FFmpeg vs. MPEG-LA royalties
Posted Jan 28, 2010 12:36 UTC (Thu) by pboddie
In reply to: FFmpeg vs. MPEG-LA royalties
Parent article: Blizzard: HTML5 video and H.264 - what history tells us and why we're standing with the web
Why? Because you say so even though the MPEG-LA licensing terms disagree?
From the location mentioned previously, I can find a summary of the terms - the real terms being sent out only on request, it would seem - which clearly impose restrictions on the purposes for which encoder/decoder products can be used. So, in fact, even if someone does obtain a licence from the cartel, it isn't clear whether that licence covers the whole spectrum of distribution given that Free Software doesn't distinguish between "personal consumer use" and "providers".
Avoidance is not viable when everything except "Hello World!" is patented, which is the situation we are in now...
It's true that patent claims are ubiquitous, but when the choice is to proliferate known patent-encumbered technologies licensed by an active enforcement organisation, or to seek to use other technologies that are not known to be encumbered and are more easily defended, the responsible path is the latter not the former.
VLC, MPlayer and FFmpeg are not high-profile distributors? It seems that
Then we shall have to switch to low-profile distributors for our free software then.
As others have pointed out, the lack of interest in pursuing these projects is no guarantee that they will not be pursued in the future. And not only does the organisation producing a Web browser with 30% or so market share have to worry about this, but they also have to worry about the effects on those who redistribute their software under the much more high-profile brand that they maintain. A set-top box manufacturer selling products based directly on FFmpeg would need to be sniffed out by the cartel's enforcement department, but one selling products with Firefox branding would be very visible indeed.
A patent license from the MPEG-LA does not in any way interact with the LGPL. How would it? If Google has an MPEG-LA license and passes along FFmpeg to you it can only do so under the full terms of the LGPL. And this is what Google is doing: Distributing FFmpeg with all the rights that we passed along to them attached, as specified by the LGPL.
Such a patent licence cannot interact with the LGPL for redistribution to be permissible under those terms. But given what I've read about segmenting the recipients of the software (from the summary, above), it's quite possible that Google claim that Chrome is for "personal consumer use" whilst anyone else who repackages Chrome (as Chromium, for example) is not their responsibility. Thus, the latter group are burdened with dealing with the cartel when they seek to distribute, rather than use, the software, particularly if it turns out that the software is intended for "personal computer use" or for "providers".
You can claim that the patent licence is merely some kind of "insurance". No-one is being forced to buy such insurance, but in practical terms a set of extra obligations are being added to certain recipients of the software. Whether people manage to sneak around section 11 of LGPLv2.1 or not on this basis - and I am reminded of the whole Microsoft/Novell covenant scheme - the lasting impression is that various principles of Free Software have been undermined.
Note that this is how both FFmpeg and the Software Freedom Law Center see the issue. I never felt there was anything to clarify there, but apparently people are willing to take random quotes from random people as facts just because they are reprinted at lwn.net...
Some more "random quotes" for you here. Of course, you can claim that it's merely a case of sour grapes that the GStreamer people are publishing advice from the FSF that conveniently supports their position. Again, we can probably only take Google's word for it that their agreement with the cartel is compatible, but as I note above, even if our trust is well-placed - that Google have not technically done "evil" - the consequences may not be so benign.
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