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Music Media Patents Software Linux

Real Pays For Legal MP3 Playback On Linux 618

Posted by timothy
from the stepping-up-to-the-plate dept.
kforeman (aka Kevin Foreman, GM of Helix RealNetworks, Inc.) writes "As part of the free RealPlayer 10 for Linux, Real has paid Thomson for a legal MP3 playback license and then includes it at no cost as part of the newly released RealPlayer 10. As I speak to people, many are under the false impression that MP3 playback patent and royalty rights are free, since there are open source implementations of MP3 playback available. Not true. Nonetheless, we are glad to do our part of making the Linux desktop a first class citizen by legally providing MP3 playback to users via our new RealPlayer."
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Real Pays For Legal MP3 Playback On Linux

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 24, 2005 @08:34AM (#11454303)
    Will this introduce spyware into Linux?

    I notice the page signature reads "Shit Happens"

    hmm...
  • Strange... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 24, 2005 @08:34AM (#11454304)
    "making the Linux desktop a first class citizen"

    Shouldn't that last bit read "corporate whore?"
  • Well damn (Score:2, Funny)

    by bugbeak (711163)
    Linux-based jukebox, anyone?
  • no surprise (Score:3, Interesting)

    by l3v1 (787564) on Monday January 24, 2005 @08:35AM (#11454307)
    Well, reading the standard, then implementing one's own decoder would be legal - naah, quite a dreamworld. Would be good if it were so, it even would be logical to quite an extent, unless you like waking up by smelling patent litigation papers.

    • Re:no surprise (Score:2, Insightful)

      by antifoidulus (807088)
      Um, the people who have the patents are the ones that made the standard. They didn't have to publish it at all if they didn't want to. If you don't like the fact that MP3 is patented, use OGG or other non-patented formats. The MP3 patent isn't like one-click where they patented something very obvious(such as a digital form for storing music), they patented their algorithm. Like I said, it's not the only algorithm available, and if you don't like the patent, don't use the stuff. Simple as that. Not eve
      • Here is an alternative --- I can dislike the patent and use MP3's also. If you don't like people "borrowing" your stuff, keep it to yourself.
        • Re:no surprise (Score:5, Insightful)

          by sepluv (641107) <`blakesley' `at' `gmail.com'> on Monday January 24, 2005 @08:59AM (#11454430) Homepage
          If you don't like people "borrowing" your stuff, keep it to yourself.
          Actually the whole point of a patent is that you invent something that takes time and effort and you tell everyone about it instead of keeping it a trade secret. As a reward for not keeping it to yourself, you are given a monopoly on it for a few years (stopping others from using your idea).

          Of course, this patent is not really a valid patent as it is not on an invention (and didn't take time and effort and there's probably prior art and it would likely not have been kept a trade secret).

          • Re:no surprise (Score:2, Interesting)

            by mabinogi (74033)
            >Actually the whole point of a patent is that you invent something that takes time and effort and you tell everyone about it instead of keeping it a trade secret. As a reward for not keeping it to yourself, you are given a monopoly on it for a few years (stopping others from using your idea).

            Yup, with you so far.

            > Of course, this patent is not really a valid patent as it is not on an invention
            Well, that's a point of contention. Obviously the Patent Office thought it was, and there's certainly plent
            • It did not take the time and effort that a real physical invention (e.g.: a washing machine) requires, and that the inventors of the patent system (who thankfully (or maybe not so) didn't get a patent on their idea...oh wait...) envisaged being required for a patent to be granted.

              Someone could invent this from their armchair and it is just a mathematical formula.

              • Re:no surprise (Score:3, Informative)

                by l3pYr (754852)
                It did not take the time and effort that a real physical invention (e.g.: a washing machine) requires, and that the inventors of the patent system (who thankfully (or maybe not so) didn't get a patent on their idea...oh wait...) envisaged being required for a patent to be granted.

                Someone could invent this from their armchair and it is just a mathematical formula.

