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Steve Jobs Hints At Theora Lawsuit 686

Posted by timothy
from the fuddish-duddish dept.
netcrawler writes "Steve Jobs' open letter on Flash has prompted someone at the Free Software Foundation Europe to ask him about his support of proprietary format H.264 over Theora. Jobs' pithy answer (email with headers) suggests Theora might infringe on existing patents and that 'a patent pool is being assembled to go after Theora and other "open source" codecs now.' Does he know something we don't?" Update: 05/01 00:38 GMT by T : Monty Montgomery of Xiph (the group behind Theora, as well as Ogg Vorbis, and more) provides a pointed, skeptical response to the implicit legal threat, below.
Monty writes: "Thomson Multimedia made their first veiled patent threats against Vorbis almost ten years ago. MPEG-LA has been rumbling for the past few years. Maybe this time it will actually come to something, but it hasn't yet. I'll get worried when the lawyers advise me to; i.e., not yet.

The MPEG-LA has insinuated for some time that it is impossible to build any video codec without infringing on at least some of their patents. That is, they assert they have a monopoly on all digital video compression technology, period, and it is illegal to even attempt to compete with them. Of course, they've been careful not to say quite exactly that.

If Jobs's email is genuine, this is a powerful public gaffe ('All video codecs are covered by patents.') He'd be confirming MPEG's assertion in plain language anyone can understand. It would only strengthen the pushback against software patents and add to Apple's increasing PR mess. Macbooks and iPads may be pretty sweet, but creative individuals don't really like to give their business to jackbooted thugs."
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Steve Jobs Hints At Theora Lawsuit

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  • by Korey Kaczor (1345661) on Friday April 30, 2010 @07:45PM (#32051594)

    He doesn't know anything that we don't already know.

    However, he, on the other hand, thinks different. (TM).

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 30, 2010 @07:48PM (#32051638)
      The apple is the best computer. I don't care who he sues, it is for a good reason no doubt. Stop stealing from apple you dirty hippies.
      • by Korey Kaczor (1345661) on Friday April 30, 2010 @07:57PM (#32051744)

        What if dirty hippies are stealing your apples? You know, they hop over your fence, climb up your apple tree, and start taking the apples. You confront them, and they're all like, "Yo, man, you can't, um, steal mother nature." Then flash those damned, self-righteous smug looks.

        I think they're working for Al Gore. Like, his henchmen or something. After all, he _IS_ on the board of directors for Apple Computers (TM).

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          What if dirty hippies are stealing your apples?

          This explains the missing part of the Apple's apple. Jobs saw him stealing the apples and shot with his rock salt iShotgun.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 30, 2010 @09:12PM (#32052392)
        I agree. Apples are the best computers. The quality is unparalleled. When shopping for an OEM computer to put Linux on, I always buy an Apple.
    • by pitchpipe (708843) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:07PM (#32051860)

      However, he, on the other hand, thinks different. (TM).

      He also walks on water and shits ice cream.

  • Well (Score:3, Insightful)

    by buchner.johannes (1139593) on Friday April 30, 2010 @07:45PM (#32051598) Homepage Journal

    Luckily, there are no software patents :-)

  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday April 30, 2010 @07:45PM (#32051600) Homepage
    Time for the Two Minute Hate!

    Can we do this maybe just once a day?
  • Apple's new slogan: "There's a patent for that."

  • Connect the dots (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BearRanger (945122) on Friday April 30, 2010 @07:52PM (#32051684)

    Microsoft conspicuously said today that IE9 will only support H.264 for HTML5 video. Add in Apple and you have the two largest consumer OS vendors backing the same codec. I suspect they do know something the public doesn't, even if they themselves will not be a party to this patent challenge.

    Theora will just end up becoming collateral damage in the coming war all of the large vendors are about to wage with Google. Follow the breadcrumbs and that's where you eventually end up.

    • by Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:10PM (#32051904)

      and MKV is better than MOV, AVI, and WMV...

      Open formats and technology scare the crap out of them.

      Granted MKV is just a container... it is still a far better container.

