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the folly and greed of technical standards organizations

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the folly and greed of technical standards organizations

september 24, 2021

A rant originally for the fediverse spurred on by trying to access a paywalled standard, but it got too long and too link-filled so it's going here.

Everybody knows about how terrible academic publishers are; nobody talks about how shitty standards organizations are. They do the same thing, the authors (usually) have to pay to submit a draft standard (if external parties can submit a standard at all); then everybody in the working group gets to pay for the privilege of reviewing, editing, and approving the standard; and the organization then charges extravagant prices for people to view the spec, none of which goes to the people that actually did the work for the standard.

When possible they'll avoid having to actually manage a working group at all and just rip off other's work. Did you know that a bunch of standards organizations sell (and claim copyright and licensing) on U.S. Government produced works—i.e. they do not fall under copyright and they have no right to claim copyright infringement or enforce licensing, within the U.S. at least. Even outside of the U.S. the government owns copyright on it, not the IEEE.

Did you know that the IEEE and IET have some papers written in 1877–1891 locked behind a paywall still?

Nikola Tesla, Experiments with Alternate Currents of Very High Frequency and their Application to Methods of Artificial Illumination (1891) — Costs $33.00

Nikola Tesla, A New System of Alternate Current Motors and Transformers (1888) — Costs $33.00

Alexander Graham Bell, Researches in electric telephony (1877) — Costs $19.95

The worst is when people like the ISO claim that they're an “open standards” body and yet the standards aren't open to the public and the groups that create the standards aren't open to contributions or feedback either. Sometimes you get an external working group like “JTC1/SC22/WG14” that has an open contribution policy, but most ISO standards are not open for contribution. For example, what if I want to submit a clarification to ISO 9660? I can just go fuck myself, I get to pay >$1000/yr and de-facto need to have industry endorsement to be admitted to the group.

You know who isn't a piece of shit standards organization? The Open Group. All their standards seem to be freely available online and they mostly make money by providing certifications to companies. You know who also isn't a piece of shit (in terms of publishing standards)? The IETF, they provide all RFCs for free to anybody, and you can submit a standard and participate in working groups for free as well. There's obviously other issues with these organizations, but they're the few that provide the bare minimum of truly open standards. It really doesn't seem that hard, and selling certifications to companies is similar to SQLite selling licenses of their open source software to people: doesn't hurt anybody other than massive companies that are covering their ass.

Some further reading on the ISO specifically

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