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Google Chrome's Inclusion of FFMpeg Vs. the LGPL 245

Posted by timothy
from the to-make-one's-head-spin dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Google has recently added FFMpeg to Chrome to better support HTML5's video element. FFMpeg is licensed under LGPL 2.1, which states that 'if a patent license would not permit royalty-free redistribution of the Library by all those who receive copies directly or indirectly through you, then the only way you could satisfy both it and this License would be to refrain entirely from distribution of the Library.' Google admits to having obtained a patent license for their use, but still claims they are not violating LGPL. Among the confused we find Håkon Wium Lie and Miguel de Icaza, who wonders what FSF might say. Google doesn't feel like asking FSF for clarification."
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Google Chrome's Inclusion of FFMpeg Vs. the LGPL

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  • Oh Miguel (Score:2, Informative)

    by binarylarry (1338699)

    It's not surprising that Miguel wants in on this.

    What projects has he worked on in the past decade that didn't revolve around patents by Microsoft or others?

  • by TD-Linux (1295697) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @08:06PM (#28245491)

    So, what you're telling us is that although all of us in the States have been using FFMpeg illegally without a license for years, when someone finally decides to try and be legal and purchase a license, now they are still in the wrong?

    Sounds like the FFMpeg people need to start dual-licensing or something - from what I can tell they are OK with people obtaining licenses to use FFMpeg.

    Of course, I'm still missing the biggest point here - since when do they need FFMpeg for HTML 5 support? It doesn't require any patented codecs, and they could always use DirectShow filters.

    • Of course, I'm still missing the biggest point here - since when do they need FFMpeg for HTML 5 support? It doesn't require any patented codecs, and they could always use DirectShow filters.

      Not if they want to port it to Mac or Linux, which, while it's coming glacially slow, is indeed coming.

    • by Wesley Felter (138342) <wesley@felter.org> on Sunday June 07, 2009 @08:39PM (#28245735) Homepage

      So, what you're telling us is that although all of us in the States have been using FFMpeg illegally without a license for years, when someone finally decides to try and be legal and purchase a license, now they are still in the wrong? Sounds like the FFMpeg people need to start dual-licensing or something

      Exactly. Unfortunately, they'll probably just say "we don't care about patents" [ffmpeg.org] which doesn't help anyone.

      Of course, I'm still missing the biggest point here - since when do they need FFMpeg for HTML 5 support? It doesn't require any patented codecs, and they could always use DirectShow filters.

      In reality Theora isn't that great and Google probably wants to save bandwidth, so they support H.264. Since XP/Vista includes no H.264 decoder, Google has to ship their own.

  • And it doesn't (Score:5, Insightful)

    by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Sunday June 07, 2009 @08:17PM (#28245551) Homepage Journal

    if a patent license would not permit royalty-free redistribution of the Library by all those who receive copies directly or indirectly through you, then the only way you could satisfy both it and this License would be to refrain entirely from distribution of the Library

    See that word "if"? The patent license permits royalty-free redistribution of the Library... so it's not an issue.

    Similarly, we've heard nothing from the authors of the Library - you know, the copyright owners, the only ones who have any legal standing? So maybe the peanut gallery should shut the hell up already.

    • Re:And it doesn't (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mrsteveman1 (1010381) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @08:24PM (#28245599)

      Internet rule #28854, everyone has a right to complain about everything.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Stumbles (602007)
      If the peanut gallery did shut the hell up.... Slashdot would not exist. Come to think about it, Slashdot is the pachyderms heaven.
    • The patent license permits royalty-free redistribution of the Library

      I doubt that. [mpegla.com]

      For branded encoder and decoder products sold both to end users and on an OEM basis for incorporation into personal computers but not part of an operating system, royalties per legal entity are 0 - 100,000 units per year = no royalty; US $0.20 per unit after first 100,000 units each year; above 5 million units per year, royalty = US $0.10 per unit.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      if a patent license would not permit royalty-free redistribution of the Library by all those who receive copies directly or indirectly through you, then the only way you could satisfy both it and this License would be to refrain entirely from distribution of the Library

      See that word "if"? The patent license permits royalty-free redistribution of the Library... so it's not an issue.

