Tag Archive for 'h.264'

Trying to kill Theora – MPEG LA extends royalty free use of H.264 for Internet streaming

So the MPEG LA has extended the royalty free life of Internet streaming H.264 video from the end of 2010 to the end of 2016. The majority of patents expire in 2028, so that will still give them plenty of time to collect on royalties, if we let them.

Make no mistake, this is about stifling the adoption of Theora in order to become the de-facto standard. MPEG LA is trying to kill Theora, but we must not let that happen! We need an open web.

If you use H.264 for ANY OTHER PURPOSE today, you still need a license. Yes, that means you Mr. Linux user ripping your DVD’s to H.264..

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?

MPEG LA confirms H.264 license needed for free software and end users

Currently, there is no default video format for use with the HTML5 video tag. The patent and royalty free Theora format was planned to be the default, but this was opposed by corporations like Apple and Nokia. The most popular video format at the moment is the heavily patent encumbered H.264, which is often encapsulated in Flash. As the move to HTML5 gathers steam, the battle for a video format rages on.

The issue of which format becomes prevalent is very important for the future of open web (and especially Linux). Youtube is one of the biggest providers of H.264 encoded media (currently encapsulated in Flash, but there is an HTML5 beta program) and Google will pay hefty royalties for the privilege.

The question of royalties over use of H.264 has become a popular talking point of late, because while Safari and Chrome support it, Chromium (the free software version of Chrome browser) Opera and Firefox don’t.

Now, a discussion on the Linux Weekly News site has answered the question as to whether the MPEG LA will require and enforce free software projects (and developers) to cough up for a license.

The question asked of MPEG LA via email exchange:

I read through the FAQ and can’t find out if Free and Open Source developers and products need to license the MPEG LA patents for MPEG-4 Visual. It was alleged in a comment that royalties are only necessary for products sold, not for free products. Is this correct? Could you please comment on the licensing options for Free (e.g. GPL) and open source implementations of MPEG-4 Visual, specifically h.264? What about downstream users/developers/distributors of Free and open source software?

The answer is a resounding “Yes” and even end users are liable:

In response to your specific question, under the Licenses royalties are paid on all MPEG-4 Visual/AVC products of like functionality, and the Licenses do not make any distinction for products offered for free (whether open source or otherwise)…

I would also like to mention that while our Licenses are not concluded by End Users, anyone in the product chain has liability if an end product is unlicensed. Therefore, a royalty paid for an end product by the end product supplier would render the product licensed in the hands of the End User, but where a royalty has not been paid, such a product remains unlicensed and any downstream users/distributors would have liability.

As an article over at OSNews states, we must ensure that H.264 does NOT become the de-facto standard for video on the web:

“In other words, h264 is simply not an option for Free and open source software. It is not compatible with “Free”, and the licensing costs are prohibitive for most Free and open source software projects. This means that if the web were to standardise on this encumbered codec, we’d be falling into the same trap as we did with Flash, GIF, and Internet Explorer 6.”

I guess it’s up to web developers and corporations to make the smart choice. If Google can purchase On2 Technologies, they might release later generation versions of VP (on which Theora is based) to surpass the quality of H.264.

Christopher Blizzard: HTML5 video and H.264 – what history tells us and why we’re standing with the web

Christopher Blizzard has a great article about H.264 and what it might mean if it becomes the de-facto standard for video on the web.

Remember, this is still very early in H.264’s history so the licensing is very friendly, just like it used to be for MP3. The companies who own the IP in these large patent pools aren’t in this for the fun of it – this is what they do. They patent and they enforce and then enjoy the royalties. If they are in a position to charge more, they will. We can expect that if we allow H.264 to become a fundamental web technology that we’ll see license requirements get more onerous and more expensive over time, with little recourse.

YouTube HTML5 beta program launched, but without Theora support

Google has created an opt-in beta program for anyone wanting to test YouTube with the HTML5 tag rather than using Flash. There are a few caveats however, with the number one being that it’s still all H.264 video. No Theora to speak of, yet, but it’s possibly a step in the right direction!