Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Google Media Microsoft Open Source Patents Apple

The Looming Video Codec Fight 235

Posted by Soulskill
from the battle-for-mpeg-la dept.
itwbennett writes "With both Apple and Microsoft promoting HTML5 standards, you'd think that there would be joy in software freedom land. But instead there's another fight brewing. 'While it is true that HTML5 video is a step in the right direction, we also have to take into consideration the underlying codecs used to deliver the video content,' says blogger Brian Proffitt. The problem, says Proffitt, is that Microsoft and Apple's browsers will be supporting only the proprietary H.264 video codec by default. But Google supports only the WebM (VP8) and Ogg Theora codecs. 'So, basically, if Ogg Theora content starts making a dent in Apple and Microsoft's bottom line, or that of the MPEG LA's, then expect to see a lawsuit or two headed Google's way after 2015,' concludes Proffitt."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The Looming Video Codec Fight

Comments Filter:
  • by hedwards (940851) on Friday September 23, 2011 @06:37PM (#37497224)

    Seriously, MPEG LA is going to create a new pool to try and kill WebM, I'm sure they're already working on it. The question is whether or not we're going to let a bunch of patent trolls control future development of the web. Standardizing around a standard that requires licensing fees is the wrong way to go.

    • by EdZ (755139) on Friday September 23, 2011 @07:19PM (#37497650)

      a standard that requires licensing fees

      Only in the US. In places where software patents are a load of hogwash (e.g. europe) h.264 and VP8 are equally open.

      • Which works great, as long as you have no intention of ever releasing your website or program on a international level.
        • Except for the fact that there are already websites and programs that are international that use patented software but don't pay royalties?

    • by warrigal (780670)
      Is anybody behind these "free" codecs willing to indemnify the implementers against submarine patents that surface once the codecs gain enough market-share to be worth litigation? There's no way anyone can know if Ogg, Theora, WebM etc are not infringing (or can be alledged to infringing) somebody's IP until it's tested in court. And even then... I note that Apple has been to bat for its developers against patent trolls. Anyone else?
    • Oh, the situation with MPEG-LA is worse than that. If you capture video on any kind of MPEG camera, even high-end "professional" models, you've now got a video that is encumbered and you can't use it for ANY commercial purpose without a license from MPEG-LA.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by fusiongyro (55524)

      Normally this situation is pretty cut and dry. Unfortunately, the problem here is that H.264 is substantially better technology than WebM [multimedia.cx], it's not clear that WebM is not trampling on MPEG-LA patents, Google is not indemnifying WebM users against it, and Ogg Theora is noticeably worse than WebM.

      I am obviously in favor of eliminating software patents, and thereby eliminating the problem of patent trolls like MPEG-LA. I am also obviously in favor of open standards. But this is not like most software where we

      • by makomk (752139)

        It'd actually be very surprising if WebM did infringe any MPEG-LA patents; it was carefully designed to avoid doing so, and this shouldn't be that hard to do because a lot of the patents in question are very narrow. The reason they're so narrow is that because of the MPEG standards body's stance of patent-neutrality, the original patent holder can submit technologies to the standard that infringe on their patents and the MPEG Group won't modify them to work around the patents no matter how trivial it is to

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Seriously, who gives a shit? Patents are for lawyers. FFMPEG will play just about anything.

    • by hedwards (940851)

      FFMPEG, which works until folks get sued for infringing the patent. It doesn't really matter who is doing the infringing ultimately, if you're having to either infringe or pay a fee to use a standard. For years the main headache I had from running FreeBSD as my primary desktop was no Flash, which meant no Youtube and same for dozens of other poorly designed sites.

      Which is the way that this is likely to end up.

    • Seriously, who gives a shit? Patents are for lawyers. FFMPEG will play just about anything.

      That is not a rescue. If you are using FFMPEG you can be sued for patent violations.

      • by nzac (1822298)

        Only if the patient are valid in your country, which i'm fairly sure is not here.
        Don't know about exporting the finished product back to US though but no ones going to extradite over that.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Teancum (67324)

          Only if the patient are valid in your country, which i'm fairly sure is not here.
          Don't know about exporting the finished product back to US though but no ones going to extradite over that.

          Which implies that any engineering, design work, or for that matter manufacturing can't happen in America without paying off this protection racket. Yeah, that really helps promote a competitive "free market". And people wonder why manufacturing companies are leaving America?

