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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 Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:07PM (#32051856) Journal

    Looks to me, Steve Jobs just knows there are people looking into suing Theora. Not Steve Jobs (or Apple) is going to sue Theora.

    Even if that's the case he made the announcement in the form of a FUD attack on Theora and the other open source CODECs.

    Now lots of potential adopters will instead be waiting for the other shoe to drop before considering an open source solution - and paying for proprietary stuff meanwhile. And if the shoe never drops they'll wait, and pay, a very long time. This is the magic of FUD.

  • by Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:13PM (#32051930)

    Steve jobs has NEVER been a nice fellow. :)

  • by Pinky's Brain (1158667) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:27PM (#32052070)

    I can say without a doubt in my mind that any H.264 implementation infringes on patent clauses for patents not in the patent pool ... all software of non trivial complexity infringes on patents.

  • Re:Connect the dots (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:35PM (#32052134)

    Ogg is the container, Theora is the codec. Confusion arises sometimes because Ogg Vorbis music files are typically called "oggs", even though Vorbis is the codec in that case. [] []

  • by Goaway (82658) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:36PM (#32052136) Homepage

    That plan just happened to slip his mind when he shipped iPhones and iPads with built-in Youtube support, then?

  • 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 [] and 26 licensors []

    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 sbeckstead (555647) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:49PM (#32052240) Homepage Journal
    Yes but the H.264 implementation only infringes on the patents of the holders of the H.264 patents.
    The whole idea is to come up with new and different ways to do things, not get pissed off because someone else beat you to it.
    In the old days and I'm sure it still happens. There are guys working in large companies watching several patents and as soon as they expire they implement the item and sell it to us without giving the original inventor one red cent. I say patent holders need to make hay while the sun shines.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 30, 2010 @09:10PM (#32052382)

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

  • by socsoc (1116769) on Friday April 30, 2010 @09:22PM (#32052454)
    It's from a 419 scam bait prank. P-P-P-Powerbook []
  • Re:Sensationalism (Score:2, Informative)

    by commodore64_love (1445365) on Friday April 30, 2010 @09:45PM (#32052614) Journal

    He attacked the Church of Apple! Stone him. No, no, better yet. Let's throw him in the river. If he floats we'll burn him at the stake, but if he sinks than he's innocent (may Job rest his soul).

  • by Bing Tsher E (943915) on Friday April 30, 2010 @09:51PM (#32052666) Journal

    At the very beginning of Apple he was the Eddie Haskell. Woz was the nice fellow.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 30, 2010 @09:55PM (#32052696)

    I'm about 99% sure that Apple does, indeed, own H.264 patents.

    Don't settle for being 99% sure - go and check:

    Apple owns one patent licensed through the h264 pool, "Using order value for processing a video picture", US 7,292,636.

  • Lots of patents (Score:4, Informative)

    by electrostatic (1185487) on Friday April 30, 2010 @10:01PM (#32052746)
    From your references, the AVC/H.264 Patent List [] is a 49 page pdf file. Each page shows about 10 to 20 patent numbers, or around 700 by a quick calculation.

    Interestingly, Apple has only one patent.
  • by roca (43122) on Friday April 30, 2010 @10:20PM (#32052850) Homepage

    Turns out that Canonical is an H.264 licensee. They don't care much more about free video formats than Steve Jobs does.

  • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Friday April 30, 2010 @10:20PM (#32052856)

    I agree. I think Apple hasn't had the opportunity to be nearly as evil as Microsoft yet. But the ways things are going, I have no doubt they'll take the opportunity as soon as it presents itself.

    And, while I half expected this, I'm still angry about it.

    Are you kidding me? I still have an original Apple ][ Standard (Integer ROM) somewhere in a box around here.Spent some years coding for the thing, only to have Apple refuse to improve even basic aspects of the design (the keyboard for one) and do it's damnedest to kill off any competition. They they dropped it like a hot potato, refused to provide any support, and when you called up to, say, order a spare disk controller PROM the answer was "we've never made any such product, sir, we recommend you purchase a Macintosh." I'd been a loyal customer up to that point, sold a LOT of systems. Consequently, it was the last Apple product I ever owned (other than an iPod Nano that I got as a gift, so I don't count it.) I'll tell you this: Jobs is a dick. He's always been a dick, will always be a dick. That may be news to a lot of people (those who only got on board with Apple in recent years) but the reality is this: Jobs is nothing more than a hopped up used-car salesman who hitched a ride on Wozniak's genius. To anyone who honestly believed that he's any different under the hood than Gates or Ballmer: you've been fooling yourself. I hope this opens a few eyes.

  • There's a difference between FUD and actual legal issues. Mozilla can't support H.264 in Firefox out of the box.

    It is a bit annoying, however, that they absolutely refuse to use local libraries (DirectShow, GStreamer, etc) to access what codecs the user has available.

