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    Volume 9 Issue 20| May 14, 2010|

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The Fight Over Fonts

Sabhanaz Rashid Diya

In light of a recent article by Mustafa Jabbar, the proprietor of Bijoy (popular Bangla input system), the controversy surrounding the development of English to Bangla computing and infringement towards expression through free language, have surged the local blogosphere. The offset was simple--a claim by Jabbar against Avro--a freeware Bangla input software --being a pirated or hacked version of his patented Bijoy. Following the provoked responses refuting his claim, Jabbar clarified that he did not have a problem with Avro itself, rather with the keyboard layout UniBijoy (i.e. one of the four layouts used in Avro), which he believed was a pirated version of his copyrighted Bijoy layout.

Before we move on, one needs to understand why--according to most--the basis of Jabbar's accusation stands on shaky grounds. Firstly, Bijoy follows ASCII and requires specific fonts, which are mapped into Bangla letters; whereas Avro uses Unicode and does not require a physical Bangla keyboard or specifically installed fonts. While the former is limited by the standards of a few characters set by ASCII, the latter has access to a support of innumerable characters and accommodates multiple languages without restrictions. Using the Avro phonetic transliteration system, users can generate Bangla words from Roman typefaces with amazing ease. Secondly, a keyboard layout can be defined 'hacked' or 'pirated' if it is the exact replica of its competitor. In case of Avro, it shares an 8-keystroke difference with that of Bijoy's layout. In situations where a single key difference can result in the making of an entirely new keyboard layout, the accusation of the two aforementioned layouts being the same is irrelevant. Thirdly, Bijoy is a closed source software and requires the purchase of license for it to be used, meanwhile Avro is freeware and available to anyone and everyone without spending a dime. The source code of the former cannot be hacked to programme the latter. In a nutshell, Avro is certainly not a pirated version based on the groundwork laid by Bijoy and have yet to be proven otherwise. On the contrary, it accommodates the smooth use of our mother tongue with remarkable ease and literally free of cost, eventually making its predecessors obsolete.

Truth is, in spite of our minor differences, we all love the simplicity and vibrancy of our motherland, and share a deep-rooted connection with our mother tongue. In every possible situation, particularly in a space where Bangla is not the default mode of expression, Bengalis feel the urge to establish their language and converse with it. We are looking for an outlet that allows us to express ourselves in Bangla across any virtual network in a matter of seconds and without paying a price. In that vein, Avro has truly been groundbreaking by allowing thousands of users to write in Bangla in the largest mass media possible without having to learn complex keyboard codes and spending five grands. It has managed to effectively realise a common dream and have successfully hyped the use of Bangla over the Internet and other media.

However, the success of Avro was further boosted when the Election Commission used the software to develop what is yet the largest digital database project in Bangladesh, i.e. the Voter ID and National ID project. In his post, Mehdi Hasan from Avro writes:

“The Election Commission initially chose a software that would allow them to input large numbers of data in Bangla; but realised that the software required purchase of individual licenses for individual laptops. Since in the Voter ID and National ID project, hundreds of laptops will be used, buying individual licenses will cumulate into a massive expenditure. To save that money, the EC decided to develop their own software and gave the project to a BUET faculty.

“The BUET faculty developed the system and kept Avro as the medium to be used to input data. It was easy to use and available for free, so naturally, it came as a preference. In return, I only asked the EC to provide me with a certificate stating Avro was used in the Voter ID and National ID project, and allowed them to use the software without charging any money.”

In a telephone interview, Jabbar explains how word of mouth or “virtual” claims do not suffice as evidence, and legal references should be given to prove that Avro's UniBijoy is, in fact, not a pirated version of Bijoy. He says, “I'll see what actions Copyright Registrar takes on the issue. If they can resolve it, I don't need to take any further steps. Given the provocative and defaming language used against me, it seems as though my biggest mistake was simply making Bijoy. Yet, the person who has copied my keyboard and distributed openly in a website has not apparently committed any crime.”

He also says, “Avro is not open source, rather a freeware. Open source means that the software's source is publicly open. Avro's Windows version does not have its source open. Many freeware in the world were distributed free of cost initially, and charged for its proceeding versions. It's almost like creating hype that you're distributing something for free. I have no problem with free distribution of your own software, but why will you distribute someone else's work? He himself has admitted 99 percent has been copied, and now he is claiming 8-keystroke differences!”

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