    • Re:Connect the dots (Score:4, Informative)

      by westlake (615356) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:39PM (#32052174)
      Microsoft conspicuously said today that IE9 will only support H.264 for HTML5 video. Add in Apple and you have the two largest consumer OS vendors backing the same codec. I suspect they do know something the public doesn't

      There are 811 AVC/H.264 licensees [mpegla.com] and 26 licensors [mpegla.com]

      Apple and Microsoft are licensors along with industrial mega-corps like Mitsubishi Electric, Sony and Toshiba.

      Google and Canonical are licensees.

      H.264 has tremendous strength simply in OEM support and brand-name consumer tech. There are no significant players missing here.

    • by segedunum (883035) on Friday April 30, 2010 @09:20PM (#32052442)

      Microsoft conspicuously said today that IE9 will only support H.264 for HTML5 video. Add in Apple and you have the two largest consumer OS vendors backing the same codec.

      Unfortunately for Microsoft and Apple they actually believe that they control something. Currently there is no h.264 content out there for HTML5 video and Microsoft and Apple have no means to create it.

      Theora will just end up becoming collateral damage in the coming war all of the large vendors are about to wage with Google.

      Unfortunately, Google controls YouTube and what YouTube chooses to use is what matters. Like it or lump it, they are the standard for internet video which is why Steve Jobs has had to answer some uncomfortable questions about why Apple is incompatible with YouTube, and not the other way around. Google have rather steered away from h.264 in recent weeks towards VP8 (the successor to Theora), largely because they know they'll be steering a car that could take any direction it likes in the coming years and it will be used by Apple at some point to try and shoot YouTube and Google down. Microsoft and Apple in particular have no content to be able to dictate what format people will use, so they have to resort to threats.

      • by westlake (615356) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @03:00AM (#32054372)

        Unfortunately for Microsoft and Apple they actually believe that they control something. Currently there is no h.264 content out there for HTML5 video and Microsoft and Apple have no means to create it.

        Tens of millions, hundreds of millions, of cell phones, web cams and camcorders generating H.264 video every minute of every day.

        Two fantastically rich corporations with deep penetration into the consumer market space. Partnerships with global content providers and distribution networks.

        Out of the game the both of them.

        This is what On2 had to say before the merger:

        What capabilities does H.264 add to the Adobe Flash Player?

        Support of H.264 allows choice for consumers and enterprises, and gives users access to a broader range of content for the Flash Player. Many in the broadcast industry, including content providers for HD DVD/Blue Ray DVD, already encode in H.264. To enable the most efficient consumption of this content on the PC using the Flash Player, supporting H.264 makes sense, and allows users of the new player to avoid delays or other artifacts associated with a transcoding step for a better viewing experience. The already ubiquitous Flash Player has now extended its reach to play back H.264 content across all PC platforms, i.e., Windows, Mac and Linux. Support Center H.264 FAQ [on2.com]

  • by javilon (99157) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:01PM (#32051790) Homepage

    They need to move fast, clean VP8 up and push it into Chrome, Android and youtube. Firefox and Opera will follow quickly and the attempt to lock web multimedia into propietary formats from Apple and Microsoft will fail.

    This move from Apple and the Microsoft's statement about only supporting H.264 are a reaction to Google's purchase of VP8. Both Apple and Microsoft are terrified of Google. They are willing to give up quicktime and wmv as long as Google doesn't succeed in pushing an open source, patent free solution to web video.

    • Rubbish (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Macka (9388) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:13PM (#32051924)

      This makes no sense to me. Lets run with your thought experiment for a moment. Google release a blinding implementation of VP8 support in Chrome next week, then FF and Opera pick it up and release browser updates the week after. Somehow, content providers decide this is a great idea and they all jump on the VP8 band wagon. How does this hurt Apple? What's to stop Apple from adding it to OS X and the iPhone OS along side H.264 and supporting both. How does this give google some kind of competitive edge over Apple that would make Apple "terrified"? They both have full access to H.264 and related tools today, so nothing would change with adoption of VP8: the status quo is maintained. You're just trying to blind people with FUD.

      • Re:Rubbish (Score:5, Insightful)

        by node 3 (115640) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:23PM (#32052034)

        Somehow, content providers decide this is a great idea and they all jump on the VP8 band wagon. How does this hurt Apple?