                You do not patent a physical item, you patent the devices for creating the physical item. Do you think you ship a new washing machine down to

              • by Angostura (703910) on Monday January 24, 2005 @09:37AM (#11454644)
                What? You think 'A water filled drum attached to an electric motor' was tough to invent, compared to an encoding and compression algorithm?
          • Bingo! Software copyrights are understandable. Software patents are ridiculous.

            I'm very choosy about which laws I break.
      • Re:no surprise (Score:5, Interesting)

        by fireboy1919 (257783) <{rustyp} {at} {freeshell.org}> on Monday January 24, 2005 @09:01AM (#11454445) Homepage Journal
        How did it become a standard, though? It became a standard because free mp3 players or advertising revenue based mp3 players didn't have to pay a fee. Then the company changed that policy.

        In other words, because they weren't enforcing their IP rights, people figured they were up for grabs. Otherwise, nobody would have used mp3 at all. It's not like its the only encoding technique of its kind; every step in mp3 was actually invented by someone else, and each step is freely available.

        Somebody correct me if I'm wrong here, but if you give away an intellectual property right, isn't taking it back legally questionable?
      • Re:no surprise (Score:4, Informative)

        by Halo1 (136547) <<eb.tnegu.sile> <ta> <ebeam.sanoj>> on Monday January 24, 2005 @09:22AM (#11454555) Homepage
        they patented their algorithm
        They patented a ton of high level algorithms in fact, including [ffii.org] compressing (using any compression algorithm) a sample in a loop until it can be represented in the desired number of bits, as long as you use spectral analysis up front and huffman coding (or another entropic encoder) inside the loop.

        That's not specific to mp3 at all, that's more like a patent on constant bit rate encoding (if you use an entropic encoder inside the loop). The mp3 patent holders initially couldn't even believe themselves [com.com] that ogg did not infringe on any of their (broad) patents.

      • Re:no surprise (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ajs318 (655362)

        Um, the people who have the patents are the ones that made the standard. They didn't have to publish it at all if they didn't want to.

        No, they didn't have to publish it. But what if someone else discovered the algorithm independently? The ugly {well, ugly for fatcat corporations; for mathematicians and scientists, it's really quite beautiful} fact is, MP3 encoding and decoding are nothing more than mathematical processes and as such should fall squarely outside the scope of patentability in any count

  • Distributions? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dorward (129628) on Monday January 24, 2005 @08:35AM (#11454310) Homepage Journal

    I wonder if Real are positioning themselves to get their client distributed with distributions. We might finally see Fedora (et al) with an mp3 player.

    I wonder what the license says about redistributing the client? Would Fedora et al be able to distribute it?

    In the meantime, I'll stick to Gentoo since they are happy to provide source code for all sorts of mp3 players.

    • Re:Distributions? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Nichotin (794369) on Monday January 24, 2005 @08:40AM (#11454328)
      "We" should be careful with bundling proprietary applications that are free to use. You end up using all the proprietary applications, and freedom will vanish. It will also slow down Linux adoption on other platforms if the applications people use are proprietary.
      • Re:Distributions? (Score:3, Informative)

        by eraserewind (446891)
        Well, Helix is available under an (OSI certified) open source licence. Only the Real Audio/Video codecs are binary only. Parts of it are also available under the GPL. See https://helixcommunity.org/content/licenses [helixcommunity.org]
        • If Real paid the US$60,000 one-time MP3 license fee and added the MP3 decoder to HelixPlayer, would HelixPlayer's MP3 decoder constitute a legal free software MP3 player for users in software patent-burdened countries like the US?

          As it is, I don't see how this story is any more interesting than running Windows Media Player or WinAMP via WINE on an i386-based GNU/Linux system.
      • You end up using all the proprietary applications, and freedom will vanish.

        Ok, people fall into at least 1 of 2 camps.
        1. Zealot: use Free software no matter how painful.
        2. "Normal": use whatever software does the best job, is easiest to use, etc.

        Now, I have no problem with (1), as long as they realize that (2) will use Free software if it does the best job. This is just how it should be (obviously, I'm in the (2) crowd).

