Open letter
to digital standards developers,
supporters, and advocates

Industry has always depended on standards and traditional industries have built their standards as part of a slow, controlled, top-down approach to innovation. Industrial-age standards are often heavily patented, complex, and large. They can be expensive to implement and therefore are implementable only for large established firms.

But almost forty years ago, Steve Crocker and his team wrote RFC001 and launched the networks that built the Internet using a different model based on older human values of sharing and cooperation. His vision, and that of other Internet pioneers, was of a digital world built on simple, interoperable standards, accessible at zero cost to even the smallest teams. Largely, their dream is coming true. Today we're used to an Internet of open software, open content, and open development.

While most agree, not everyone likes it. In the telecoms, entertainment, and software industries we see the destruction of legacy vendors and their replacement by new Internet communities. And many of the old industrial businesses, instead of adapting, are fighting back. The fight is intensifying because the stakes are growing. Free and open source software, open content, and open communities are together worth trillions of dollars. The key to controlling these rich ecosystems is to control the digital standards they depend on.

The outcome of this conflict will define our digital future. At one extreme, Steve Crocker's vision comes true, and the future is built on free and open digital standards. And at the other extreme, the legacy telecoms, entertainment and software vendors capture the world's digital standards by controlling the standardization processes and by using software patents.

Imagine the world if RFC001 was owned by a consortium of telecoms firms. Imagine if only those firms, and their approved partners, could develop Internet technologies. Imagine if every RFC was protected by dozens of patents, so that sending a single email or downloading a web page meant paying license fees. Imagine paying for each click. Look at your mobile phone bill and you see how close this reality is.

We are a group of open standards developers, experts, and advocates. We believe that fair participation in a free market is a basic human right. We want all digital standards, especially those that make the Internet work, to be free and open and we intend to lead the charge to prevent the capture of digital standards by the legacy vendors.

In September 2007 together with others we set up the Digital Standards Organization, Digistan.org, or simply “Digistan”. We are building a new not-for-profit world-wide grass roots organization to defend and promote open digital standards, and we want you to join us. Digistan consists of volunteer workgroups around the world. We organize with email lists and wikis. We focus on standards for standards, on government policies, on tools for open standards teams.

On 21 May 2008 we'll be in the Hague, Netherlands, to sign the Hague Declaration. This document explains why democratic governments are obliged, by international law, and in most cases their own constitutions, to only use free and open standards when they buy IT, in e-government, and internally. You can sign this declaration today on http://www.digistan.org/hague-declaration:en.

There are many groups that work for free and open digital standards. Today, it's time for these groups to come together. If you lead a group that works on free and open digital standards, email us at gro.natsigid|tcatnoc#gro.natsigid|tcatnoc. Digistan is your voice, and Digistan workgroups around the world are your friends.

Next April 7 2009 will celebrate the 40th birthday of the Internet. In forty more years, will the Internet still be a free economy in which everyone can participate, or will it have been locked down by legacy vendors and proprietary standards?

Signed by the following founders of the Digital Standards Organization:

  • Alberto Barrionuevo, President, FFII
  • Alexandra Combes, ESOMA, President FFII France
  • Stefan Gustavson
  • Benjamin Henrion, ESOMA, FFII and AEL
  • Pieter Hintjens, ESOMA, iMatix, past President FFII
  • Jan Husar, SKOSI
  • Bob Jolliffe, FTISA (Freedom to Innovate South Africa)
  • Michiel Leenaars, NLnet foundation
  • René Mages, board member - FFII / FFII France
  • Wladek Majewski, Coalition for Open Standards
  • Tristan Nitot, co-founder of Mozilla Europe and OpenWeb.eu.org
  • Steve Pepper, Ontopedia
  • Nicolas Pettiaux, Vice President, APRIL
  • Chris Puttick, Oxford Archaeology
  • André Rebentisch, Openstandards.de
  • Charles-H. Schulz, Ars Aperta and ESOMA
  • Mark Taylor, Open Source Consortium
  • Andy Updegrove
  • Robert Weir, An Antic Disposition
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Notes and license

This open letter was drafted by the founding members of the Digital Standards Organization and published on 13 May 2008. The open letter represents a majority but not unanimous viewpoint of the founders. All Digistan members represent themselves, and not their organizations or companies. Comments and feedback to gro.natsigid|smmoc#gro.natsigid|smmoc.

Permission is granted to republish, translate, reuse, and modify this letter under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 License. Modified versions of this letter may not carry the list of signatories.