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Patents Technology

The MPEG-LA's Lock On Culture 457

Posted by kdawson
from the read-only-culture dept.
jrepin writes in to recommend a piece by Eugenia from OSNews, which explores the depths of the MPEG-LA's lock on video. One part of the problem is that almost all video cameras, including ones that cost more than $12,000, declare in their manuals that they are for "personal use and non-commercial" purposes only. "We've all heard how the h.264 is rolled over on patents and royalties. Even with these facts, I kept supporting the best-performing 'delivery' codec in the market, which is h.264. 'Let the best win,' I kept thinking. But it wasn't until very recently when I was made aware that the problem is way deeper. No, my friends. It's not just a matter of just 'picking Theora' to export a video to Youtube and be clear of any litigation. MPEG-LA's trick runs way deeper!""
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The MPEG-LA's Lock On Culture

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  • GIF shenanigans (Score:5, Informative)

    by wigaloo (897600) on Sunday May 02, 2010 @08:30AM (#32063036)

    It was exactly these kinds of shenanigans that led to the development of PNG as a replacement for GIF [cloanto.com] in Web browsers. Hopefully the same thing happens here (broad acceptance of a new standard), whether the replacement is Theora or something better.

  • by Xiaran (836924) on Sunday May 02, 2010 @08:34AM (#32063056)
    This does hold up in court. I have been involved with online video companies and have dealt with the MPEG-LA... the standard MPEG-LA attitude is once you start making enough money to make it worth their while(say > 100k... that was the figure I was quoted) the MPEG-LA will negotiate payments from you. And they do it to everyone. What you find outlandish is in fact their business model.
  • by ribuck (943217) on Sunday May 02, 2010 @08:47AM (#32063124) Homepage

    Fine solution. Ignore the patents-copyrights. Go Pirate Party!

    Even the Pirate Party advocates changing the law [quezi.com], not breaking it (it's already broken).

  • http://www.eff.org/ [eff.org] is IMHO a great place to begin dealing with old laws and new media and technology. They are like the ACLU for geeks, and aim to limit corporate or bureaucratic grip on internet and new media technologies. If the FCC or other government agency can't figure it out, then at least these very smart legal minds will watchdog these issues of the fine print: licensing, patents, privacy, fair use, etc.
  • by Xiaran (836924) on Sunday May 02, 2010 @09:04AM (#32063210)
    I know of no example of these casesx actually going to court. I might point out I am also in the EU not the US and lawyers here pretty much advised us that the onyl real option was to negotiate a payment of royalties. To take it to court is a large risk... imagine you have a product that has heavily invested in video... a court could suspend or site or shut down sales while things are decided. For a startup it is simply not worth the risk.
  • by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Sunday May 02, 2010 @09:08AM (#32063242) Homepage

    Video is, IMO, the area where software patents are doing the most harm, and the problem won't be solved by the anti-troll projects, and it won't be solved by raising examination standards. H.264 is covered by 900 patents. The only way to make it patent free is to abolish software patents.

    swpat.org is a publicly editable wiki, help welcome.

  • by tolan-b (230077) on Sunday May 02, 2010 @09:10AM (#32063252)

    That doesn't matter. You *need* a license to legally use h.264 commercially in the US. The fact you haven't agreed to one doesn't negate the need for one. By purchasing the camera they grant you a license to use it non-commercially. If you want a license to use it commercially you need to go and get one.

  • by Ash-Fox (726320) on Sunday May 02, 2010 @09:14AM (#32063272)

    no one is going to pick your stupid theora code

    http://www.neowin.net/news/google-investing-in-theora-for-mobile-devices [neowin.net]
    http://mozillalinks.org/wp/2008/07/native-ogg-vorbis-and-theora-support-added-for-firefox-31/ [mozillalinks.org]
    http://www.gossamer-threads.com/lists/wiki/wikitech/167167 [gossamer-threads.com]

    Please provide sources to backup your statements. Thanks.

  • Re:Well.... (Score:4, Informative)

    by tolan-b (230077) on Sunday May 02, 2010 @09:24AM (#32063326)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Invention_Network [wikipedia.org]

    Doesn't necessarily cover all open source but it's basically what you're talking about in the first part of your post.