          • by nzac (1822298)

            I wonder if a dedicated sever would get you around this?
            Can the patient make transferring a binary file illegal?

      • That is not a rescue. If you are using FFMPEG you can be sued for patent violations.

        Bullshit. You can't get sued for USING ffmpeg. That's not how the law works. You can get sued for DISTRIBUTING it in the without a proper license in areas in which the software patents are in effect, but that's a completely different thing.

        • Bullshit. You can't get sued for USING ffmpeg. That's not how the law works. You can get sued for DISTRIBUTING it in the without a proper license in areas in which the software patents are in effect, but that's a completely different thing.

          Incorrect. Copyright law handles distribution of software, patent laws apply even when you aren't distributing something. You are mixing the two things.

  • Since when? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Lunix Nutcase (1092239) on Friday September 23, 2011 @06:42PM (#37497262)

    But Google supports only the WebM (VP8) and Ogg Theora codecs.

    Wrong. It still plays HTML5 video that is H.264.

    • Re:Since when? (Score:5, Informative)

      by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Friday September 23, 2011 @07:49PM (#37497990)

      But Google supports only the WebM (VP8) and Ogg Theora codecs.

      Wrong. It still plays HTML5 video that is H.264.

      Spot on - they only announced the intention to remove it; however H.264 HTML5 video still plays just fine in Chrome.

      Additionally, they're only removing it from the desktop Chrome browser - not Android. When asked about H.264 support in Android, they specifically drew a (rather artificial IMHO) distinction between the desktop and mobile platforms.

      • Yep, they were just posturing which is why if they were really going to do it they would have already done it by now. Google was just trying to use the whole WebM vs H.264 thing to push Google TV and all that but when that fell through it's amazing how we heard no more news about H.264 support being dropped.

  • H.264 isn't closed (Score:3, Informative)

    by vijayiyer (728590) on Friday September 23, 2011 @06:48PM (#37497314)

    I don't know what it will take to get people straight on this. H.264 is open and is a standard, but patented. WebM isn't a standard, but isn't patented.

    • by wagnerrp (1305589)
      I don't know what it will take to get people straight on this. WebM is a standard, it just isn't standard. It is a static, published set of audio and video codecs, and a container to package them in. It is just not standard as it has limited browser support, and no hardware support.
      • by Salvo (8037)

        WebM is not a documented standard; The standard is the implementation. Google can change the implementation at any time and the standard follows.
        H.264 is a documented standard; anyone can write their implementation and as long as it adheres to the standard, it can be called a H.264 codec.

        The problem with documented standards is their lack of flexibility. It is also their greatest advantage. That is why there are always new versions of standards: HMTL, HTML2, HTML3, xhtml, HTML4, HTML5; MPEG, MPEG2, MPEG4, e

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          I don't know what you're talking about. The VP8 bitstream is frozen. WebM and VP8 are well-documented formats. An alternative codec, libvpx, was written based on the spec alone and released over a year ago. It's actually better than Google's implementation. libvpx is a VP8 codec just as much as x264 (also by DarkShikari) is an H.264 codec.

      • by vijayiyer (728590)

        If it's not a formal standard issued by a standards body, and it's not a de facto standard, what really makes it a standard? If simply publishing defined a standard, almost anybody could create a standard, and there would be nothing standard about it.

      • WebM is a standard, it just isn't standard.

        In what way is it a standard? Is it an ISO standard? Is it an ECMA standard? Is it a W3C standard? Right, it's not a standard of any standards body. Just because something is open source does not make it a "standard".

        • by MrHanky (141717)

          It doesn't need a standards organisation behind it to be a standard. For instance, ed, the standard editor, is standard because it's ed!

          • by BitZtream (692029)

            And its included by default in everything UNIX install this side of the moon basically. Defacto standard.

            WebM is used in ... (crickets)

            See the difference?

    • It has the same effect in that Mozilla will not be able to license the patents to implement H.264.
    • by Gaygirlie (1657131) <gaygirlieNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Friday September 23, 2011 @07:24PM (#37497704) Homepage

      I don't know what it will take to get people straight on this. H.264 is open and is a standard, but patented.

      In practice it's the same thing as you still cannot implement H.264 encoding or decoding without a license.

    • by hedwards (940851)

      H.264 requires people to pay a licensing fee to use. They have magnanimously agreed to allow people to stream H.264 for free, knowing that they've been paid for the software to encode the stream and for the software to decode the stream. That's enough to prevent the software from being freely available and shouldn't be the case with an open standard.

