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MPEG LA Announces Permanent Royalty Moratorium For H264 262

vistapwns writes "MPEG LA has announced that free h264 content (vs. paid h264 content which will still have royalties) will be royalty free forever. With ubiquitous h264 support on mobile devices, personal computers and all other types of media devices, this assures that h264 will remain the de facto standard for video playback for the foreseeable future."
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MPEG LA Announces Permanent Royalty Moratorium For H264

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  • Oh snap. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @05:04PM (#33386022) Journal
    Ok. Looks like Google wins this one. Basically, for ~100 million, was it, for On2, they get some tech that might possibly be interesting, and they get a bargaining chip that just made youtube immune to MPEG LA royalties.
  • Re:Oh snap. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dan667 ( 564390 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @05:06PM (#33386054)
    unless google develops a better codec, which is probably why mpeg la decided to have a royalty moratorium.
  • by JSBiff ( 87824 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @05:14PM (#33386160) Journal

    IANAL, but when you make a well documented public claim, I think that claim can be presented to a judge in court, and may have the weight of a contract or license. In any case, there must be an actual written license which will go along with this claim, and whatever that license says, would have weight in court.

  • Re:Paging lawyers (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @05:36PM (#33386448)

    What does "free" mean?

    Does a guy with a blog who occasionally posts a video of his cat acting stupid, and has a google ad just to try to defray a bit of the hosting costs, count as "for profit"?

    Welcome to the land of weasel words. MPEG-LA has previously proven that their promises are worth less than the paper they were written on right before MPEG-LA wiped their asses with the aforementioned promises.

  • by Ilgaz ( 86384 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @05:36PM (#33386450) Homepage

    h264 and mpeg SP are in virtually every satellite box/smart phone and even dumb phone (e.g. Nokia S40, SE non smart stuff). It must be well over billion installed territory.

    What kind of plan exist to have these devices support WebM? Will Google do it? For example, they simply ignored a 32bit/64bit processor architecture from their -once- partner while releasing Chrome. Yes, I talk about PowerPC. It isn't really 80286 running MS-DOS you know.

    Lets also talk about TV World where, you _must have_ something, a huge plus to have something replaced by newer one. It is not "trendy developers abandoning older devices" area. TV business has happily run with PAL/NTSC standard/variants for decades until "HDTV" came along. It was the day when MPEG/H264 showed millions/billions of dollars in savings thanks to great compression without noticeable loss of quality.

    H264 is still at "growing" phase and as some companies/academics/organizations spent billions of dollars while creating it, sorry gmail users, they will want to go even at least.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 26, 2010 @05:54PM (#33386702)

    Most people already have an h.264 license. However, if you use x264 and don't have an h.264 license (pretty much impossible these days unless you run Linux), then yes, you probably owe them like a dollar or something. But they aren't going to go after you for this.

    A licence only entitles you to use the licenced implementation. Having a licence to use one implementation doesn't magically entitle you to use any implementation.

    And this still falls under the category of paying for the tools you use. I don't see why there's anything wrong with that. This is especially true if you make money using those tools.

    The only category that matters here is whether or not a particular video format is compatible with the web. To be considered part of the web the video format must be open and royalty-free for all use cases. That's something that H.264 isn't and won't be until it really is open and royalty-free for all use cases.

    Ultimately the discussion isn't very interesting. Open video has won out over closed video on the web. Open video is currently supported in all browsers (some already released, some still in development) either natively or via system codecs. The world's largest video site (YouTube) is in the process of making all of its videos available in an open format. It's game over for closed video on the web. All we're doing now is watching open video steadily displace closed video.

  • Re:Paging lawyers (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 26, 2010 @05:59PM (#33386746)

    "Any attempt by the MPEG-LA to renege on this grant (a massive public announcement within this industry) would be blocked by Estoppel"

    This only means something if a potential defendant has the legal resources (read "money") to defend against a threatened lawsuit, rather than immediately caving.

    "Plus MPEG-LA has the additional deterrent that the backlash would be exactly what they're trying to avoid, only worse: it would promote market fear of H.264 for web use, forcing one of the format's competitors to rise to the forefront."

    First off, you're assuming that MPEG-LA will always act in a completely rational way. Corporate entities are not immune from making completely irrational decisions. If MPEG-LA wants to shoot themselves in the foot, that leaves everybody else scrambling to deal with the consequences.

    Secondly, it's only an irrational move in the current business environment. Simply because it's a bad move now doesn't mean it wouldn't make more sense five years from now.

    It may or may not be relevant to this case, but the first thing I thought of when I read this was Rambus. Even if MPEG-LA is acting magnanimous and benevolent at this instant, I still wouldn't want to get anywhere near this potential patent clusterfuck. You can work on preparing an adequate legal defense, I'll spend that time instead working to migrate to something less insidious.

  • Re:Paging lawyers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by im_thatoneguy ( 819432 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @06:06PM (#33386832)

    MPEG-LA has been very clear publicly in an official capacity on numerous occasions that only charging *for the viewing of the video* constitutes a commercial broadcast.

    As long as the customer doesn't "pay per view" you are in the clear. Ad supported... whatever. All fine.

  • Re:Paging lawyers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Crispy Critters ( 226798 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @06:08PM (#33386854)
    Estoppel can be a little more complicated than that. If they change their minds and take you to court, estoppel would be your defense. But to use it, you would have to argue that their reversal has harmed you; saying "my company spent a million dollars creating and distributing free videos describing our product" would be a way to win, but "I have 10 GB of videos of my cat on my home page" would not. Also, defense of estoppel might be blocked if the program which initially encoded the video wasn't properly licensed or if you engaged in some other behavior that would be considered bad faith. If it's really important, get a lawyer. Or use a completely unencumbered codec.
  • Re:Oh snap. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @07:12PM (#33387536)

    and that they're not afraid to spend a billion or three for big fish like Youtube, Doubleclick and even 5% of AOL (ugh.)

