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Media Patents Your Rights Online

MPEG LA Extends H.264 Royalty-Free Period 260

Sir Homer writes "The MPEG LA has extended their royalty-free license (PDF) for 'Internet Video that is free to end users' until the end of 2016. This means webmasters who are registered MPEG LA licensees will not have to pay a royalty to stream H.264 video for the next six years. However the last patent in the H.264 portfolio expires in 2028, and the MPEG LA has not released what fees, if any, it will charge webmasters after this 'free trial' period is over."
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MPEG LA Extends H.264 Royalty-Free Period

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  • From TFS (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Pojut ( 1027544 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @11:59AM (#31010662) Homepage

    However the last patent in the H.264 portfolio expires in 2028, and the MPEG LA has not released what fees, if any, it will charge webmasters after this 'free trial' period is over.

    I would SERIOUSLY hope there are new protocols by 2028...

  • Firefox Bait (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:00PM (#31010668)

    The trial period will need to last just long enough to get it adopted as the HTML5 standard.

  • Re:From TFS (Score:3, Insightful)

    by poetmatt ( 793785 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:02PM (#31010710) Journal

    By 2010 would be better.

  • Re:Data transfer? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sakdoctor ( 1087155 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:05PM (#31010754) Homepage

    Software patents? That's just absurd.

  • Nice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jvkjvk ( 102057 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:07PM (#31010776)

    What a charming business model.

    Oh well, I guess webmasters could have always used something else, right?

    It's particularly nice that web masters are giving billing information 6 years early, so the company doesn't have to do much to track down the first round of suck^H^H^H^H customers to bill them for use.

    There's nothing like getting your IP embedded deeply into everyones processes (with their complete acknowledgement of that fact) and then seeking rent against the cost of changing it.

    I would expect that many companies don't have migration plans in place, I don't know, not my business.


  • by denis-The-menace ( 471988 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:08PM (#31010790)

    2010: DIVE! DIVE!
    It's free, come and get it

    2016: Up periscope. Look there's someone using it without paying the $799/Stream licensing fee.
    -Arm MPEG LAwyer Torpedoes, FIRE!

    looks like a ambush in slow-motion.

  • And even if sucked (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:15PM (#31010916) Homepage

    You know, Theora video doesn't suck [xiph.org].

    And even if it sucked, that wouldn't matter anyway :
    most of video today consist of short snips on social websites of dancing cats filmed with a camera phone with crappy sensors and low quality MJPEG compression.

    Arguing that Theora would need more bits to achieve the same quality as other codec is akin to arguing that Youtube should spend more bits to be better faithful to all the compression artifacts.
    Theora opponents say that, for the same bits bandwidth, Theora video is blurrier. I'm saying that this blur won't hide any critical detail. It will only blur out the noise from the camera phone's crappy sensor and from the MJPEG'S 50% compression. I personally *can* live without them, if it is what it takes to have a open free/libre standard.

  • Re:From TFS (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Duradin ( 1261418 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:16PM (#31010950)

    Device support for Theora does suck. And for me, that's the deal breaker.

    Yes, yes, I know there's $obscure_bad_interface_linux_based_device that supports Theora and Ogg.

  • Re:From TFS (Score:4, Insightful)

    by alvinrod ( 889928 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:19PM (#31011006)
    H.265 [wikipedia.org] has an estimated release of 2012. We're just trading on MPEG LA standard for another, but they may offer free licensing of it for a while as well. Personally, I don't think they should be able to charge content providers squat. They can sell users an encoder and charge for decoders in products, but what anyone does after that shouldn't be any business of the MPEG LA.
  • by PPalmgren ( 1009823 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:21PM (#31011050)

    The first hit is free.

  • Re:Nice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by slim ( 1652 ) <john@noSPaM.hartnup.net> on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:23PM (#31011066) Homepage

    In 6 years time, there'll be an awful lot of iPhones/iPads (and their descendants) in the wild.