        It doesn't. But it does hurt the theory that Steve Jobs is out to control eveyone's minds and only Google can stop him, and as such, he is perpetually afraid of Google and is out to destroy them at all costs.

        Facts and reality need not apply.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        nowhere did he say it would hurt apple as a company, or give google a competitive edge. what he did say, and that it you made no attempt to refute, is that it would hurt apple's and microsoft's attempts to push proprietary codecs as standard.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by dangitman (862676)

          what he did say, and that it you made no attempt to refute, is that it would hurt apple's and microsoft's attempts to push proprietary codecs as standard.

          I don't think that Apple and Microsoft have any particular interest in "pushing" H.264 simply because it is proprietary. Rather, it is a CODEC that is widely supported, and in particular has many mobile devices that include hardware decoding support. It also benefits from being pretty clear from a legal perspective with respect to patents. Neither Apple or Microsoft gain anything from it being proprietary.

          • Re:Rubbish (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Draek (916851) on Friday April 30, 2010 @10:56PM (#32053108)

            I don't think that Apple and Microsoft have any particular interest in "pushing" H.264 simply because it is proprietary.

            Yes, they do. The higher they raise the barrier to entry of the particular market, the lower the chances of having a new Google leaving them hanging as it happened with the web market.

            It also benefits from being pretty clear from a legal perspective with respect to patents.

            Not really. That Apple et al own patents over h.264 doesn't mean there's nobody *else* owning patents over it, as so many Microsoft and Apple products have shown these past couple decades.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by dangitman (862676)

              Yes, they do. The higher they raise the barrier to entry of the particular market, the lower the chances of having a new Google leaving them hanging as it happened with the web market.

              How would Google "leave them hanging" by releasing a video CODEC as Open Source? Apple and Microsoft could just use that, seeing as it is Open Source.

              Not really. That Apple et al own patents over h.264 doesn't mean there's nobody *else* owning patents over it, as so many Microsoft and Apple products have shown these past couple decades.

              But being a "patent pool" composed of the major players in the industry means that you'd have to be pretty wealthy or ballsy to go up against them.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Arker (91948)

            Because Apple and Microsoft are pushing patented, unfree "standards" as a way of raising the barrier to entry to the market. You see, in a free market, the price of goods approaches the cost of their production, which means profit margins tend towards the minimum. Both companies seek to avoid this by raising the barrier to entry to exclude competition. Since the main competition they fear is from free software, they dont even need to raise it very high in monetary terms to lock out their competition and wal

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by dangitman (862676)

              Because Apple and Microsoft are pushing patented, unfree "standards" as a way of raising the barrier to entry to the market. You see, in a free market, the price of goods approaches the cost of their production, which means profit margins tend towards the minimum. Both companies seek to avoid this by raising the barrier to entry to exclude competition.

              But neither Microsoft or Apple owns H.264, and the cost of licensing is close to zero (and is actually zero in many cases) so this argument makes no sense. How is H.264 a barrier to entering the market?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by westlake (615356)

        Lets run with your thought experiment for a moment. Google release a blinding implementation of VP8 support in Chrome next week, then FF and Opera pick it up and release browser updates the week after.

        When does VP8 hardware support reach consumers?

        In mobile devices? Camcorders? PCs? HDTVs and the set-top box? Not next week. Quite probably not even next year.

        Where are the editing tools for both the pro and the amateur?

        Meanwhile the installed base for H.264 grows exponentially.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Concern (819622) *

        I have an answer, though who knows if this is true.

        Microsoft loathes Linux and will do anything in their power to destroy it. In the long term, they may even believe it is as big as or a bigger threat than Apple. They have long loved that the problems around proprietary codecs created a barrier to entry for free software platforms. Eventually Ubuntu and others institutionalized workarounds for these (binary codecs and separate distribution), but there are legal problems associated with this. Flash was reall

    • by starseeker (141897) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:31PM (#32052096) Homepage

      How does that help? Is VP8 acknowledged by other major players to not infringe on any other patents? Would Google agree to shield all users of VP8 from any legal attacks by patent holders?

