Markdown as genericized

Sean Leonard dev+ietf at
Thu Jul 10 00:07:21 EDT 2014

On 7/9/2014 6:32 PM, Fletcher T. Penney wrote:
> And in fact, Gruber has clearly stated that he did not intend to give 
> away the "Markdown" name:

I don't want to wade into this "what is Markdown and who gets to approve 
it" thing. But to the extent that this is what we know of John Gruber, 
it was said:

Yuri Takhteyev: /If/ Gruber decides he "despies" our specification, we 
should simply call it something other than "Markdown".

John Gruber: Just to be clear: in that case, you *must* call it 
something other than "Markdown".

/If/ Gruber decides he "despises" our specification, /then in that 
case/, John Gruber says that you *must* call it something other than 

All this is to say that Gruber does not say what will happen if he does 
not "despise" someone's specification. So unless he says that he 
"despises" your specification, we have nothing authoritative from him. 
And even if we did, I don't know if it matters.

The only other thing we have is that the original Markdown Perl script 
uses a 3-clause BSD-style license, which says:


    Neither the name "Markdown" nor the names of its contributors may be
    used to endorse or promote products derived from this software
    without specific prior written permission.

To be clear: this is a copyright license, and it only attaches to the 
software, Markdown Readme.text, and License.text in the 
distribution (reflexively). "Derived" means derived in the copyright law 
sense, as in, you prepared a derivative work. Taking the techniques of a 
software /or its documentation/ and implementing the same techniques (as 
in, doing what the Syntax document says Markdown is supposed to do) 
using your own expression, is neither a copyright law violation nor a 
trademark issue. Only patent law can prevent you from taking techniques 
and practicing them elsewhere.

I don't know if there is much to argue about. Perhaps nobody can rev and release Markdown 2.0 and call it "Markdown 2.0" (but 
obviously, they can call it something else). Interestingly, the Syntax 
webpage at <> has no 
license attached; all we know is that it is "Copyright © 2002--2014 The 
Daring Fireball Company LLC." Just because you invent words (or invent 
capitalizations to words) doesn't mean that you can now prevent others 
from using those words, unless of course you register them as 
trademarks, and enforce your rights.

The overall point being...ok, you can't call your specification 
Markdown, but you can call it "Markdown Syntax", since that isn't 
"Markdown". <g> And there is such as thing as Markdown syntax--it is the 
collection of techniques that one can use with inputs to /or 
other tools/, and expect certain outputs.

I think this is easy enough to understand if you replace "Markdown" with 
"grep". "grep" is a tool. When you refer to "grep" as a noun, you're 
referring to the command-line utility. But there is such a thing as 
"grep syntax" and "grep syntax" is a collection of techniques that are 
implemented in the original grep by Ken Thompson, as well as 
replacements to grep.

Just as FTP pointed out, some Markdown tools (MultiMarkdown) have modes 
or switches (-c) that make the tool more compatible with the original 
Markdown, versus more "feature-some". Similarly some grep tools have 
similar switches to enable or disable particular behaviors of their 

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