    Yep, I really have to wonder WTF they were thinking with that one. The Doubleclick acquisition was bad enough, but why buy 5% of AOL, which is steadily swirling the drain and only waiting for its users to die off? There's absolutely no growth potential there at all.

    mean for Google's faltering "don't be evil" motto.

    I guess they forgot to add "don't be dumb" to their motto.

  • Re:Finally? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by chaboud ( 231590 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @07:31PM (#33387694) Homepage Journal

    Given how frail, poorly documented, and cantankerous decoder/playback systems have been on OS X and Windows in the past, it's no surprise that they wouldn't want to rely on these systems in Firefox.

    Besides that, this results in running 3rd party code that could be subject to vulnerabilities, crashes, and a bucket of other issues.

    Having your own codecs for web-standard formats compiled in makes loads of sense, just as having web-standard formats remain unencumbered by licensing restrictions. Nobody should have to pay to play in a standards-compliant web.

  • Re:Paging lawyers (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @07:46PM (#33387800) Homepage

    But to use it, you would have to argue that their reversal has harmed you; saying "my company spent a million dollars creating and distributing free videos describing our product" would be a way to win, but "I have 10 GB of videos of my cat on my home page" would not.

    That should be fairly easy to show. You have material already in H.264, you have software tools to edit and encode H.264 - if you quote full retail rates of having a professional convert your video or even a reasonable billing of your own time and/or the cost to replace said tools. Also you can claim future costs in converting all future video taking with any H.264 licensed camera you own to incur further costs. I'm not exactly sure how the court would see it but I figure buying a H.264 video camera under the assumption that their promise was good would be "consideration", and reneging on that promise has lowered the value of the camera and is thus to your disadvantage. Individually it doesn't amount to much but this sounds like a class action slam dunk and/or a perfectly reasonable defense if they try to sue you for violating the H.264 license. It's a shield not a sword so you won't get money from them, but I'm fairly sure this is enough to bind them to the promise and let you use it freely. I know some people try to make H.264 the scary bad codec, but no companies do NOT get away with making such promises and not delivering.

  • internet radio?? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bussdriver ( 620565 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @08:51PM (#33388240)

    What about internet radio which they barred from using their AAC codec? will free radio or almost all radio be free to use AAC now? and without fees?

  • innovation inversion (Score:5, Interesting)

    by epine ( 68316 ) on Friday August 27, 2010 @04:20AM (#33389982)

    I made a post to this effect not long ago. For the most part, large corporations do not innovate. Large corporations like to talk about innovation until they're blue in the face, because the pretext of innovation is their best defense against sharp questions from the FTC. Microsoft in particular has been selling this Kool-Aid for decades. Why does Microsoft deserve monopolistic powers? "Because we innovate." Innovation is good for the consumer, hence our monopoly power is good for the consumer. QED.

    Innovation in large corporations is a simple matter of risk allocation. The investors who signed up for monumental risk when the corporation was small have long since headed for the exits. Few stakeholders in a mature enterprise want the ongoing volatility of a never-ending stream of "bet the company" innovation initiatives. Even when large companies are willing to innovate, they prefer to derisk the process by buying up a smaller company to prime the pump.

    This is entirely normal, and a big part of the reason why we have a small number of huge, mature corporations, and a wide base of small companies with larger dreams than revenues.

    Even when large companies do innovate, it's more often in the area of business process than underlying technology. At that scale, innovation which changes your company is far more valuable than innovation that changes your products. The innovation at Fed-Ex was distribution logistics. It wasn't a better envelope, unless you count slapping a bar code on an envelope as innovation.

    It is a risk when buying up small companies that you end up with too many culture fragments who don't sign up for the big picture. Hence the reason why upper management gets paid more than most of us sots. It's true that only a fraction of highly compensated management delivers value. This is also normal wherever you have extremely soft deliverables. It's really no different than the success rate of first round draft picks in any major league. You draft three players. One becomes the face of the franchise, the other two blow goats. It's very difficult to tell initially when they all show up wearing the same suits, speaking the same language, taught at the same schools.

    In a small company, a genius researcher is your most valuable asset. In a large company, a genius manager is your most lucrative asset. This is a simple calculus of scale.

    We have to stop thinking that innovation is a hallmark of vigour in large companies. There are more useful metrics of vitality, such as how a large company embraces its competitors. Do they raise the bar, or choke off the air supply? Intel is one of the strangest companies out there, because they suck at choking off the air supply (on technical grounds), yet they kick ass when they decide to compete on merit. Yet which do they frequently choose to do?

    I think it comes down to having all those highly paid managers trying to come up with a pretext to prove that they're the straw that stirs the drink and not just goat wankers in expensive threads. Hmmm, we could design the Core2 Duo. That would make the engineers look good and us look irrelevant. Or we could crawl in bed with RAMBUS. That would make us look good (long enough to promote and piss off) and make the engineers irrelevant.

    What I don't understand about all this, is that after Intel paid AMD a billion bucks for illegal tampering, why they didn't apply for a federal bail-out. Few companies that size wear their mistakes any more if they know how to play the game. They've missed out on *the* most important business innovation of the last thirty years. I think some of those suits need to be fired.

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel