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'Free' H.264 a Precursor To WebM Patent War? 204

Posted by Soulskill
from the neverending-cycle dept.
webmink writes "The MPEG LA seem unwilling to explain why they have extended their 'free' H.264 streaming video policy now. This article unpacks the history of MPEG LA and then suggests the obvious — it's all because of WebM — and the worrying — maybe it's preparing the ground for opening a third front in the patent war against Google."
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'Free' H.264 a Precursor To WebM Patent War?

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  • by Per Cederberg (680752) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @02:39AM (#33423802)
    The natural party to sue would be Mozilla or Opera here, not Google I think. Google already pay the appropriate license fees for YouTube, so there seems to be very little of a legal case there.
  • by feranick (858651) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @03:15AM (#33423934)
    The lawsuit against Google would concern the alleged violation of MPEG-LA's patents in Google's WebM, not in the unlicensed use of h264...
  • Re:Yeah... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @03:23AM (#33423960)

    I don't see how it could possibly be sustainable for every single company that makes a browser from here on out to have to pay a fee to use this codec.

    They don't have to, nor should it have anything to do with the BROWSER. Mozilla has successfully distracted most everyone from the issue: the browser shouldn't care one bit about what media files it's presenting, because it should rely on the system frameworks for that content. If you're on Windows or OS X, it's a non-issue. If you're on Linux, there are plenty of legal ways to install an h.264 codec.

    If you have a philosophical objection to its usage, you can simply choose not to view that content.

    If they put H.264 into the HTML 5 spec, that is only going to make it a pain in the ass for browser developers and open source users.

    What makes it a pain in the ass is that the browsers are involved in the implementation at all. Why does Firefox support non-free image and audio formats? Why are they drawing an artificial line in the sand around a video format? They allow Flash, which is proprietary and uses h.264; they allow Windows Media and Quicktime plugins.

    The only thing making it a pain in the ass is Mozilla.

  • Re:Wrong (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @03:25AM (#33423962)

    What part of "royalty free forever" did you not understand?

    A lot more than you apparently. Its royalty free for only ONE SPECIFIC type of streaming. AND you still need a licensed (not free) encoder/decoders. AND they can change their mind. The court fees for any defense you feel entitled too are yours to bear.

    so there is no way for Firefox to offer this.

    They have more than enough money to pay for this..

    The 5million a year does not get you the right for 3rd party distribution. Firefox would not be permitted to be part of any Linux distribution for example with them also paying the 5 million. You would not longer be allowed to give a copy of a distribution to a friend. 3rd party distribution like this will *never* be permitted by MPEG-LA. Not permitting unrestricted 3rd party distribution is a violation of the Mozilla/GPL etc type license. It is simply not legal in the US and other countries that support software patents.

  • by Kjella (173770) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @04:27AM (#33424132) Homepage

    Also what I do not understand, is why FF is singled out for this. Chrome is also given away for free, just like Opera and IE. There is also an OS version of Chrome. I never hear about problems of paying for license fees for those browsers.

    "Chrome" is a closed source browser distributed by Google that contains a binary H.264 codec with a license valid for that binary only. "Chromium" is open source but comes with no H.264 codeo, though it's been patched to use the system codecs if available.

    Firefox can not use the same solution as Chrome. It could use the same solution as Chromium, but it means it would only work for some people so they won't do it. That is why FF is singling themselves out, they are the only ones where it simply will not work.

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @05:55AM (#33424476) Journal

    the encoding is not free

    Unless you use x.264.

    In which case, you still need a patent license from the MPEG-LA if you live in a country where any of their patents are valid.

    So all those open source projects like VLC, MPlayer, etc are paying through the nose to the MPEG-LA?

    Nope, they all use FFMPEG, which is based in France. France does not recognise software patents, so they are not required to pay anything. Using them in the USA without a patent license, however, is illegal.

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @06:09AM (#33424558) Journal
    Nope. Patent licenses can be fairly specific and the ones from MPEG-LA are very specific. It's not a matter of licensing the patent, you license the patent for a specific purpose. It is still infringement if you distribute something else which is unlicensed. They will be licensing the patents to use an H.264 encoder on YouTube and to distribute an H.264 decoder in Chrome. Nothing else will be covered.
  • by Qubit (100461) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @07:10AM (#33424874) Homepage Journal

    ARM and W-CDMA work in similar ways. ARM happens to own the patents and licenses them to whomever for a reasonable fee. W-CDMA works in much the same way as H.264. You have a bunch of companies that decide to share patents into one resource. It makes it easy for other companies to pay 1 fee and then use the technology. And H.264's licensing terms are reasonable. There is a cost of doing business. I know that is not popular around here, but it's the truth.

    But for comparison here, if I own an ARM computer and make a video or some kind of word processing document on it, there's absolutely nothing stopping you from opening that video or that document on your computer with an x86 chip (at least nothing related to the origin of the file being an ARM-powered device).

    If you create a video or audio file and encode it with codec XYZ, you can bet your sweet pile of software patents that when you send that file to me I'm going to have to use information about that codec to turn that file back into something my eyes and ears can understand. I have no choice.

