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Network Working Group                                    B. E. Carpenter
Internet-Draft                                         Univ. of Auckland
Intended status: Informational                                9 May 2020
Expires: 10 November 2020

             Principles of the Request for Comments Series


   This document discusses the underlying principles of the Internet
   technical community's Request for Comments document Series.

Status of This Memo

   This Internet-Draft is submitted in full conformance with the
   provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

   Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering
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   This Internet-Draft will expire on 10 November 2020.

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   Please review these documents carefully, as they describe your rights
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Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
   2.  Background  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
   3.  Proposed Principles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
   4.  Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   5.  IANA Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   6.  Acknowledgements  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   7.  References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   Appendix A.  Change log [RFC Editor: Please remove] . . . . . . .   8
   Author's Address  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9

1.  Introduction

   This document was written as background material for ongoing
   discussions about the role of the Request for Comments (RFC) Series
   Editor (the RSE).  This version is purely personal opinion.  The
   author welcomes comments, best sent to the mailing list rfc-
   interest@rfc-editor.org if they concern the RFC Series in general, or
   to the mailing list rfced-future@iab.org if they concern the role of
   the RSE specifically.

   The RFC Series has a 50 year history, too long to summarise here, so
   the reader is assumed to be familiar with [RFC8700].  However, the
   Series does not appear to have a documented set of principles or a
   full charter.  This will make the obvious first task of the future
   RSE -- developing a strategy for the Series -- hard, if not
   impossible.  The goal of this document is to outline what those
   principles might be, for community debate.  Once the principles are
   clear, the next step could be to draft a full charter based on them,
   also for community debate.

   This document does not aim to provide a problem statement or gap
   analysis, and technical matters such as RFC formatting are completely
   out of scope.  Matters concerning the IETF standards process, and how
   it uses the Series, are also out of scope.  Some problems in the
   standards process are problems in how the IETF uses the RFC Series,
   not problems in the Series itself.  (Interested readers can find
   comments on that topic in [I-D.carpenter-request-for-comments].)

   The document starts with a review of existing background material
   that touches on principles of the Series, and then offers a set of
   proposed principles for debate.

2.  Background

   The RFC Editor web site states the following:

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   The RFC series contains technical and organizational documents
   about the Internet, including the specifications and policy
   documents produced by four streams: the Internet Engineering
   Task Force (IETF), the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF), the
   Internet Architecture Board (IAB), and Independent Submissions.

   This says little about underlying principles.  Instead, consider the
   original guidance from the author of the first RFC:

   I present here some of the tentative agreements reached and some of
   the open questions encountered.  Very little of what is here is firm
   and reactions are expected.

   [RFC0001], Steve Crocker, 7 April 1969.

   More recently, Steve wrote this in [RFC8700]:

   The basic ground rules were that anyone could say anything and
   that nothing was official. And to emphasize the point, I used
   Bill Duvall's suggestion and labeled the notes "Request for

   Partly as a result of this starting point, the tradition has always
   been that RFCs may be used rather freely, including reproduction in
   their entirety and translation into other languages.  In more recent
   years, the IETF has asserted change control over its own documents,
   even when published as RFCs, by virtue of the IETF Trust's legal
   conditions.  This raises the issue of who owns the copyright.  Some
   RFCs are considered to have been placed in the public domain as a
   result of being part of government funded projects.  Copyright in
   some others presumably belongs to their authors, or to those authors'
   employers.  To the extent legally possible, the copyright in the RFC
   Series currently belongs to the IETF Trust in addition to the

   For completeness, note that each RFC stream has its own policy on
   copyright and change control issues, not discussed in detail here.

   In any case, the question of copyright is not the same as asking who
   "owns" the RFC Series in an overall ethical and societal sense.  It
   is easy to establish who does _not_ own the Series:

   1.  The IETF does not own it, because the Series preceded the IETF by
       17 years.

   2.  Therefore the IESG does not own it.

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   3.  As noted, the IETF Trust only has limited intellectual property
       rights in some (but not all) RFCs.

   4.  At some point in history, both ARPA (who funded the ARPAnet) and
       USC/ISI (who provided RFC editing under contract) could have made
       a claim.  But that faded when a paid RFC Editor was directly
       contracted by ISOC.

   5.  ISOC could perhaps make a claim, having funded the Series for
       many years now.  ISOC has a broad purpose which certainly
       empowers it to support the RFC Series, but that does not imply
       control or ownership.

   6.  The IETF LLC, technically a subsidiary of ISOC, therefore does
       not own the Series either, although it does channel the contracts
       and money formerly handled directly by ISOC.

   7.  Finally, the Internet Architecture Board could make a claim based
       on its charter [RFC2850], which states that:

      The RFC series constitutes the archival publication channel
      for Internet Standards and for other contributions by the
      Internet research and engineering community. RFCs are available
      free of charge to anyone via the Internet. The IAB must approve
      the appointment of an organization to act as RFC Editor and the
      general policy followed by the RFC Editor.

       This text makes it clear that the RFC Series is much broader in
       scope than the IETF, and limits the IAB's authority to matters of
       general policy.

   A reasonable conclusion from the above is that none of the I*
   organisations (IETF Trust, IETF LLC, IETF, IESG, IAB or ISOC) can
   claim exclusivity of ownership or control over the RFC Series.

   Despite the limited authority granted by its own charter, the IAB has
   published various RFCs about the Series as a whole.  I quote here
   from two in particular.

   Firstly, [RFC8729] states as follows:

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   The RFC Series is the archival series dedicated to documenting
   Internet technical specifications, including general contributions
   from the Internet research and engineering community as well as
   standards documents.

   RFCs are available free of charge to anyone via the Internet.


