Do you use H.264 or MPEG? You need a license.

Recently it was confirmed by the MPEG LA that a license is needed for any use of H.264 and that everyone on the chain is liable. Free software projects are not exempt from this either and neither are end users.

Ben Swartz has an excellent summary about why H.264 should not be used.

A lot of commercial software comes with H.264 encoders and decoders, and some computers arrive with this software preinstalled. This leads a lot of people to believe that they can legally view and create H.264 videos for whatever purpose they like. Unfortunately for them, it ain’t so.

The license that comes with commercial software, such as Apple’s Final Cut Pro, does not cover commercial works. Even so, if you use a commercial software package to create something non-commercial and give it to a friend, they need to be properly licensed also.

You have a license to use their software, provided you don’t make any money, your friends are also all correctly licensed, and you only produce content that complies with the MPEG standard. Using video for a commercial purpose? Producing video that isn’t within MPEG’s parameters? Have friends who use unlicensed encoders like x264, ffmpeg, or xvid? Too bad.

This last thing is actually a particularly interesting point. If you encode a video using one of these (open-source) unlicensed encoders, you’re practising patents without a license, and you can be sued. But hey, maybe you’re just a scofflaw. After all, it’s not like you’re making trouble for anyone else, right? Wrong. If you send a video to a friend who uses a licensed decoder, and they watch it, you’ve caused them to violate their own software license, so they can be sued too.

That’s right folks. Use Handbrake to rip a DVD, or create, view, watch or distribute any H.264 video and you’re liable (royalty free streaming via the Internet has been extended until the end of 2016).

Won’t somebody please think of the children?

4 Responses to “Do you use H.264 or MPEG? You need a license.”

  • Telling the open-source community they are in violation of a patent is like telling a militia that successfully over threw your government that they broke the previous governments laws. Good luck.

  • True, although while they might not go after individuals, they could go after the developers of a piece of software that distributes h.264 like HandBrake, or even distributions.

    Anyway, this post was more of about what the reality is in regards to h.264 and mpeg.


  • Very instructive. I’m creating a web app that generates MIDI files then it converts them into MP3 using ffmpeg in the server only.
    As I understood, I’m not re-distributing the ffmpeg software per se, so I wouldn’t need a license for that. However I’m ‘sending’ an MP3 file to the user, so I could liable (and the user) for that, am I right?
    The web app is free so nobody needs a license, right?
    But if I intend to make money with Google advertisements, will this considered license infringement? Thanks.

  • I’m not a lawyer, but as far as I’m aware you need to license MP3 if you’re using it for anything other than voice. Ffmpeg is open source software so you need to comply with that license, which generally only applies if you distribute the software (which you’re not). There’s nothing to buy in that case.

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