    Similarly, my phone doesn't have to support W-CDMA for me to be able to call you. I can just use a POTS line. Or use a GSM phone. Sure, I am more limited than I would be were there no software or hardware patents, but at least I have choices.

    Unfortunately it's going to be harder for Free software going forward. Try writing an opensource point-of-sale or e-commerce program that can directly process credit cards. You can't without spending around $20,000 for PA-DSS auditing.

    For those curious folk, here's the wikipaedia link for PA-DSS [wikipedia.org]. It appears that people have discussed [wordpress.com] the PA-DSS + FOSS question before and it really sounds like it's just and issue of someone stepping up and taking control of the process.

    Sure, you'll have to pay some money to have the software audited. Sure, you'll have to provide information about how the team audits and creates new releases of the software. Sure, you'll have to jump through certain hoops. But that's what it took when OpenSSL got FIPS 140-2 validation [slashdot.org].

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @11:33AM (#33425820)

    No, he got it right the first time. There is a license for distributing, not for encoding.

    Have you ever read the license terms of an HD camera. Here's whats in the manual for Pansonic's AJ-HPX2700, a $40,000 "professional" camera:

    This product is licensed under the AVC Patent Portfolio License for the personal and non-commercial use of a consumer to (i) encode video in compliance with the AVC Standard (“AVC Video”) and/or (ii) decode AVC Video that was encoded by a consumer engaged in a personal and non-commercial activity and/or obtained from a video provider licensed to provide AVC Video. No license is granted or shall be implied for any use. Additional information may be obtained from MPEG LA, LLC.
    See http://www.mpegla-com

    "personal and non-commercial use" - It's $40,000 camera, for crying out loud!

  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @11:46AM (#33425974) Homepage Journal

    I found a link from TFA to be quite interesting:

    Where does WebM fit in?
    WebM combines the Ogg Vorbis audio codec with the VP8 video codec Google obtained through its February 2010 acquisition of On2 Technologies for $133.9 million. On2 has a long history in codecs: Its earlier VP3 technology formed the foundation of Ogg Theora, and its VP6 was widely used in video streaming on the Web by virtue of its inclusion in Adobe Systems' Flash Player. VP8 had only been under development until this week, but now Google has issued the specification for the technology, source code and a software developer kit to let programmers use it, and a collection of partners who endorsed it in varying degrees. In contrast to how On2 handled its codecs and to how an industry group called MPEG LA licenses patents for using H.264, Google released WebM as a royalty-free technology. That means among other things that nobody will have to pay for using it and that open-source software projects can incorporate it directly.

    Hooray! Free codecs for everyone! Who could possibly be unhappy about this?
    The 26 companies and organizations that have contributed to the pool of H.264 patents. Among them: Microsoft, LG Electronics, Panasonic, Philips Electronics, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, and Toshiba. Apple holds a single patent in the pool, too. It's not cheap to research video technology, and it's not cheap to license it, either. For example, even though Microsoft holds 73 patents in the H.264 pool, the company pays twice as much for its rights to ship H.264 support in Windows 7 as it receives back from MPEG LA for its share of the rights.

    What's MPEG LA doing about it?
    At a minimum, it's raising doubts about whether VP8 infringes video patents, and maybe more. Group spokesman Tom O'Reilly won't comment about whether VP8 infringes any H.264 patents, but he did say Thursday that MPEG LA is considering a new patent pool that would license any patents used in VP8 technology: "Although we assume virtually all codecs are based on patented technology, the AVC/H.264 License we offer is limited to providing coverage for the use of AVC/H.264." Added MPEG LA Chief Executive Larry Horn, "Google has the right to disclaim royalties for its own technologies, if any, but it doesn't have the right to disclaim them without appropriate permissions for technologies owned by others, or otherwise contribute to the infringement of those technologies

    Why use H.264 when Google is giving us WebM for free?

  • by orgelspieler (865795) <w0lfie&mac,com> on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @01:53PM (#33427658) Journal

    You miss the point. You (or some other AC) said "If you can show that the US patent is not being used in x-264 then I will concede your point." Pharmboy's point is that the burden of proof is always on the person saying something is being done. It's nearly impossible to prove the negative.

    I'll give you an example: if you prove that you didn't rape and murder a little girl in 1997, I'll concede that you didn't rape and murder a little girl in 1997. You see? The burden should actually be on me to prove that you did. To pose the statement the other way is not logical.

    On to another of your points. I do not know of any "personal use" exception to patent infringement. You might be thinking of copyrights, which do have a fair use defense. There are several research groups that are trying to get Congress to pass a patent fair use exception, though.

  • by Goaway (82658) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @03:18PM (#33428700) Homepage

    Have you ever read the license terms of an HD camera

    No, and neither have you, you have just read what somebody on the internet claims it means.

    That license agreement is there to cover the manufacturer's ass. They have paid their license to produce a device that encodes and decodes h.264. However, they have not paid for a license for you to distribute that content. They couldn't, because the cost of that license depends on how much you distribute. Non-commercial distribution is free, which is why they put that in the license agreement.

    You do not need a license to encode on a licensed encoder, commercial or not. You do need one to distribute. If you are a filmmaker, you likely pay this license when you have discs pressed. This is nothing new, it's been this way for a long time. MPEG-2 on DVDs is the exact same.

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