   The RFC Editor is an expert technical editor and series editor,
   acting to support the mission of the RFC Series.  As such, the RFC
   Editor is the implementer handling the editorial management of the
   RFC Series, in accordance with the defined processes.  In addition,
   the RFC Editor is expected to be the expert and prime mover in
   discussions about policies for editing, publishing, and archiving


   The IAB monitors the effectiveness of the policies in force and their
   implementation to ensure that the RFC Editor activity meets the
   editorial management and document publication needs as referenced in
   this document.  In the event of serious non-conformance, the IAB,
   either on its own initiative or at the request of the IETF
   Administration LLC Board, may require the IETF Executive Director to
   vary or terminate and renegotiate the arrangements for the RFC Editor

   A second document clarifies that RFC Series Editor has considerable
   independence (in addition to the obvious independence of the
   Independent Series Editor).  To quote from [RFC8728]:

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   The RFC Editor function is responsible for
   the packaging and distribution of the documents.  As such, documents
   from these streams are edited and processed by the Production Center
   and published by the Publisher.  The RFC Series Editor will exercise
   strategic leadership and management over the activities of the RFC
   Publisher and the RFC Production Center (both of which can be seen as
   back-office functions) and will be the entity that:

   *  Represents the RFC Series and the RFC Editor function within the
      IETF and externally.

   *  Leads the community in the design of improvements to the RFC

   *  Is responsible for planning and seeing to the execution of
      improvements in the RFC Editor production and access processes.

   *  Is responsible for the content of the rfc-editor.org web site,
      which is operated and maintained by the RFC Publisher.

   *  Is responsible for developing consensus versions of vision and
      policy documents.  These documents will be reviewed by the RFC
      Series Oversight Committee (Section 3.1) and subject to its
      approval before final publication.

3.  Proposed Principles

   This section, in particular, needs community review.  Some of it is
   adapted from existing documents.

   1.  The RFC Series is the archival Series that documents Internet
       technical specifications, descriptions, and commentaries,
       including general contributions from the Internet research and
       engineering community, as well as standards documents.  It also
       includes some organisational documents from the same community.

   2.  All RFCs are available free of charge to anyone via the Internet.
       They may be freely translated in their entirety into any

   3.  RFCs come from various streams, i.e. originating organisations.
       Each stream has its own policy on change control and copyright,
       with the IETF Trust generally acting as a repository for
       intellectual property rights that are not retained by the

   4.  Request for Comments means Request for Comments.

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       *  There is an inherent modesty in calling our documents
          "requests for comments".  We get things wrong, we want
          comments, we want errata, we want operational feedback, and we
          want to go round that loop again.  This property is a useful
          counter-balance to any occurrence of groupthink in the

   5.  The RFC Series is community property and must operate on behalf
       of the community as a whole.

       *  The exact definition of the relevant community is open for
          debate.  One definition is: the IETF, the IRTF, the IAB and
          the many other people who have contributed to, or made use of,
          the RFC Series over the last fifty years.

   6.  Major decisions about the future of the RFC Series must be taken
       by a rough consensus of this very broad community.

       *  How to reach out to this community and judge its consensus is
          in itself a big question.

   7.  The RFC Series Editor is an independent professional editor,
       serving a much wider community than just the IETF.  Given the
       economic and social importance of the Internet, this is a serious
       responsibility, comparable to the editorship of a major newspaper
       of record.

       *  The five responsibilities quoted above from [RFC8728] apply.

   8.  The RFC Series Editor, while paid to serve the community, is a
       member of the same professional peer group as IAB members, IESG
       members, IETF and IRTF group chairs, and other experienced
       members of the technical community, each with their own distinct
       professional skills.

   9.  The position of RFC Series Editor answers to the community as a

       *  The grant of authority in the IAB charter should be reviewed
          in this light.

   In summary, the RFC Series exists for the Internet community as a
   whole, must retain its independence, openness and autonomy, and must
   continue to be managed by a senior professional editor.

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4.  Security Considerations

   Security issues are discussed in all recent RFCs.  This uniformity
   illustrates the coherence of the RFC Series and the way it has been
   used to ensure a degree of order in the chaotic world of Internet
   design, implementation and deployment.

5.  IANA Considerations

   This document makes no request of the IANA.

6.  Acknowledgements


7.  References

              Carpenter, B., "Request for Comments", Work in Progress,
              Internet-Draft, draft-carpenter-request-for-comments-01,
              19 June 2019, <https://tools.ietf.org/html/draft-

   [RFC0001]  Crocker, S., "Host Software", RFC 1, DOI 10.17487/RFC0001,
              April 1969, <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc1>.

   [RFC2850]  Internet Architecture Board and B. Carpenter, Ed.,
              "Charter of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB)",
              BCP 39, RFC 2850, DOI 10.17487/RFC2850, May 2000,

   [RFC8700]  Flanagan, H., Ed., "Fifty Years of RFCs", RFC 8700,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC8700, December 2019,

   [RFC8728]  Kolkman, O., Ed., Halpern, J., Ed., and R. Hinden, Ed.,
              "RFC Editor Model (Version 2)", RFC 8728,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC8728, February 2020,

   [RFC8729]  Housley, R., Ed. and L. Daigle, Ed., "The RFC Series and
              RFC Editor", RFC 8729, DOI 10.17487/RFC8729, February
              2020, <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc8729>.

Appendix A.  Change log [RFC Editor: Please remove]

   draft-carpenter-rfc-principles-00, 2020-05-09:

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   *  Initial version (some content based on draft-carpenter-request-

Author's Address

   Brian Carpenter
   School of Computer Science
   University of Auckland
   PB 92019
   Auckland 1142
   New Zealand

   Email: brian.e.carpenter@gmail.com

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