  • by Xiaran (836924) on Sunday May 02, 2010 @09:36AM (#32063414)
    I agree with you. I am referring to lawsuit against small startups such as the ones I have had expereince with. There are numerous examples of actions between the large players such as this [betanews.com]. Such cases tend to reinforce the idea the MPEG-LA will win.
  • Re:GIF shenanigans (Score:4, Informative)

    by bhtooefr (649901) <<gro.rfeoothb> <ta> <rfeoothb>> on Sunday May 02, 2010 @09:54AM (#32063496) Homepage Journal

    There's 1135 patents worldwide that are essential to H.264, 1114 of which are active, 162 of which are active and in the US.

    Here's the list: http://www.mpegla.com/main/programs/avc/Documents/avc-att1.pdf [mpegla.com]

    The trick is probably to use a 20 (or maybe 25, to avoid old submarine patents) year old technology to get around it.

  • by KingSkippus (799657) on Sunday May 02, 2010 @10:45AM (#32063822) Homepage Journal

    I imagine most use The Pirate Bay.

    The Pirate Bay's contention was that they were not breaking the law, that hosting an index of torrents was legal, and that other people uploading trackers of infringing material were the ones who were breaking the law. Personally, I think they're right. Obviously, the courts disagreed.

    Plus, please do not forget that there were plenty of people using The Pirate Bay perfectly legally. I obtained a few Linux distributions off of there. Also, some people--independent musicians and the like--uploaded stuff to which they own the rights, and that was legal, too. Last, but not least, laws vary from place to place. Maybe uploading a tracker for Steamboat Willie is illegal in the United States, but not in Namibia.

    That's the trouble with going after sites like The Pirate Bay. Sure, most of the stuff on there was illegal. But where do you draw the line? Are you going to put the onus of determining what is and isn't legal on everyone who hosts anything?

    Or put another way, just because someone can record something illegally on a VCR, does that mean that we have to outlaw VCRs? Hasn't that battle already been fought and won?

  • by Frank T. Lofaro Jr. (142215) on Sunday May 02, 2010 @11:26AM (#32064086) Homepage

    Read about piercing the corporate veil.

    It applies to LLCs too.

    Read about the case of Western Blue Sky LLC.

  • by Daengbo (523424) <daengbo AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday May 02, 2010 @12:22PM (#32064484) Homepage Journal

    This isn't some kind of EULA situation where a provision in the contract will be thrown out: the cameras are stated to be for non-commercial use because no one paid for a commercial license. Suing would be quick and dirty, and the user would be at fault. The user could possibly then sue the manufacturer for misleading claims (TFA's "professional camera" that doesn't allow professional shots), I guess, but the user would definitely be unlicensed and therefor have to pay.

    Take a look at Gregory Maxwell's response [ibeentoubuntu.com] to the accusation of OGG falling under patents. He has a good bit to say about MPEG-LA and anti-trust, as well.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 02, 2010 @12:37PM (#32064602)

    Nothing stopping you from reverse engineering, you're totally allowed to do that. Oh wait, you can't do that in the USA.

  • by arose (644256) on Sunday May 02, 2010 @01:02PM (#32064770)
    The problem outlined in the article is that your camera (a physical device with the capability to encode MPEG2 and/or H.264) manufacturer has negotiated a license that requires you to pay for the privilege of using your video from your camera for your commercial purposes.
  • by Daengbo (523424) <daengbo AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday May 02, 2010 @01:29PM (#32065034) Homepage Journal

    Although the patents are software, they're still narrow and specific. These aren't patent trolls -- the patents are well-known and disclosed as part of a standard. the license fees are also public knowledge, and as you state, patent infringement doesn't require either prior knowledge or consent to a contract.

    If you use this "non-commercial" camera to produce commercial work, MPEG-LA can just come up to you and demand that you pay the licensing fee, and you're pretty much screwed. They will do it, too, if it's worth their time in fees or publicity.

    We can only hope that software patents get overturned, but it doesn't look like the developed world is heading in that direction, does it?

  • Re:Kill the lawyers. (Score:4, Informative)

    by gd2shoe (747932) on Sunday May 02, 2010 @04:52PM (#32066368) Journal

    Or just change the law. No more copyrights-patents.

    All the film makers have to do is pack up and move out west, where the patent holders can't get to them.

    Worked before, didn't it?