    Expect H.264, and maybe some other patent-encumbered standards, to be the only video format a web site can use in order to be viewed on these devices.

    The options for video websites in 2016? Pay up, or abandon iPhone/iPad users. Plus who knows how many other closed platforms.

  • by delt0r ( 999393 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:28PM (#31011138)
    At the lower bit rate end of the spectrum Theora is not bad, and would be competitive if it had the same development effort that the "Open Source" H.264 codec encoders get. Personally I think both theora and h.264 look like complete crap at you tube bandwidths.

    However Theora is working. Its mere existence is forcing MPEG LA to address license concerns. If Theora wasn't around, we would even be having a serious "open codec" debate, we be asking how much is licensing html 5.0 going to cost.
  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:29PM (#31011158) Journal

    This is a rake, lying on the ground in plain sight with red markers all over it and a big sign.

    Step on it at your own risk, but don't come crying when the rake hits you in the face.

    After the gif debacle, you would think people would learn.

  • By 2016 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by calibre-not-output ( 1736770 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:39PM (#31011300) Homepage
    we'll be using a different format. Yes, it will be encumbered by patents, DRM and a bunch of other shit we don't even know yet - but it will not be H.264. I don't really see how this extension of free licensing could be profitable to them.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:43PM (#31011352)

    Besides, have you seen the output from decent consumer-grade camcorders recently?

    Not very often, no. Mostly because the vast majority of the videos made publicly available on the internet (that is, the ones we'd actually see) are short snips on social websites of dancing cats filmed with a crappy camera phone with crappy sensors and low quality MJPEG compression, like the GP said, and most people don't film dancing cats with the same attention to detail and memorable preservation that they do for things they would use their digital camcorders for.

    Why do sprite comics still exist? I mean, have you seen what's possible from even cheap, low-end drawing tablets?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:44PM (#31011378)

    "the first hit is free..."

  • Re:Nice (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:46PM (#31011414)

    Pay up, or abandon iPhone/iPad users.

    Its 2016. Why haven't you upgraded to the iPhone 5GSXFi?

  • Re:By 2016 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by aristotle-dude ( 626586 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:52PM (#31011542)

    we'll be using a different format. Yes, it will be encumbered by patents, DRM and a bunch of other shit we don't even know yet - but it will not be H.264. I don't really see how this extension of free licensing could be profitable to them.

    You are missing the forest for the trees. The MPLA makes money on licensing fees for encoders and decoders. By offering royalty free streaming for a time, the format becomes popular which means that more encoders and decoders are sold which generates more income.

    It is possible that they may continue to offer free licensing of for distribution through further extensions. Doing it this way rather than just offering blanket permission to stream give them a few advantages:

    1. It allows them to track how many sites are using their technology.

    2. They can still go after webmasters who have not registered for the free license to stream.

    3. They can revoke a license from someone deliberately distributing pirated video.

  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @01:17PM (#31011898) Journal

    most of video today consist of short snips on social websites of dancing cats filmed with a camera phone with crappy sensors and low quality MJPEG compression.

    By volume, sure. By amount of time people spend watching? I'm not so sure. The two places I mainly stream videos from are iPlayer and the company I rent DVDs from. Both of these have DVD-quality or better sources. YouTube comes a distant third after these two. These aren't short clips, they're episodes of TV shows or films, so 30 minutes is about the minimum length and 45 minutes to two hours is fairly common.

  • by onefriedrice ( 1171917 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @01:24PM (#31012030)

    However this is a really plain-as-day example of how patent trolls are ruining business for everyone.

    Please don't dilute the term "patent troll." It has a specific meaning and certainly doesn't apply to a patent pool packager like MPEG-LA. Everybody adopted h.264 with full knowledge that it was covered by several patents. This is certainly not a case of some junk firm patenting prior art and suing everybody. Nobody coerced anyone into using h.264; it just happened to actually be a good codec, so it was adopted by the industry. Nor is it "ruining business for everyone," so I'm not even sure what your point is. Your own anecdotal evidence doesn't lead to this conclusion.