        See, that's true freedom: the ability to thoughtfully choose the application t
        • Re:Distributions? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by mystik (38627) on Monday January 24, 2005 @10:37AM (#11455081) Homepage Journal
          Your correct, but you have to remember which freedoms the zealots are fighting for. They're fighting for the right to modify, improve and redistribute software.

          Unfortunatly, most of the general public has no use for these freedoms, since they're not software developers.

          Software like realplayer can legally be distributed for free because Real, Inc. has done the legal footwork to license other codecs. This makes Helix player "the best choice" by default since no open source alternative can legally exist. (thanks to patents and what not)
        • Re:Distributions? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by jc42 (318812) on Monday January 24, 2005 @12:47PM (#11456656) Homepage Journal

          Ok, people fall into at least 1 of 2 camps.
          1. Zealot: use Free software no matter how painful.
          2. "Normal": use whatever software does the best job, is easiest to use, etc.


          No, #2 should be called "geek". The real definition of "normal" is:

          3. "Normal": Use whatever came with the computer they bought because it was heavily advertised and "everyone uses it". If they can't find software to do the job, they copy some app from a buddy's machine, or as a last resort laboriously download something from whatever web site their browser directed them to.

          A major part of the problem with the "market" arguments is that for most people, there really is no market for software. That is, people don't decide in any meaningful sense what software to use, and they don't make informed choices among competing apps (or OSs). They are totally baffled by the supposed "market", and mostly just use whatever someone offers them.

          In the computing field, doing comparison shopping immediately qualifies one for the "geek" label.

    • Re:Distributions? (Score:2, Informative)

      by nileshbansal (665019)
      The licence file says
      Helix DNA Technology Binary Research Use License
      REDISTRIBUTION NOT PERMITTED

      Rad Complete license [helixcommunity.org].
      • Of course, individual distros could negotiate a different license. (Debian couldn't though, they're guidelines don't allow "special exception for Debain" licenses).
        • (Debian couldn't though, they're guidelines don't allow "special exception for Debain" licenses).

          Of course; a special exception for Debain would be no use to the Debian project.

    • Re:Distributions? (Score:3, Informative)

      by robla (4860) *
      I wonder if Real are positioning themselves to get their client distributed with distributions.

      Yes [realnetworks.com], we [realnetworks.com] are [realnetworks.com].

      Rob Lanphier
      Development Support Manager
      RealNetworks
  • by Dancin_Santa (265275) <DancinSanta@gmail.com> on Monday January 24, 2005 @08:38AM (#11454320) Journal
    Real, all these operating systems are yours, except Linux. Do not attempt any loadings onto Linux.
  • Real (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DenDave (700621) on Monday January 24, 2005 @08:40AM (#11454327)
    Noble of them.. however we prefer to use non-proprietary stuff though.. So, ogg-vorbis is the way.. Now if Real were to use ogg in their commercial products so (and maybe challenge the ipod with ogg player hooked up to their online music store???) we wouldn't need proprietary licenses then we would all bow down and hail the penguin lova!
    • Re:Real (Score:3, Interesting)

      by BJH (11355)
      Well, I agree that proprietary software is not preferable, but if you'd bothered to RTFA, you would have seen that RealPlayer can (apparently) play back Ogg Vorbis files.
    • Yep, 99% of my music collection is in Vorbis format (q=6). I plan on eventually re-ripping everything in FLAC when I can afford the disk space.
    • Re:Real (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Twanfox (185252)
      I listened to MP3 vs Ogg. Yes, I've heard a difference in clarity at low encoding rates. Yes, I've also not noticed much of a difference at higher encoding rates (say, 160bps variable in MP3). What I have noticed is that, while I would prefer to encode my things to Ogg, the lack of HARDWARE that natively supports the Ogg format is a serious drawback.

      One of the little toys on my wish list does have Ogg support, but 99% of my music has been ripped in MP3 format. Converting that to Ogg gets me nothing. Reripp
      • Re:Real (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ZephyrXero (750822)
        The only way Ogg Vorbis is ever going to take off is if people start using them heavily and demand that it be included in their players. If everyone just waits around for it to happen, it never will.
        • No. It's a bit problematic to use something heavily when you are unable to use it except in some small little corner. What you need is the desire to use it, and quite a big desire, and petition the companies to include support for said format in their devices. MP3 support, Real support, WMA support.. all those things quite likely got included into hardware devices because the patent owners or interested parties said "Hey, let's get this thing done to benefit the both of us".

