Fwd: [uf-discuss] Legal implications of using Microformats

M. Jackson Wilkinson jackw-uf at jounce.net
Tue May 1 15:23:34 PDT 2007

Paul Wilkins wrote:
> Brian Suda wrote:
>> I keep going back to how companies like Microsoft and Yahoo have
>> decided to use microformats, if they thought there were problems, they
>> would have been the first to complain.
>> Lets talk about what/if any changes could be made to make things more
>> clear. I'm certainly up for clarifying things, as an author, i'm not
>> trying to hide or do something sneaky.
> What kind of copyright or licensing things are involved with microformats?
> I would have thought that there were none, as microformats are just an 
> advisory on how to markup text.
> I compare it with, "Hey, here's an idea. Use the address tag so people 
> know who to get in touch with to edit the page."
> Does the way that geo tags are put together,
> <span class="geo" title="lat;long">. . .</span>
> require any form of copyright or license? I would hope not.

NB: I am not a lawyer.  I was an intellectual property paralegal in DC 
for a time, and this is based on my experience with that.  This is not 
legal advice, yadda yadda ;)

One might not think that these things would be subject to copyright (or, 
more dangerously, as a potential submarine patent threat), but specific 
strings of tags and such may be considered as unique as specific strings 
of words can be in verse and prose and advertising.  I don't know the 
current caselaw in this area, but I would be surprised if there is much 
precedent to assuage fears that copyright could be claimed on pieces of 

And in the US, absence of a copyright notice assumes some copyright 
protections.  You have to explicitly release your rights if you wish to 
do so.

More dangerous is the patent side, which is much more friendly to 
algorithms, processes, and the like.  These could ostensibly be 
considered such things, and get past a patent examiner and be granted a 

If a patent were granted, then the holders could approach users of the 
now-patented "process" and hold them accountable for royalties and 
licensing fees.  All of a sudden, anyone from Microsoft to your small 
business can be threatened with, at minimum, a long legal battle.

This fear can be soothed fairly simply by releasing all work on the wiki 
into the public domain, or something of the sort.  All wiki pages could 
be under the LGPL, the GDL, or some other open licenses if not in the 
public domain.  There are several options here.

The challenge now is that every editor of the wiki would, I believe, 
need to either approve of the change in license, or their work would 
need to be stripped out of the wiki.  This kind of process has happened 
several times in open source software projects.  The microformats wiki 
may be sufficiently young as to make this somewhat possible, but it 
would certainly involve significant effort.

It's one of those things that really needs to be handled right at the 

Again, this is all just based on my personal experience and research, 
and is not legal advice, but may be useful as a way of understanding why 
some may be concerned.


M. Jackson Wilkinson <jackson at jounce.net>
http://jounce.net | mobile: 207.841.9103
Grassroots Enterprise | http://grassroots.com

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