      Similarly, we've heard nothing from the authors of the Library - you know, the copyright owners, the only ones who have any legal standing? So maybe the peanut gallery should shut the hell up already.

      By any downstream user whatsoever, and any possible one downstream from them? Even if I were to download this library from Google and resell it for profit? Even if IBM were to do the same?

      If Google really does have me, and IBM, and any other possible reuser covered for distribution of any possible type, that's fine. Otherwise, if there are conceivable circumstances under which a patent could prohibit a downstream user from redistribution, they're violating the license. I don't know what's so hard about the

      • by QuantumG (50515) *

        What's really funny about that part of the license is that it really isn't saying anything. It's like a statement of fact. They might as well have added "If you eat too many bananas you'll get a tummy ache". They make no requirements or restrictions. It's unsolicited legal advice at best.

        Section 11 even ends in:

        This section is intended to make thoroughly clear what is believed to be a consequence of the rest of this License.

        Google knows this which is why they're saying "butt out" to all the arm chair lawyers out there.

    • by dryeo (100693)

      From what I gather from lurking on the FFmpeg developers list, they care about being credited and the source being available including modifications. Basically the terms of the lgpl v2.1.

  • by David Gerard (12369) <slashdotNO@SPAMdavidgerard.co.uk> on Sunday June 07, 2009 @08:22PM (#28245579) Homepage
    I must say, it seemed more than a little ... odd ... for the founder of a completely and utterly proprietary competitor to post off-topic messages to a mailing list trying to probe his direct competitor on their adherence to a free software license.
    • by jps25 (1286898) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @08:55PM (#28245819)

      Have you even read any of the messages on the mailing list?
      Hakon is simply asking for their interpretation of the LGPL. He even says that he's not a lawyer and understands the LGPL in a different way, the way he's been trained, a spec guy. Icaza says that he's just as confused as Hakon.
      How are his questions offtopic?

      I think you're quite trollish.

    • This sounds like an issue of cross-platform HTML 5 usage that is relevant to everyone involved. If you'll take some time to look at About:Opera sometime, you'll find Opera makes use of open source code, also.

      Above anything else, Hakon is an open standards guy. Opera is part of the open standards community, simply not the open source community (unless you count things like dragonfly).

    • An early employee yes, an he worked with the two founders previously at Telenor but he is not one of the founders himself.

  • by umeboshi (196301) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @08:24PM (#28245595)

    Is there really an issue here? Is it impossible to freely redistribute Chrome? According to this page:

    http://code.google.com/chromium/terms.html [google.com]

    It seems that anybody can redistribute the code and/or binaries, with the possible exception of the parts that are trademarked (similar to Mozilla).

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      with the possible exception

      Unfortunately, the error handler crashes on exceptions.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by BZ (40346)

      That's Chromium. It does not include ffmpeg. Chrome (which is not quite the same thing) does, and Chrome cannot in fact be redistributed without OK from Google last I checked.

      • by umeboshi (196301)

        2. Location of FFmpeg source code

        The source code for FFmpeg is easily locatable in the same place as
        the rest of the Chromium source:

        http://src.chromium.org/viewvc/chrome/trunk/deps/third_party/ffmpeg/ [chromium.org] /quote)

        The first email linked to in the summary pointed to chromium, which is why I linked to the terms page. I don't really know the difference between Chrome and Chromium, I just figured that Chrome was built on top of Chromium, or that Chromium is the site that holds the Chrome source repository. Anyway, I've been fighting back cold symptoms all day, so my ability to concentrate isn't what it usually is.

    • by compro01 (777531)

      Chromium is not the same thing as Chrome.