      I rather expect that the holders of these patents feel that any possible implementation of video on a computer infringes on SOME patent they hold, and if there exists some hypothetical codec that does not infringe I'd guess some team of lawyers didn't do their job right. Sort of like how SCO was claiming that no possible modern operating system could exist without violating SCO intellectual property rights, except using the patent system for the fence-building process. Even if there are codes that are completely free and clear, can you imaging how long it would take a the legal system to sort out such a lawsuit? SCO has dragged their action on for YEARS, and that's without thousands of patents to use as clubs.

      If they pick on the developers of Ogg Theora, what happens? Do they stand any chance of carrying on such a lawsuit, as an open source effort? Would various interested companies back them and support them in a fight to the finish? The most frightening interpretation of that email suggests we may actually find out.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Fighting a lawsuit as an open source effort? Now that would be interesting. Of course we'd need to build a lawyer robot who would be linked to a public web forum with a decent rating system. We'd have the court's minutes online in realtime, with forum members analyzing the implications straight away, and computing the best attack vector for responding to the claims. Then a guy called CmdrBurger would upload the most promising responses into the lawyerbot's mouthpiece control center through an XmlHttpRequest
    • They need to move fast, clean VP8 up and push it into Chrome, Android and youtube

      And then Android battery life starts horribly suffering due to lack of hardware support. Sounds like a winning idea!

  • by gweihir (88907) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:02PM (#32051804)

    Unlike other community things, it actually works and people will defend it, because they are using what they write themselves. Go after Open Source and you are basically dead, even when it may take you a long time dying. The time to play games of greed and power with software are over. This stuff is critical infrastructure, everybody needs it and it has to be both good quality and readily available. Open Source can do that. No other approach can. And this becomes harder and harder to ignore.

  • by karl.auerbach (157250) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:07PM (#32051868) Homepage

    Jobs is partly correct and part incorrect.

    When he says "All video codecs are covered by patents" he is incorrect. Patents are limited by their claims and it is completely possible that there is a codec that does not fall under any patents. One such codec, the null codec that simply turns every input bit into itself, is probably free of any patents. Of course that would be a silly codec.

    Just because something is open source does not mean that it does not infringe on one or more patents. A lot of folks confuse "copyright", which protects expression, with patent, which protects ideas. Under patent even an independent expression (an implementation), even an open source one, might impinge on a patented idea.

    I suspect that pretty much everybody here, including myself, is of the belief that patents have been granted that are overbroad, that live too long, and that are simply reflective of prior or obvious practice that existed at or prior to the time of the patent filing. There is much that is broken in the patent system.

    I can readily believe that ogg/theora might impinge on some patent in some country. Then again it might not. And whether that patent is itself valid is a question that would have to be answered once we knew what those putative patents were.

    Since proving that something like ogg/theora doesn't infringe is like proving a negative, it is pretty hard to ever say that something is provably and undeniably free of patents.

    But it would, in my opinion, be a good thing to have the matter fully debated in the context of a lawsuit. It would create a forum where the H.264 people (and other patent-codec people) could duke it out with the open source codec community in a place where we could get some definitive answers that ratchet and lock into place and thus give guidance to us in the future.

    If Ogg/theora (or Google's VP8) violates a patent it is better to know it now so that we can work around the patent or obtain blanket community licenses.

    My own guess is that if the Apple or the MPEG people engage in something more than sabre rattling that they will find the open source community a resourceful and dedicated opponent. Most particularly, the open source community is probably a very formidable opponent on the question of whether that patent on which the claim of infringement is based is itself valid.

    Apple and the MPEG people could find that at the end of the battle that their own patents have fallen.

  • by LordRPI (583454) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:08PM (#32051872)
    I'm ready to go "all-in" with a bet that says the second Google releases the source to VP8, every company with patents on video compression will begin examining VP8 source code for patents. They have their legal teams and engineers ramped up to start digging ASAP and I do believe that's what Steve Jobs means.
  • by melted (227442) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:09PM (#32051884) Homepage

    I don't think it's Apple who's assembling this set of patents. The lawsuit WILL happen sooner or later, inevitably. If Apple started distributing Theora, this lawsuit would happen within a month, even though they're in MPEG LA. Who knows what their contract with MPEG LA says, too. They might lose the right to distribute h264 as a consequence.