  • by sl3xd (111641) * on Saturday May 01, 2010 @01:10AM (#32053904) Journal

    Apple dropped ZFS from Snow Leopard because they were worried about getting sued by NetApp, so there's some merit to the argument that Apple may simply be avoiding a lawsuit.

    Google supports Theora development, and Google is a pretty juicy target, too... so it doesn't quite add up there.

    The place I do think it does add up is simple: MPEG is an ISO standard, and H.264 is also an ITU standard. It has very broad support and many, many implementations.

    Ogg more or less a self-proclaimed standard, with much of it designed by fiat (and by one man), with few implementations other than Xiph's own references (which, being BSD licensed, are simply copied into other products). As I recall when VP3 was donated to Xiph, a bit part of the reason was to spite the MPEG-LA and ISO, because they didn't choose VP3 (and On2 would never get patent royalties). It was sort of a 'poisioning the well' sort of deal.

    Don't get me wrong; the Xiph codecs are excellent, and Monty is exceptionally good. But supporting the Xiph codecs makes only a little more sense (due to their openness and patent-free status) than supporting Sorenson, VC-1/Windows Media, Real, or VP8 (rumors of Google freeing it notwithstanding; it ain't happened yet.)

    They work great; but MPEG-4 and H.264 are ubiquitous, well documented, etc. There are advantages to limiting the number of supported codecs.

  • Re:Apple is evil (Score:2, Informative)

    by thoughtsatthemoment (1687848) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @02:14AM (#32054220) Journal

    The one big thing I do have to give Apple credit for is improving KHTML and releasing their changes back to the community as WebKit, which is now used in many things.

    KHTML was GPL/LPGL licensed so Apple didn't have a choice.

  • 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?

  • by AnEducatedNegro (1372687) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @03:52AM (#32054534)
    disclaimer: i have been drinking.

    because, douchebag, local libraries make the ui platform dependent. have you looked at the architecture diagram of xul lately?
  • by FrostedWheat (172733) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @04:20AM (#32054606)
    Theora (or rather the VP3 codec) is older than H.264 by about 3 years.
  • by professionalfurryele (877225) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @04:54AM (#32054694)

    Okay why is it that one form of mathematics can be patented and other kinds cant? All a computer program is is a mathematical algorithm. I'm a professional scientists, when do I get to patent the maths I derive? Not that I'd ever want one.
    Software patents are insane because they allow you to patent maths. I'd like to think it's obvious why you don't want a field as interconnected and related as mathematics to be patented. What happens when some clever mathematician shows some alogrithm to be isomorphic (the standard of sameness) as some other method implemented in software patents! Without the physical device to point to and say "that mechanism" patents become a nightmare.

  • by Super_Z (756391) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @05:03AM (#32054736)
    Xserves are hardware, Sun Messaging Server [] is a piece of software written in C.
  • by roca (43122) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @05:40AM (#32054852) Homepage

    Sure: []
    That C64x+ DSP is present in the Droid, N900, Palm Pre, and iPhone 3GS, among others.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 01, 2010 @06:12AM (#32054946)

    There's no need for that. They could just simply use phonon. And before you start ranting, no, phonon does not mean KDE, period.

  • Re:Well (Score:3, Informative)

    by LordVader717 (888547) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @09:20AM (#32055598)

    Well there are. The MPEG-LA has European patents and goes round suing everyone with them.

  • Feb 27, 2009 (Score:2, Informative)

    by troll8901 (1397145) * <> on Saturday May 01, 2010 @09:48AM (#32055740) Journal

    Dup post! You've already posted this a mere 428 [] days ago!

  • Forgetting history: (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 01, 2010 @12:08PM (#32056592)

    Let me tell you a story.
    There was a company called Microsoft that among other things developed their own video and audio codecs. The codecs were proprietary to the company and the specs weren't available to the general public. One day Microsoft decided that they wanted to expand their influence on the video market. They would take their newest video encoding technology, picked a subset they considered usefull and submit it to the SMPTE for standardization (VC-1). They would give that codec away for free, no licensing fees at all, so that it would be widely used.
    Since Microsoft had been working on the format for a long time the quality of their implementation would be better than others. It was also already integrated in their software giving them further advantages. The public would also benefit from that move. There'd be a video codec almost as advanced as H.264 while being a little less CPU intensive that everyone could freely use.
    Unfortunately the plan didn't com to fruition. Shortly after the standardization process it turned out that VC-1 violated patents of 17 other companies. Today you can acquire a license for VC-1 from the MPEG-LA under pretty much the same terms that you can get H.264 for, with H.264 gaining more traction in the industry than the former.

    Google may open source VP8, but that doesn't mean we can use it for free. I certainly hope we can, if only because then we can finally toss that outdated, mismanaged piece of garbage that is Theora into the trash where it belongs.

"Card readers? We don't need no stinking card readers." -- Peter da Silva (at the National Academy of Sciencies, 1965, in a particularly vivid fantasy)