  • From the attached article I can gather that since FFMpeg uses the LGPL 2.1 (not 3.0) that their obtaining a third party license for something else that prohibits them from granting similar rights for that bit of code does not affect their ability to grant rights for use the FFMpeg libraries. As they put it:

    The fact that Party B may have a patent license with an unrelated third-party is irrelevant as long as it doesn't prevent Party B from granting people the rights LGPL 2.1 requires they grant them (namely, only those rights it in fact received from Party A).

    Again this all seems rather moot anyway. A lot of operating systems these days include FFMpeg libraries as well as the H.264 and AAC libraries (which is really what this is all about). I know people feel like the idea of linking native libraries from the OS (which may or may not be there) goes against the universality of the HTML5 video/audio spec (and I can't say I disagree), but it would seem that for something as ubiquitous and freely licensable as the FFMpeg libraries, this argument is a bit overblown.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by roca (43122)

      > A lot of operating systems these days include FFMpeg libraries as well as the H.264 and AAC libraries (which is
      > really what this is all about)

      Where by "a lot" you mean "Mac"? Windows 7 will be the first version of Windows to include H.264. No freely redistributable Linux includes it, for obvious reasons.

      > it would seem that for something as ubiquitous and freely licensable as the FFMpeg libraries

      The ffmpeg source code is freely licensable, the patent licenses you need in the USA and elsewhere ar

    • by dryeo (100693)

      As of today (revision 19134) you can configure it like so

      ...
      Configuration options: ...
      --enable-gpl allow use of GPL code, the resulting libs
      and binaries will be under GPL [no]
      --enable-version3 upgrade (L)GPL to version 3 [no]
      --enable-nonfree allow use of nonfree code, the resulting libs
      and binaries will be unredistributable [no] ...

      The version 3 stuff was added a couple of days ago to allow linking against some apache code and the nonfree may be gone tomorrow if they remove support for libamr.
      Default is lgpl v2.1.
      BTW it is spelled FFmpeg

  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @08:35PM (#28245691) Homepage

    I think Google's relying on a technicality, but it's a significant one. In this case Google isn't the creator of the library, they received it from it's creator. So either it's creator could grant them an LGPL 2.1-compatible patent license, or the library can be distributed without a license, or it's creator couldn't have legally distributed the library to them. I think that, right or wrong, Google's probably on solid legal ground there. They didn't introduce the patented code into the library, they didn't create the library, so I don't think the law'll have much trouble allowing them to redistribute the code under the same terms and with the same rights as they got from it's creator.

    I think it's a situation the GPL and LGPL don't contemplate explicitly. The situation where Google was adding the infringing code to a library they received under (L)GPL terms and then redistributing the results, that's exactly what the v2 language covers. But I'm not sure even the v3 language covers the situation where the holder of the patent license isn't the one who put the infringing code into the library and where the person who did put it in doesn't hold a patent license and has no rights to grant downstream recipients. If the library was under LGPL v3 I think you could make an argument that the automatic grant of rights in paragraph 11 kicks in, since Google does hold a relevant patent license, and that if their license doesn't let them do what paragraph 11 requires then they can't redistribute, but LGPL 2.1 doesn't contain anything explicit corresponding to v3's paragraph 11.

    I think Google's right here, it does in fact come down to what the patent-holder says. If they sue Google and get an order blocking Google from distributing infringing code, then Google can't distribute the library. If the patent holders sue the library's author and get an order blocking distribution of the library without a patent license, Google can't distribute the library. But until then, Google can't be forced to add any rights that they didn't get when they received the library.

    • by einhverfr (238914)

      Furthermore, the fact that there is at least a reasonable argument that Google is in the clear here ought to at very least relegate this to a contract issue. I, for one, think that reasonable contract disagreements should never impose copyright infringement penalties on the losing party. (see my most recent journal post for more on this.)

      I don't think it is possible to support both Lori Drew and RMS on this issue.....

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Jiro (131519)
      Anyone who has copyright in a work cannot violate their own license. They could create a license which says "you can only distribute this if you compute pi to the last digit". Anyone who receives it wouldn't be allowed to distribute it (since the requirement is impossible), but they, being the creator could distribute it just fine. The license only restricts other people.

