming sandy at SCOTSTEXT.ORG
Mon May 28 18:42:50 UTC 2007


> So the point of the Free SignWriting License would be to calm  
> everyone's fears and worries...more like a personal message from me,  
> rather than a legal document. We could refer people to that web page  
> whenever someone writes to ask...

Don't forget that in order to preserve openness and freedom, you have to
stop other people from closing it. There are a lot of legal battles in
the software industry due to companies simply noticing that something
isn't licensed (or it is licensed but they try to pretend that they
thought of it first), then taking a copy of it and copyrighting it for

Outside of software, you may remember how in the past few years a
company developed speed cameras that worked by averaging a car's speed
over a certain stretch of road. The company that developed it didn't
patent it because they didn't believe that patents were a good thing. A
Canadian lawyer spotted this and opened a patent on it for himself, even
though he hadn't done a stroke of work on it! This led to the
introduction of averaging speed cameras being delayed for months while
the legal problems were sorted out.

This is the sort of thing the license has to prevent. It needs to say,
in effect, that "You can copy this and change it in any way you want,
but you have to issue your version under the same open license." This
prevents anyone from closing the license and making SignWriting

I think we need to be clear that SignWriting isn't a font. For example,
the ISWA pngs and Machado's SVGs look quite different on the page and to
my mind this makes them two different fonts. If Val and Machado both
issue these under an open license, does this stop someone from issuing
their own SignWriting fonts, some prettier, some more practical, some
just bizarre in a fun way, and then copyrighting them so they can make
money out of them? I think this should be allowed. As in the oral world,
we can have a million SignWriting fonts, some open, some closed, some
free, some expensive, and some that nobody cares about  :)


> And meanwhile using the OFL license is fine too...
> I like your term "SignWriting Seal of Approval" - ha! Why not? That  
> sounds like a good way to show that a program is true to SignWriting...
> Regarding the Roman Alphabet and freedom of speech...alphabets are  
> not concepts. They are not language per se. A, B and C do not give  
> you a language. They write many languages, but what a person says  
> using those languages, that just happens to use A, B and C to write  
> with, has nothing to do with A, B and C itself. So of course freedom  
> of speech has nothing to do with SignWriting. If a person writing ASL  
> wanted to swear and say bad things, of course the organization behind  
> the SignWriting symbols for the Index Finger, the Middle and Index  
> Finger and the Thumb, Middle and Index Finger has no control over  
> what an ASL person says, when writing those alphabetic characters ;-))
> The reason this confuses people is that they do not know of one  
> inventor, or a group of inventors, of the Roman Alphabet, so they  
> cannot compare a currently developing alphabet with the Roman  
> Alphabet history...
> If I write the Free SignWriting License with all of your help,  
> feedback and approval...then we should dispel some of this I hope!  
> Plus combine that with the OFL License and other possible  
> Licenses...and this issue will be resolved I hope!
> So after my presentation on Thursday I will start writing that...
> And thanks for your input everyone! I am really grateful for your  
> help with this...
> Val ;-)
> -------------
> On May 28, 2007, at 8:52 AM, Steve Slevinski wrote:
> > Hi Val,
> >
> > Valerie Sutton wrote:
> >>
> >> When they say font, they do not mean TrueType specifically, but  
> >> instead it is a more general term for font, and so our ISWA could  
> >> be licensed under the OFL, whether it is PNG or SVG or whatever  
> >> format...Have I understood that correctly?
> >>
> > Yes.  That is my understanding as well.
> >
> >> But your concern at the end of your message also concerns me...If  
> >> we cannot license with a second license, does that mean if we have  
> >> new software that uses the ISWA, and that software has another  
> >> kind of license too, can the OFL be used inside that second  
> >> license?;-))
> >>
> > Don't worry about this.  The OFL is only concerned with the font.   
> > Software that uses the font can be under any license.
> >> I was thinking I could draft a Free SignWriting License, where I  
> >> explain in detail what SignWriting is, and specify what people can  
> >> and cannot do...which will be open, I assure you ;-))
> >>
> > It would probably be a good idea.
> >
> >> The Free SignWriting License could encompass free use of  
> >> SignWriting graphics, PNGs, SVGs, the Sutton Fonts, SignWriter DOS  
> >> and Java source code, writing by hand, free downloading of photos  
> >> and documents on the SignWriting-related web sites, and permission  
> >> to publish using SignWriting.
> >>
> > Yes and no.  I think the Free SignWriting License should only  
> > include the SignWriting ideas and the SignWriting alphabet.  Adding  
> > specifics for fonts, software, images, and everything else will  
> > just complicate matters.  Besides, a license is different than what  
> > is released under the license.
> >> I could write a first draft of this Free SignWriting License, and  
> >> post it to the SW List for feedback...
> >>
> > Great idea, except that means more for you to do.  I think  
> > releasing the current fonts under the OFL would suffice for now.
> >> If the OFL allowed us to use both, then the SignWriting symbols  
> >> could be under both the OFL and the "SignWriting Free License"...
> >>
> > The PNGs and SVGs can be released under different licenses.  The  
> > SignWriting symbols are a different matter.
> > I think the Free SignWriting License should encompass 3 distinct  
> > matters.
> > The SignWriting name
> > ----------------------------
> > How are people allowed to use the name SignWriting?  Maybe you  
> > could come up with a seal of approval to let people know that what  
> > people are using or teaching is valid SignWriting.  I think it is  
> > important that people use the term SignWriting, but I also think it  
> > is important that people don't use the term incorrectly.
> >
> > The SignWriting ideas
> > ----------------------------
> > Can you copyright a writing system?  Does this infringe on freedom  
> > of speech?
> >
> > The SignWriting alphabet
> > --------------------------------
> > Your specific symbol sets are different than the specific fonts.   
> > Your alphabets are derived from the SignWriting ideas.
> >
> > So in regards to Sandy's program, it will not be concerned with the  
> > fonts or the OFL.  Will his program be allowed to use the  
> > SignWriting name?  From everything I've read, it should meet the  
> > qualifications for the SignWriting seal of approval.  His program  
> > will be based on the SignWriting ideas and alphabet.  He can  
> > copyright his program under any license that he wants, but his  
> > writing system will be a derived work.
> >
> > Which brings us to the complicated issue of derived works.  Under  
> > the OFL, people can create new fonts based on existing fonts.   
> > These new fonts must be issued under the OFL, and these new fonts  
> > can not use the name of the base font.
> >
> > But what of your writing system.  Can people make a derived writing  
> > system based on SignWriting?
> >
> > This is all very confusing.  I'd be interested in reading your  
> > initial draft of the Free SignWriting License.
> >
> > -Steve
> >

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