          You're right. Waiting will not b
  • by ceeam (39911) on Monday January 24, 2005 @08:40AM (#11454332)
    Real are supposed to be evil! And it turns out they read slashdot! [eyes crossing. blackout]
  • by pedestrian crossing (802349) on Monday January 24, 2005 @08:41AM (#11454336) Homepage Journal
    I have a SB Live! card that has hardware mp3 decoding built-in, but the linux drivers support it. I assume I paid for a license as part of the purchase price of the card. I feel no qualms about using LAME, etc. and in fact they are doing a great service to those of us who already paid but are unable to use that capablility on our OS of choice...
  • by scharkalvin (72228) on Monday January 24, 2005 @08:42AM (#11454341) Homepage
    The patent holder for the mp3 codic has never gone after distributors of "free" mp3 players, so long as they were not being used in a for profit product. So download the source and build it for yourself..no worries. (Not true with mp3 ENCODERS, however you can still download bladeenc or lame sources). However because this limits your freedom you won't find an MP3 player in Debain main. Since Real won't give you the source, it isn't 'free' either, again Debain won't distribute it, even if Real says they can.
  • by sepluv (641107) <`blakesley' `at' `gmail.com'> on Monday January 24, 2005 @08:43AM (#11454343) Homepage
    From Thomson's MP3 Licensing FAQ [mp3licensing.com]:
    no license is needed for private, non-commercial activities (e.g., home-entertainment, receiving broadcasts and creating a personal music library), not generating revenue or other consideration of any kind or for entities with an annual gross revenue less than US$ 100 000.00.
    That applies to decoding and encoding.

    Also, does anyone know were the patent on decoding is so we can check whether it is valid (in the USA--it is obviously invalid in the free (i.e.: non-US) world)?

    And, if you don't want to be sued, use a free and better lossy format (e.g.: Ogg Vorbis for music or Ogg Speex for speech).

    • by Lumpy (12016) on Monday January 24, 2005 @08:55AM (#11454407) Homepage
      And, if you don't want to be sued, use a free and better lossy format (e.g.: Ogg Vorbis for music or Ogg Speex for speech).


      you mean if you do not want to use your portable devices anymore use OGG.

      I love ogg, but it is worthless to 90% of us that use mp3.

      my car stereo does not support it, my home stereo's high end player does not support it and the 5 different portable players in the house does not support it.

      therefore it is not a choice.

      Until people pester the hell out of the player makers to support ogg, it will stay a special segment that very few use.

      players like the audiotron and other home stero players can support it but the developers are being asses and refuse to add it. many portables certianly have the power to use it and again, the makers are intentionally refusing to use it.

      until large numbers of people ask for OGG support and flood the support channels of the player makers it will never be supported.

      I suggest that many here pice a few mp3 player makers and get at least 5 friends to mail the support email address asking for ogg support.

      Until then, OGG is not the answer to anyone.
    • There are several patents related to MP3 listed here [mp3licensing.com]. MPEG.org has a FAQ [mpeg.org] about licensing.
  • oh well (Score:5, Insightful)

    by indianropeburn (669243) on Monday January 24, 2005 @08:44AM (#11454351) Homepage Journal
    This still doesn't make Real Player a good choice for media playback.
    • i'm amaz....buffering...ed that Real is still pum...buffering...ping out products. i don't kn...buffering...ow a single person that has used a Real pro...buffering...duct for longer than it took to view that o...buffering...n...buffering...e file they downloaded and found out it was in realplayer for...buffering...mat aftewards.

      I've managed to go without using real at all for many years now. I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything.
  • Props to them (Score:3, Insightful)

    by m50d (797211) on Monday January 24, 2005 @08:45AM (#11454360) Homepage Journal
    They've done a very good thing for linux here. I say ta very much to them.

