Reflections on the VideoPhone

Vannevar New Media, Inc. (
Mon, 1 May 1995 12:56:05 -0500

To Whom It May Concern:

I am a friend and colleague of Joseph Kahan, and before his misguided effort
at grass-roots Internet distribution, I was trying to help him with the
VideoPhone. Now that the sturm und drang of the whole fiasco has blown over,
it's worthwhile to revisit the episode and point out a few facts that may
have been lost in the frenzy of criticism.

One fact is clear:

Joe was wrong not have given appropriate credit in the ReadMe file that
accompanied the VideoPhone demo. He knows that he was wrong, regrets what he
did, and has apologized to all concerned.

Some facts that were overlooked:

- There *is* a novel idea behind the VideoPhone. The "VideoPhone
technology" employs CU-SeeMe and other existing software in combination to
permit point-to-point videoconferencing over ordinary phone lines. As far as I
know, Joe was the first one to do it. Other folks are only now taking the inital
steps necessary to achieve it.

- Based on the license issued by Cornell, it is *not* illegal to develop
and distribute---even for profit---a modified version of CU-SeeMe provided it is
based on the 0.7 version and not on a later version. The license issued by
Cornell with 0.7 permits modification. The license issued with 0.8 does not
permit modification, though it does permit redistribution for profit. To the
extent that Joe violated any copyrights, it was only because he was using 0.8
and relying on the 0.7 license.

- Joe didn't upload the VideoPhone demo to info-mac; he doesn't know who
did. Joe *did* create a homepage and distribute the demo from it, without proper
credit to the CU-SeeMe team and as noted above, deeply regrets it.

In summary:

Joe had a legal and ethical right to market the VideoPhone concept
commercially provided he gave proper credit to the CU-SeeMe developers. In
the live demos that I attended, and in all documentation we provided to
third parties, proper credit was always given to Cornell. I do not condone
what he did on the Internet. Had he shown his homepage to me first, I would
have told him what was wrong with it. But portraying him as a fast-buck
artist who simply ResEdited CU-SeeMe and tried to resell it is wrong. He
spent a lot of time getting the VideoPhone system to work and had every
right to try to market it.

What now?

Well, Cornell and White Pine have gone to some trouble to put together a
licensing system that will encourage development and provide revenue to the
University to continue its work. While it is permissible to develop 0.7
without them, it makes sense for people like Joe to use the resources
available through the licensing system and he will do just that. We look
forward to working with Joe and other developers to bring this terrific
technology to the marketplace.

So ends the Great VideoPhone Fiasco.


Michael Roberts
Vannevar New Media, Inc.