    Is it disappointing that we didn't have a comparable patent-free codec at the time when people started adopting h.264? Yeah, it's too bad. Unfortunately, no amount of sour grapes is going to change what happened.

  • by adipocere ( 201135 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @01:27PM (#31012098)

    Streaming video needs an Apache. By that, I mean a very standardized server and set of protocols for delivering files encoded in a non-proprietary, free-to-use, free-to-decode, unrestricted-in-every-imaginable-sense manner.

    The source of what has held this back, in my opinion, is that taking giant video files (and you should see how big raw video is) and cramming them down into small, chunkable files which can decode at the end into recognizable images is hard. Hard in the sense of "takes people with a great deal of math knowledge and computer science knowledge to pull off." It's not like HTML, where you are pushing around what are basically text files that you can open in Notepad. It takes a great deal of intellectual know-how and deep domain knowledge to pull this off on the encoding end in some reasonable fashion that doesn't take a lot of CPU cycles.

    The few people who can do this take a long time to figure out a new scheme, and they have to test the living hell out of it. You can write a primitive webserver without too much fuss, it's just a specialized server which kicks out text and binary files on command, after all. Encoding video and serving it, though, is not easy. That's why so much goes into protecting the intellectual property; it was not trivial to create. Wade around in the fifteen profiles for MPEG-4 Part 10 aka AVC aka H.264 for a while and realize that this is not trivial. Hell, it had to be jointly developed by two groups, ITU's video group and MPEG. Take a look at Theora -- even its codebase is descended from something that once took real money to make.

    If streaming media is to have its Apache, an investment of money must be made in finding these highly talented individuals and paying them to make a new, open standard. And code must be made available for an end-to-end implementation on many platforms, everything from encoding to serving (with authentication fun, to boot) to decoding, on Windows, on Unix/Linux, on Macs. With regression tests and tutorials. Plug-ins to be written for the top, say, ten browsers. And a decoder library for Flash. While this is going on, political battles will have to be fought to keep Microsoft, Apple, and other companies out of the loop, or they'll pull the usual and destroy or cripple the product before it reaches market, just as they managed to poison HTML5's video standards.

    None of this is technically impossible, but it will be hard, and it will cost money and political tokens and time and real effort. Can it be done?

  • Re:Data transfer? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BZ ( 40346 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @01:59PM (#31012578)

    Well, hold on. How is performing a method using wires carrying electrons to carry a digital signal different from performing a method using wires carrying electrons to carry an analogue signal (e.g. an FM radio receiver)?

    Should a mechanical device that performs a task be patentable but an integrated circuit that peforms the same task not be patentable?

    But in any case, the point is that the patents involved have been granted in all sorts of jurisdictions that don't allow "software" patents. This is bad from the point of view of open-source projects that want to use H.264, for sure. But it seems to me that the fundamental idea of patenting the methods used in H.264 is sound, assuming the idea of patents is sound at all. This last is up for debate, of course.

  • Re:From TFS (Score:4, Insightful)

    by discord5 ( 798235 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @02:41PM (#31013078)

    You know, Theora video doesn't suck [xiph.org].


    Oh boy oh boy, a comparison on xiph.org. I'm sure that this will be unbiased in any way. From the conclusion:

    The primary challenge is that all files at these rates will have problems, so the reviewer is often forced to decide which of two entirely distinct flaws is worse. Sometimes people come to different conclusions. That said, I believe that the Theora+Vorbis results are substantially better than the YouTube 327kbit/sec. Several other people have expressed the same view to me, and I expect you'll also reach the same conclusion.

    I'm totally convinced with such strong arguments. He's clearly gone his way to show flaws in both codecs, instead of just encoding a video with two codecs and letting the audience decide.