    For those who don't get the reference, that is exactly why Hollywood has been the capital of film for so long. Before travel became easy, long distance litigation was difficult at best, and California was just about as far away as one could get and remain in the US. Every time you hear the name Hollywood in reference to the film industry, you can think about patent law.

  • by pydev (1683904) on Sunday May 02, 2010 @05:15PM (#32066490)

    Outside the US there are no software patents, therefore h.264 can't have any patent over it, therefore MPEG-LA can't threaten anybody for anything.

    What makes you think these are software patents? A lot of the devices involve hardware patents.

    The issue with h.264 has always been the US,

    Many of the patents are held by European and Japanese corporations and research labs.

    (in most of the world copyright lasts for 50 years, for instance, but try finding a book online before its US life+90 copyright expiration date).

    Wrong. The Berne conventions (as in Berne, Europe) created much of the current insanity, eliminating the requirements for registration and copyright notices, recognizing so-called "moral rights", and creating a lot of other restrictions. Berne required life + 50 years as the minmum term from all signatories. Europeans started copyright insanity and threw their imperialist weights around to impose it on the US and other nations. The US and the UK tried to resist for decades, but eventually just gave in. Today, many publishers and media organizations behind the current push are European. The patent situation is similar: the insanity started in Europe in the 19th century, was imposed on the rest of the world, and Europeans play the political eand economic game really well, benefitting greatly while blaming the US. And software patents are far from dead in Europe. either.

    This is at least as much a European problem as it is an American one. But European politicians are masters at shifting the blame.

  • by Simetrical (1047518) <Simetrical+sd@gmail.com> on Sunday May 02, 2010 @05:25PM (#32066558) Homepage

    Outside the US there are no software patents, therefore h.264 can't have any patent over it, therefore MPEG-LA can't threaten anybody for anything.

    Wrong. The MPEG-LA claims patents in many countries, including much of Europe. Boris Zbarsky of Mozilla looked at [mozillazine.org] the huge list of H.264 patents [mpegla.com], and came up with the following countries where some aspect of H.264 is patented:

    • Europe: Germany, France, UK, Finland, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, Bulgaria, Liechtenstein, Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Spain, Hungary, Ireland, The Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Portugal, Slovenia
    • Asia: Japan, China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, India
    • Americas: Canada, Mexico
    • Australia

    He said he only looked at the first 6 pages out of 43, and wasn't looking very carefully, so there are probably patents in many more countries too. Needless to say, they only need one patent per country to force you to pay royalties.

  • by mr_matticus (928346) on Sunday May 02, 2010 @05:48PM (#32066702)

    The H.264 patents aren't software patents, so that whole argument goes out the window. They're method patents, which are valid everywhere there are patents, which is just about everywhere.

    (in most of the world copyright lasts for 50 years

    Where is this fantasy land? US copyright terms were expanded as a result of international treaty obligations. The Sonny Bono thing was largely superfluous, but the Berne Union, which covers most of the world (160-something out of 191 countries, in fact) requires all members to have a term of life plus 50.

    before its US life+90 copyright expiration date

    It's life plus 70 in the US. The life plus 50 required by international law plus the 20 year extension.

    Many countries around the world also have life+70 terms (in France, it's possible to have life+100).

    I get that you wanted to rant about copyright, but you display shocking ignorance of the subject worthy of being an American. Perhaps you should be locked out of the entire Internet.

  • by butlerm (3112) on Sunday May 02, 2010 @06:19PM (#32066852)

    Surely that is only true if the seller has the right to sell the thing in the first place.

    The whole point of the exhaustion doctrine is that end users do not need patent licenses unless the circumstances explicitly indicate otherwise. If the MPEG-LA people want to make the circumstances explicit, they can do one of two things: (1) they can require that all such cameras be leased rather than sold, or (2) they can enlist retailers as their agents to engage each purchaser in a binding contract to the effect that they only have a license for non-commercial use under certain time limited terms and conditions.

    Otherwise it is highly likely that the exhaustion doctrine means that any owner of a finished item has an implied license to use the device in any way they see fit, if the manufacturer had any sort of patent license at all. A court could rule otherwise (hence the request for a citation), but as with shrinkwrap licenses in general the this appears to be an unsettled area of law. Wishful thinking by a bunch of intellectual property attorneys doesn't change that fact.

