Visual Basic FAQ

GIF Licensing Issues for Microsoft Development Products

A Frequently Asked Question, this page details an exchange between
myself and Unisys regarding GIF usage in VB applications.
Reposted by popular demand.

RePosted:   Friday August 27, 1999
Updated:   Monday December 26, 2011
Applies to:   VB5, VB6
 More References  
MSKB:     INFO: Unisys GIF and LZW Technology License Information

 From:    Randy Birch
 To:        Customer Support, Unisys
Thursday, October 1, 1998

Within the Microsoft Visual Basic MVP newsgroup, discussion has taken place regarding the apparent required licensing for use of the GIF image format and the ability of owners of Microsoft Visual Basic 5 and 6 to read (load) and display this image format in their applications, and, conceivably, make modifications to the image and save it to disk.

This discussion was raised after reading the licensing agreements for GIF usage both on yours and Microsoft's site. The thoughts expressed were that, since Microsoft provides developers with the ability to perform actions on GIF images via their development tools as an intrinsic part of the development tool (i.e load a GIF image), yet the technology appears to require licensing on the part of developers in order to use the GIF format within Visual Basic or other MS development languages, that in fact a VB developer - to which this licensing information has not been provided - can in fact be placing themselves at risk for infringement, quite unknowingly. If the licensing agreements mentioned both on your site and at Microsoft are to be taken at face value, then using the GIF format is a violation of license.

Basically, the Microsoft page regarding use of LZW and GIF file formats states that while Microsoft has licensed this technology from Unisys for their applications, this license does not extend to developers using Microsoft tools which may open and allow modification/copying/saving of the modified GIF image. The Unisys site echoes this.

Can you clarify in plain English the extent to which developers using Visual Basic are restricted in these areas? With the demand for GIF support loud in pre-VB5 days by many, its inclusion into the available file formats read by the developer products since VB 5 implies - albeit it now seem incorrectly - that use of this file format is "part of the package", just as using a bitmap, jpeg or Windows metafile is and has been in the past.

The question most simply is: Can a developer *use* GIF images in their applications without incurring liability, as long as the LZW DLL's are not called *by the developer directly* to manipulate this image? (They may be called by an intrinsic function within VB however, to load the image, outside the scope of the developer). This means the developer can load, display, modify, copy to the clipboard and paste into other applications the GIF or modified GIF without liability, and that liability is only incurred should the actual LZW DLLs themselves be used to access or save the data. And if the above is not true, then at which point does liability ensue?

Does Unisys wish to have all VB devs apply for licensing or exemptions in order to use the GIF image format in their applications?

Finally, does the license restrictions extend to simply using/displaying the .GIF file format *extension* in a VB application file dialog, and does it therefore theoretically prevent the VB developer from even displaying a GIF image in the application when no modification is taking place?

I hope this is clear ... its really a matter of determining what a developer may and may not do to/with a GIF image before specific licensing is required.

The answers to these questions will definitely clarify the responsibilities of developers with respect to your licensing requirements.

Randy Birch
Microsoft MVP, Visual Basic


 From:    Unisys
 To:        Randy Birch
Wednesday, October 14, 1998

Thank you for your e-mail of October 1, 1998.

From your e-mail, we understand your question to be: "Can a developer *use* GIF images in their applications without incurring liability, as long as the LZW DLL's are not called *by the developer directly* to manipulate this image?"

The simple answer is "NO" since no license to the LZW capability provided in Microsoft development products (such as Visual Basic) is transferred to developers by the Unisys/MS agreement. In particular, the various types of GIF usage described by your e-mail are not licensed.

It would therefore be prudent for users of Microsoft development products containing LZW capability to contact Unisys for an appropriate license.

Cheryl Tartler


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