    I understand SJ on this one, even if I think his "thoughts on flash" are utter and complete bullshit for the most part.

  • by Aldenissin (976329) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:09PM (#32051894)

    Bubbe, I probably know a lot you don't.

  • by starseeker (141897) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:21PM (#32052012) Homepage

    I know it sucks by modern standards, but the claim that "all video codecs are covered by patents" is a bold one to make - surely MPEG 1 is either at or close to the end of its patent life (at least in the US)?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MPEG-1 [wikipedia.org]

  • by ClosedSource (238333) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:25PM (#32052052)

    Did someone destroy Basil Hallward's painting of him?

  • Apple is evil (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Angst Badger (8636) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:50PM (#32052250)

    I've often made the argument that Apple is far more evil than Microsoft in terms of pursuing vendor lock-in and coercively leveraging one product in order to drive sales of others to the detriment of real competition; the only thing that held Apple back was that it blew the marketing battle against Wintel a long time ago. Now that their fortunes are on the rise again, we can reasonably expect to see Apple flex its muscles in ways that are just as insidious as Microsoft during its rise to dominance. This being one of those occasions, I'll say it again: Apple was innocuous for so long because they simply didn't have the market share to abuse their customers (much).

    Now, for the other half of this endless loop, I'll yield the floor and let the usual crowd of Mac fanboys explain to us how Apple's predatory stance towards Open Source is really insanely great. (And really, this should be a great occasion for nostalgia, since the release of the iPad gives Apple fans the first chance they've had in several years to argue that preemptive multitasking -- or, in this case, any multitasking -- is actually a good thing.)

    • Every since they were the "Jobs" Apple. Initially, Apple was the "Woz" Apple. Products centered around what he, as a geek, liked. Jobs just marketed them (and marketed them well I might add). However that lasted only until around the mid 80s. Then the "Jobs" Apple took over.

      Well that Apple has always been about control, about lock in. They want to tell you what you are going to do on your computer. When you want more power, they want you to throw it away and buy a new one. They will tell you what technologi

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bm_luethke (253362)

      It's not the first time this scenario has happened - frankly it feels a great deal like the days of the early Macs.

      I recall the first Mac I ever saw - I was in high school and a friend had just purchased one (upgrading his Apple IIe), I do not recall which Mac it was but was the top of the line at the time. All of us oohed an ahhed over it. Indeed, it was one of the slickest things I had ever seen. I wanted one so bad I couldn't stand it but I (even with my parents help) just could not afford one so I settl

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 30, 2010 @09:10PM (#32052382)

    Here's the perspective of Greg Maxwell from Xiph on Steve Jobs' claims:

    http://lists.xiph.org/pipermail/theora/2010-April/003769.html [xiph.org]

  • Ready, fire, aim! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Whuffo (1043790) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @02:47AM (#32054322) Homepage Journal

    I can't believe what I'm reading here today. The video codec "war" is over; Google doesn't really even have a horse in the race. Apple devices support H.264 and Microsoft is putting it into the next IE version. Between Apple and Microsoft that covers an overwhelming majority of the video players and that's what any sensible web site will be using to encode their video files.

    VP8 may be very cool and Theora is nice, too. But see the above and realize that even if all of the "me too" web browsers use open source codecs exclusively they'll insure that they'll remain a "me too" browser. I'm sure that the Firefox users here (like me) have noticed the (still) large number of web sites that are reduced in function or unusable to that browser. If those sites can't even be troubled to write HTML that works on all browsers, what makes anyone think they'll maintain multiple copies (encoded in multiple formats) of each video file so that when some uncommon / open source web browser comes along it'll be able to view the videos? Even mighty Google isn't in a position where they can force a video codec on us.

    If open source zealots want to engage in battles like this, they need to pick their battles better. And those intellectually dishonest postings trying to blame Apple for the way things are don't serve anyone. Put some of that time and effort into making a difference instead, OK?

    Here's something to think about: is it possible to write a codec that plays H.264 files without infringing any patents? Don't assume it's impossible - it could very well be possible and that could lead to an open source codec that is compatible with what the big boys use. That's a worthy goal; who's going to give it a try?

He keeps differentiating, flying off on a tangent.

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