      If ffmpeg is under a license which says, basically, "you can only distribute this if you can pass on an impossible patent license", the
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TheoMurpse (729043)

        Anyone who has copyright in a work cannot violate their own license.

        That's not true. It's possible to lock yourself out of the right to use your own copyright via a license through really shitty drafting of the license (or on purpose). If I recall correctly from my software licenses class (and I might not), the magic word "exclusive" is all that is needed in the grant clause and BAM, you can't use your own copyrighted work!

        I am merely a law school graduate. I haven't taken the bar yet. I'm not a lawyer. I'm

      • by Todd Knarr (15451)

        True, but the author is offering terms and will be required by the courts to abide by them if/when anyone accepts them. If they put the code under the terms of the LPGL 2.1, then the courts won't let them refuse to make good on their offer once someone's accepted it. Note that copyright has nothing to do with patent rights, except that the courts will tend to take the position that if the copyright holder also held patent rights (or a patent license that allowed them the pass rights on to others) then when

    • by Score Whore (32328) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @10:47PM (#28246503)

      I think Google's relying on a technicality, but it's a significant one. In this case Google isn't the creator of the library, they received it from it's creator. So either it's creator could grant them an LGPL 2.1-compatible patent license, or the library can be distributed without a license, or it's creator couldn't have legally distributed the library to them.

      You're confused. The author of the product doesn't have to abide by the license, they own the copyright and can do anything they want. The LGPL doesn't apply to them. It's perfectly legit for them to say, "hey, here is this code that implements patented algorithm X. if you want to use it you'll have to get your own license from the patent holder."

      As far as this goes with the ffmpeg authors violating the patent by implementing this stuff in the first place, there is a certain amount of protection from patent litigation if you are doing research. Not as safe as having a license, but better than selling a blue-ray player without one. Additionally these developers are probably pretty close to judgment proof (ie. they mostly have no money to pay any judgments against them.)

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Todd Knarr (15451)

        You're forgetting a few things. Both GPL v2 and v3 talk about granting the recipient rights to redistribute the license. If the author was the patent-holder or a licensee, then to grant people that license without granting patent rights would render those clauses meaningless. Without both rights to use the patent and some right to pass on those rights, the recipients can't exercise the redistribution rights the license purports to give them. Courts are loathe to declare terms of a license meaningless, so th

    • by dryeo (100693)

      You're forgetting that some of these patents only apply to the USA. So if in Hungary or wherever the developers reside doesn't recognize these patents then needing a license is mute.

      • by Todd Knarr (15451)

        Not if they distribute within the USA, it isn't. It's just that if the patent-holder is in the US and the infringer is in a country that doesn't recognize the type of patent in question it's a major pain for the patent-holder to get an enforceable judgment against the infringer themselves.

        Of course, getting judgments against any users of the product barring it's use will be a lot easier to get. Monetary damages are unlikely, but a plain cease-and-desist is likely to be granted.

        • by dryeo (100693)

          And what does distributing mean in this case?
          Their servers are IIRC in Hungary. Most of the developers seem to also be located in Eastern Europe.
          Still I guess that you are right about getting a judgment against Google if Google didn't license the patent would be relatively easy.

  • Google is in the clear here.

    This is tempest in a tea-cup stuff.

    Steven

  • by John Hasler (414242) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @09:01PM (#28245861) Homepage

    They are distributing the library under the terms of the LGPL with no additional restrictions and so are complying fully with the license. Whether or not they are violating their patent license by doing so is their problem.

    The situation this clause of the LGPL is aimed at is one wherein Google would be obligated by their patent license to require that everyone they distributed the program to sign a patent sublicensing agreement that took away rights granted by the LGPL.

  • by jipn4 (1367823) on Monday June 08, 2009 @01:53AM (#28247461)

    It matters what patents exist. If it is the position of the FFMpeg authors that the patent license that Google has obtained is actually required for royalty-free distribution, then nobody can redistribute FFMpeg at all.

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