    And yet the slashbots will still find a way to make them appear evil. After all, they're competing with apple.

    • I suggest you check the spyware they put in their Windows version. It's only a matter of time before alot of people use the Linux version (it's easier after all) and they slip something in that.
      • There actually isn't any spyware in the most recent versions, and they've got a lot less bloated.

        I'll be the first to admit Real used to be one of the worst companies around, but they really do seem to have improved recently.
    • They've done a very good thing for linux here.

      I honestly don't understand what you mean. What is the "very good thing" they've done?

      AFAICT, they're appealing to the very dubious claim that the MP3 patents cover decoding in order to promote their proprietary software. This is the classic FUD tactic: "Using a product competing with ours will cause you legal trouble!"

    • Re:Props to them (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Kjella (173770) on Monday January 24, 2005 @09:21AM (#11454548) Homepage
      And yet the slashbots will still find a way to make them appear evil.

      I'm sorry, but there's something to "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." No matter how apparently good Real is acting, I ask "What are they trying to pull now?" Lock-in? Bait and switch? Embrace and extend? I mean if I got to pick my brand of poison among closed source and DRM, the ranking is:

      1. Apple, the "benevolent" master. Not really all that angelic as the slashdot crowd say they are, but at least they pretend not to be harsh.

      2. Microsoft, menacing and harsh, but at least you know where you got them. One Microsoft way, all the way. The sheer market power makes you their puppet.

      3. Real, the sleezy and creepy master. Isn't the menacing type, but you never knows what he'll do next. The kind you should fear with good reason.

      Of course, there should be an option "none of the above"....

      Kjella
      • Re:Props to them (Score:5, Insightful)

        by IamTheRealMike (537420) <mike@plan99.net> on Monday January 24, 2005 @10:37AM (#11455083) Homepage
        Apple isn't benevolent in the slightest. They haven't supported Linux whatsoever, and have actively required companies writing software for Linux to license their patents.

        Sorry, but of all of them only Real is actually trying to improve - Apple just coast along on the basis of their fans ludicrous brand loyalty, Microsoft coast along on the basis of their monopoly and piles of cash, meanwhile Real has been contributing to open source and cleaning up their software, as well as making it portable to Linux. I say, good for them, and I'm certainly willing to give them a second chance.

    • Re:Props to them (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cgenman (325138)
      Real has been doing a good job of turning themselves around recently. They've gone from one of the most bloated, dated, spyware-riddled, unstable, closed application to a less-bloated, more modern, more reliable application. Real went from being a colonizer of people's machines to a well-behaved tool. I've even started using their app again to play back Real files (despite the existence of Real Alternative [majorgeeks.com]).

      And now they have a linux client. And they paid Thompson for MP3 playback rights on their Linux
  • 8. If the distribution and/or use of the Program is restricted in
    certain countries either by patents or by copyrighted interfaces, the
    original copyright holder who places the Program under this License
    may add an explicit geographical distribution limitation excluding
    those countries, so that distribution is permitted only in or among
    countries not thus excluded. In such case, this License incorporates
    the limitation as if written in the body of this License.
  • AT LAST!!! (Score:3, Funny)

    by ducklord (770855) on Monday January 24, 2005 @08:48AM (#11454373)
    It was time! Up until now, you fired an mp3 player and you could hear all your MP3s with no problems whatsoever! Now, for the first time in Linux, you`ll be able to load an mp3 player (among other things) and, guess what, you'll be able to hear all your MP3s with no problems whatsoever! Ain`t it great? ...err....or something...
  • I can hear outrage from RMS already! Licensing proprietary technology for use with GNU/Linux? Next people will start using the Flash plugin too! It's a slippery sloap.
  • by shurdeek (571257) on Monday January 24, 2005 @08:49AM (#11454377)
    The MP3 "license" is of course for a software patent, and hence only enforceable in USA and Japan at the moment. Check out the previous news "EU Software Patents Delayed Again". If your are a developer living in EU, this doesn't apply to you.

    Yours sincerely,
    shurdeek
    • I live in Europe (in Poland - yes, once again I'm proud of that :)) but I'm still interested in patent issues.