  • Re:From TFS (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @05:56PM (#31015438) Journal

    Sorry to say this, but This just isn't true. Ogg/Theora holds up quite competitively against H.264, demonstrably, TODAY. [xiph.org] I don't know why this FUD gets spread around, but having the Internet move to H.264 as a "standard" is akin to shooting ourselves in the collective foot.

    Ogg/Theora is here today, it's competitive with H.264, and isn't encumbered like H.264. The extension of "free" is just MPG group trying to submarine it into widespread use before they come in with terms. I swear, sometimes, we all live with the battered wife "Stockholm" syndrome. We've seen this before, and we're about to get it again.

  • by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @10:00PM (#31017974) Homepage

    (so, Opera is out, and Firefox on Windows and Mac is out)

    Nonetheless, both FireFox and Opera are currently in the Theora camp.
    If I want to use them (and I do. I use Firefox) I need Theora videos.
    So Dailymotion and Thevideobay work for me. But not Youtube.

    Except you really don't, as you can *right now* play h.264 with completely free software.

    Free Software : yes.

    Legal Software : that's a completely different can of worms. Some jurisdictions *DO* recognise software patents, and in such places - x264, ffmpeg and the like *are illegal*.

    There's no legal or technical reason that Firefox can't support h.264 across Mac, Windows and Linux. The only reason it's left out is for blatantly political reasons.

    Legal reason : Software patents. They happen to valid in some countries (USA and some
    European countries).

    Technical reasons :
    - you need to be able to distribute the code, if you want a GPLv2/v3 license. But h264 decoding code might be illegal (see legal reason).
    - supporting system codec is out of the question. the whole VIDEO/HTML5 idea was to escape from the dependence of binary 3rd party plug-ins. Opting for 3rd party codecs it, at best, a return to the statu quo (you replace a Flash proprietary BLOB with a codec proprietary BLOB. Meet the new master, same as the old master) and at worse, a huge step back (at least current 3rd party proprietary plugins were designed for the web (supposedly). Whereas some codecs might not be able to do proper stream/seeking nor be able to cope with malformed data without getting exploited).
    - this assumes that system codec exists. whereas, such codec might be missing because no-one produces them on such a platform (all the non-x86, non-windows platforms) or because they are not packaged with the system (older windows versions, like XP)

    Political reasons: someone has to do the fight for open standard. Why not the fastest growing browser with 1/4 of the market share, and the most popular embed browser ?

    In short : Do you want to imagine what internet would have looked like if everyone writing or displaying HTML pages had to pay a tax to the CERN ? Mozilla and Opera are fighting so that doesn't happen in the future regarding video. I think that this is a valid reason.

    Not true. First off, I'm just fine with sites providing both h.264 and Theora.

    Me too, and almost everyone else.

    The problem is that Firefox wants no h.264 option at all. In other words, they do not want people to be able to use the superior codec.

    [citation needed]

    I haven't seen a message from mozilla saying they want to forbid completely h264. The only thing I've read is about they wanting Theora to be supported, be part of the standard, and be mandatory on all browsers for html-5 compliance, so that the future web can be built on open standard. I've never seen anything saying that proprietary solution should not be offered as an alternative.

    you can use x264 or ffmpeg {...} It's possible Mozilla may wish to avoid bundling x264 with Firefox in the US, but it can be easily supported as a completely open source plugin the user can install themselves

    There are other countries besides the USA which recognise software patents. Sadly, this is starting to appear in Europe too (luckily, not all member states already).
    And Mozilla are incorporated in the USA, which means, the law their are subjected to makes it illegal to do it.

    And between trying to find contrived ways to circumvent complex patent law, and simply going for a solution which is not patented at all, I too think that the second approach is more sensible.

    So, a 10% worse solution, for far, far less than 10% of the users? Doesn't sound like a net win to me.

    It's a win compared to no solution at all due to broken p

Honesty is for the most part less profitable than dishonesty. -- Plato