  • by bws111 (1216812) on Sunday May 02, 2010 @06:33PM (#32066942)

    35 U.S.C. 271 Infringement of patent.

    (a)Except as otherwise provided in this title, whoever without authority makes, uses, offers to sell, or sells any patented invention, within the United States, or imports into the United States any patented invention during the term of the patent therefor, infringes the patent.

    Now, in most cases (the stuff in your house) the manufacturer has paid the license for you, and so you have a valid license. However, in this case the manufacturer paid for a CONSUMER license, not a commercial license. The consumer license passes to you. This is made clear in the manual. You still do not have a valid COMMERCIAL license, so 'uses without authority' applies.

  • by rdnetto (955205) on Sunday May 02, 2010 @06:55PM (#32067122)

    Outside the US there are no software patents, therefore h.264 can't have any patent over it, therefore MPEG-LA can't threaten anybody for anything.

    Wrong. Take a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software_patents [wikipedia.org]. Japan, Australia and South Korea all allow software patents.

  • by bws111 (1216812) on Sunday May 02, 2010 @07:37PM (#32067506)

    Thanks for the link. However, I think I reached a different conclusion than you. I take it from your posts that you think exhaustion applies in this case, and you are using the LG case to bolster your argument. However, the reason LG failed in their attempt to limit exhaustion was because the court found there was no non-infringing use if exhaustion were not applied.

    It seems to me that a more relevant case would be one referenced in that same article: General Talking Pictures Corp vs Western Electric. In that case, the Supreme Court found that a patent holder could distinguish between home and commercial use, and license manufacturers accordingly, as long as there was non-infringing use, and the limitation was communicated to the consumer. In that case, Western Electric licensed some vacuum tube technology to some manufacturers for home use, and others for commercial use. GTP (a commercial user) bought equipment from a home-use licensee and used it commercially, even though they knew they were not allowed to. WE sued and won.

    According to Wikipedia: The majority upheld the arrangement as a well-known, legitimate expedient: “Patent owners may grant licenses extending to all uses or limited to use in a defined field.” The Transformer Company was only a nonexclusive licensee in a limited field, as it and General Talking Pictures knew. The Transformer Company had no rights outside its licensed field, and thus “could not convey to petitioner [General Talking Pictures] what both knew it was not authorized to sell.” That seems to be an exact corollary to what MPEG-LA is doing.

  • by metalmonkey (1083851) on Sunday May 02, 2010 @08:43PM (#32067920) Homepage

    Another added benefit of the MJPEG codec is that image quality is actually better, by including the entire image in every frame and not throwing information away with motion prediction. Makes editing easier also, not having to worry about key frames.
    Yes this obviously used more data.

  • by bws111 (1216812) on Monday May 03, 2010 @09:23AM (#32071434)

    No, that case has very little to do with this case. In the case you referenced, LG licensed some patents to Intel for use in some chipset, but then tried to put the restriction on that said you could not use the chips in a computer without buying a license. The court found that there was no non-infringing use of the patent if you couldn't put the chips in a computer, so it struck down that restriction.

    In this case, millions of home users of cameras clearly demonstrate that there IS non-infringing use, even with the restriction.

    A more appropriate case is General Talking Pictures Corp vs Western Electric [wikipedia.org]. In that case, a patent holder (Western Electric) had some patents on vacuum tubes. It licensed those patents to two groups: manufacturers of HOME equipment, and manufacturers of COMMERCIAL equipment. The HOME manufacturers were required to include a notice that the equipment was licensed for home use only. An operator of movie theaters (General Talking Pictures Corp) purchased some equipment from a home manufacturer (The Transformer Company), and used it in movie theaters. Western Electric sued for patent infringement. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court and Western Electric won. According to Wikipedia: The majority upheld the arrangement as a well-known, legitimate expedient: “Patent owners may grant licenses extending to all uses or limited to use in a defined field.” The Transformer Company was only a nonexclusive licensee in a limited field, as it and General Talking Pictures knew. The Transformer Company had no rights outside its licensed field, and thus “could not convey to petitioner [General Talking Pictures] what both knew it was not authorized to sell.”

    In other words, a patent holder CAN create separate licenses for commercial and non-commercial use, and you CAN be sued for not having the correct license, and a similar case HAS gone all the way to the Supreme Court.

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