      Regardless of all /.ers' bitching - kudos to Real, now everyone can install RealPlayer, chmod 000 (if you're that paranoid about Real's spy/ad/mal-ware) all files inside its folder and legally play MP3 with their favourite decoder.
  • Does Real f#ck up Linux systems in the same way it f#cks up Windows systems?!

    • Re:Question (Score:2, Interesting)

      by j.blechert (726395)
      Well, actually no. I installed the real player gold to be able to watch tagesschau.de streams and it works like a charm. Installation is a breeze and aside from the obligatory trouble with sound servers it works good aswell, it features a nice gtk+2 interface which is perfectly responsible in any means. If I would figure out how to play avi files etc. (it says that this is possible via plugins, however I didn't find any) it would be my favorite player.
      Of course there are some features missing, for example c
  • Sorry folks... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gandy909 (222251) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [909ydnag]> on Monday January 24, 2005 @08:58AM (#11454422) Homepage Journal
    ...but there's nary a software package I despise nore than Real. Those clowns continually teeter so close the edge of being ad/spy/malware it isn't even funny. They don't play nice with others, and they definately qualify as bloatware as far as I am concerned...
    • There actually isn't any spyware in the most recent versions, and they've got a lot less bloated. I'll be the first to admit Real used to be one of the worst companies around, but they really do seem to have improved recently.
  • Speaking of open source decoders, is there a good decoder that's LGPL or BSD licensed? I found both smpeg and mpglib unable to playback correctly certain mp3 files that play just in Winamp or iTunes.

    - Andreas
  • Sounds like Kevin Foreman would be a fun choice for a new /. interview.
  • does realplayer 10 play fair and allow the users other programs to access the codecs? or can we only use this codec with their player.
  • Despite desperate attempts to change the EU's policy, software patents aren't recognised in the EU. Still, I use Vorbis anyway, so I don't care.
  • Yo, Apple! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Cow007 (735705)
    I think that its high time for Apple to release a version of iTunes in binary form for linux. They did it on Windows and they are making money from ITMS they could do the same on linux for sure.
  • No im serious, who really gives a damn at this point if its 'licensed' or not.

    Not including some big corporation of course, I'm taking users here.

    I bet you can count them on one hand.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 24, 2005 @09:46AM (#11454709)
    Excerpted from the URL above:

    II.a) Software DECODERS

    *****

    Q. I wish to distribute a FREE MPEG Layer-3 software decoder on my WEB-site. Do I have to pay royalties?

    A. For the FREE distribution of decoders we do not charge a royalty. At the Fraunhofer IIS and OPTICOM web-sites you can find the players we have developed and which may be downloaded for FREE also. Fraunhofer IIS and OPTICOM do not give any technical support for the free players. Emails complaining about bugs in free software will not be answered!

    More in general, as long as desktop software decoders are distributed free-of-charge for personal use, no license fee is expected. However, in all cases we expect that MPEG Layer-3 products reference the licensors, like "MPEG Layer-3 audio compression technology licensed by Fraunhofer IIS and THOMSON multimedia".

    *****

    Q. And what if I sell the software decoder?

    A. In this case, the royalty per decoder is US $ 1,00. We just remark that we have not asserted our patents against decoders of which less than 10 000 units have been sold.

  • by Gallech (804178) on Monday January 24, 2005 @09:54AM (#11454768) Homepage
    A couple of things...firstly, the Real Helix 10 player is not as adware-intensive as the old RealOne player. In fact, I'd say its pretty clean.

    Secondly, there is a big difference between a simple MP3 or Ogg Vorbis capable client and an actual stream player. Playing your MP3s and movies off your hard drive is not the end all of streaming...in fact, its not really streaming at all, but rather decoding and/or progressive downloading. How about live streaming from an actual broadcast? For that, you need an actual stream client: Windows Media Player, Real Player, Quick Time, and Flash with its content server.

    Besides Real Helix, what other live network stream clients with actual stream servers are there for Linux? Unless we can name a couple of decent live streaming alternatives, perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to slam everything Real does?

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