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 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
Microsoft MVP, Visual Basic