My recent posts regarding ownership, copyright and control of a drawing file were due to an email conversation I am having with a reader who frequently comments on this blog. Our views generally point in the same direction, but sometimes they are diametrically opposite. One such view disturbs me.
We both agree that a drawing file is solely owned by the user and not the developer. But the reader takes this one step forward and claims that since the user is the sole owner of his drawing file, the developer cannot add anything into file without his explicit consent. To put it in context, he objects to Autodesk adding the TrustedDWG feature into a DWG file. I do not know how many share this view. If you are one of them please read on.
I disagree, and so will all software developers, including Autodesk and even members of the ODA. I will try to explain with an example which is dear to me. I have a product called OBJ Export for SolidWorks, an OBJ file export add-in for SolidWorks. This add-in creates an OBJ file from a SolidWorks part or assembly. The header of the OBJ file contains the words “Created by SYCODE Geometry Library”. That way I can determine whether a particular OBJ file was created by my software or not. Otherwise I can find myself in a situation wherein a customer comes to me with a bad OBJ file created by someone other software and claims a refund by stating that my software did not create the OBJ file properly. This works the other way around as well. If my software did indeed create the OBJ file improperly, then the customer can demand a refund from me by using the OBJ file as proof.
Let me push a little bit further. Consider the IGES file format which is considered to be an open standard. The people who created the IGES file format made it mandatory for all software developers to insert their information into the header. In their words, this information should be “the complete vendor’s name, the name by which the system is marketed, and the product ID/version number and/or release date of software“. You can see that they wanted to know exactly who created the IGES file and when. In fact, if this information is missing, some IGES file reading software may report the file as invalid. Now the architects of the IGES file format are not some huge greedy corporation trying to get richer. So why did they insist that software developers put their information in the IGES files? Because they understood the importance of specifying the source of the files.
Another industry standard, the STEP file format, has a similar mechanism. So does the OpenNURBS 3DM file format, Spatial’s SAT format, and I could go on and on. The point which I am trying to make is that even though the user is the owner of his drawing file, the software developer has a right to add his information into the user’s drawing file. In fact, going by the IGES specification, this is not only a right, it is a duty.
You may ask, “Ok, software developers may have the right to add an identifier to my drawing file, but but why should the identifier be a trademark?” Good question. Suppose in the OBJ file example above I drop the word “SYCODE” add instead have the identfier as “Created by Geometry Library”. If I do this anybody can write software to create OBJ files with the same identifier and pass off as me. The trademarked word “SYCODE” gives me a strong legal footing to sue such people, which is exactly what Autodesk is doing.
Now to the center of all the confusion. I firmly believe that software developers have a right (and a duty) to specify a return address into a user’s file. But what is important is how they use that right. People (like the reader) are so blinded by Autodesk’s alleged misuse of this right, that they believe that Autodesk should have no right at all. My software does not create OBJ files so that they pop up dreadful messages. I am using this right responsibly.
I do not know how to stress this more. Software developers have the right. What is important is how they use it. They are two different things and please treat them as such.