30 Years Ago World Wide Web Released Into Public Domain
Written by Sue Gee   
Friday, 05 May 2023

The World Wide Web (W3) was released into the public domain on April 30th, 1993 after CERN had been unable to interest either commercial software companies or the European Union in taking over responsibility for it.

More than 5 billion people, two thirds of the worldwide population, now rely on the internet regularly for research, industry, communications and entertainment. This can be seen as the consequence of a statement signed by  Walter Hoogland and Helmut Weber, who were respectively the Director of Research and Director of Administration of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) concerning the World Wide Web which put that technology  into the public domain on a royalty-free basis.


According to the document which had the title "Statement Concerning CERN W3 Software Release into Public Domain" and was addressed "To Whom it may concern":

CERN relinquishes all intellectual property rights to this code, both source and binary form, and permission is granted for anyone to use, duplicate, modify and redistribute it.

CERN's intention in this is to further compatibility, common practices, and standards in networking and computer supported collaboration.

This begs the question, why didn't CERN simply open source W3 - and the answer is simple 1993 predated the open source concept and at the time copyright licensing standards were in the very first stages of development. In fact as the  open source concept was further developed, in 1994, the next version of the software was released under an open source licence, as opposed to a public domain release. This meant that CERN still retained the copyright, but anybody who wished to could use and modify the Web freely.

If you don't already know why it was CERN that put the World Wide Web into the public domain, this video from 2019 when the Web celebrated the 30th Anniversary of W3 being invented by Tim-Berners Lee:

To mark the 30th anniversary of W3 being placed in the public domain CERN released a new video in which Walter Hoogland reflects on the the decision to share the technology and how most people would agree that the public release was the best thing that could have been done and was the source of the success of the World Wide Web.


More Information

30 years of a free and open Web

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Last Updated ( Friday, 05 May 2023 )