Who owns the EDI formats of XchangeIT?

Recently, a well know EDI invoice supplier to our users; XchangeIT sent an email stating about Hallmark Cards.

"Hallmark will not be using the XchangeIT platform from the end of August 2015.........This also means that Delivery files, Sales data files, and Return data files using any XchangeIT file formats may not be used for Hallmark products, because this is XchangeIT Intellectual Property, which will no longer be allowed to be used after August 31st 2015."

This email brought up shock and a storm over who does own the copyright for these files.

What shocked me is this switch in XchangeIT policy. I have an old letter from XchangeIT committee that claims copyright on the delivery file format, but states that anyone is free to use this format.

The storm and what I find amazing is that this issue which XchangeIT claims a copyright and states "directly impact our income and our business, so we are obligated to take it seriously" is that this basic question of who owns the copyright on these formats is something they appear never to have established. Part of the reason I suspect this was not done is because much of what XchangeIT now claims copyright over is actually claimed by others too. For example, I remember listening to a heated argument between XchangeIT and Redstar ITC about 10 years ago over who owned what. For the record, our contention is that if anyone owns the copyright on these files, it would be us. We do have evidence that can support this view. However, it appears that others are making a similar claim to us as well. Still there are others who argue that you cannot copyright data formats and in any case, the files' format was released as open source. In reality, none of this mattered until now as no-one was interested in policing this claim. Although I do get a feeling talking to a few people that this view might change if XchangeIT does succeed in monetizing these file formats.

Still I think too many people have jumped in without checking on the facts.

The question is not only whether this claim is correct that these file formats are XchangeIT Intellectual Property? In this particular case, the situation may be more difficult as it is claimed that Hallmark Cards have signed an NDA that states in the event of termination, they are not allowed to use EDI using XchangeIT files specs or similar file types and also that Hallmark Cards have signed a License Agreement where they agree that the file specs and types are owned by XchangeIT. As such the claims over the discussion over the actual intellectual property of these files may not be relevant here. Who knows, perhaps Hallmark can claim that they signed this agreement thinking that XchangeIT did have the intellectual property, and they were mislead. Alternatively, possibly Hallmark has other file formats that they can quickly use. Alternatively, maybe they will drop EDI.

Another point which I do not know is important is that Hallmark were doing EDI before they joined XchangeIT.

So where this takes us, I have no idea. I suspect we need to wait on Hallmark lawyers.

Update: 25/8/2015

Readers here maybe interested that yesterday's post on the ownership of the EDI generated a fair amount of discussion.

I confess I do not know who owns the EDI formats (as several claim it), but I state that XchangeIT does not own them.

I queried this with several members on the pre XchangeIT board the ECG committee concerning these file formats.

Delivery Docket (DDO) V3.0.2
Sales Information Data (SLD) V3.0.2
Returns Form Notice (RTF) V3.0.2
Returns Information (RTD) V3.0.2

and I was told on 17/10/2007, quoting an earlier communication that.

"The Distributor Consortium is aware that there are other distributors who are sending EDI files to Newsagents in version 2.9.1 format. The Distributor Consortium will make the finalised V3 formats available to all these distributors to enable them to comply with the release of the Point of Sale software that supports the V3 format." so a distributor like Hallmark could use these latest formats.

I was also told that there was no copyright on these formats. I note that the attached specifications did not contain a copyright message on them either at that time.