      • H.264 requires people to pay a licensing fee to use.

        Not true. For non-commercial streaming use it's royalty-free and if you ship an encoder and/or decoder you only pay royalties for any units over 100,000 that you ship. Outside of a Google it is pretty much free for anyone. And even for someone like Google the royalties cap out at like $6 million dollars a year which is a pittance to someone pulling in 10s of billions of dollars in revenue.

      • Decoding h.264 streams is free as long as the content in the stream is free. So you can stream and decide content without paying.

        There still is a significant license fee for encoding.

    • by Patch86 (1465427)

      If you use H.264, you (potentially, at least) will need to pay its owners a licensing fee.

      In my mind, it's somewhat irrelevant as to whether that's regulated by copyright law, patent law, trademark law, contract law, or the laws of thermodynamics; the upshot is the same. If you are reliant on the owner's permission in order to use a piece of software, then that isn't "open".

  • by obarthelemy (160321) on Friday September 23, 2011 @06:52PM (#37497348)

    The $25-PC Raspberry Pi project is struggling about which codecs to include right. Even at a few bucks or less a codec, that's a huge cost when you try to hit $25 for a functional PC.

    • by guruevi (827432)

      Back in the day, some Linux distro's included them in the non-free repositories maintained outside the US. Why don't we find a legal loophole like that and just let the customer (who usually doesn't have to pay for the license) decide?

    • by slew (2918)

      At less than 100,000 units/year, the H.264 royalty rate is zero.
      From 100,000 to 5,000,000 units/year the rate is $0.20/unit (twenty cents)
      and above 5,000,000 units/year, the rate is $0.10 (ten cents), until the maximum cap amount of $6.5 million/year is paid.

      Source: http://www.mpegla.com/main/programs/avc/Documents/AVC_TermsSummary.pdf [mpegla.com]

      • I have no clue which other codecs are required and not free. Probably MPEG-2, MPEG-3... I'm guessing the total quickly reaches $1-$3, which is 5-15% of $25 and is, comparatively, a lot.

      • Good luck making sure that no more than 100,000 people receive a copy of your program. That's even fewer people than, say, Jehovah's Witnesses think will go to heaven.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by BitZtream (692029)

          As a software developer, I'm generally happy when my 'problem' is that I have to start paying royalties because my software has hit 100k users.

          I don't know about what sort of ultra-awesome-kickass programmer you are, but by the time most of us start selling 100k units/year we've got enough accountants involved that dealing with MPEG-LA licensing is a drop in the bucket.

  • There have been a bunch of posts so far, and none of them were 1, 2, 3, ???, 4 Profitt?!

    For shame Slashdot, for shaaaaaaame.
  • by Graftweed (742763) on Friday September 23, 2011 @07:18PM (#37497628)

    The patentability of software is basically flawed and has no place in any knowledge driven economy, but unfortunately this is the reality we're saddled with for the time being.

    Nevertheless, I'm getting pretty tired of companies using software patents as a tactical weapon against competition. If I could introduce a single new law, is that any given company's patent claims would have not be valid unless they were exercised at the earliest possible opportunity. No waiting for years until your competition starts threatening your bottom line before you unleash your army of lawyers. Either they would deplete their resources against every single target out there that may or may not be a threat later on, or they would forfeit any claims they might have.

    Sure, there would be loopholes, and I can think of a few right now, but it would still be fun to watch.

    • Actually patents and IP law are the basis in which a knowledge driven economy can even work.

      If work you've done could be decompiled and reverse engineered and your competitors can put a product on the shelf that undercuts your price because they didn't have to pay for R&D, then why bother even going to market? That's the end of innovation.

      Yes, what patent trolls like Intellectual Ventures is blatantly wrong, but that's a flaw in the system, not with the patent concept as a whole.

      • by wvmarle (1070040)

        Software is already well protected by copyright.

        Patents are for hardware stuff. Machines and the like. And they specifically allow for reverse engineering (figuring out how things work), as that advances the general knowledge. Then people inspired by one patented machine may design their own improved machine. With or without other patented bits. Also a patent is designed to be a full disclosure of how a particular machine works: you get your 20 or so years of protection, under condition that you fully disc

      • by paulsnx2 (453081)
        Written by someone who obviously has never done any reverse engineering. It just isn't that easy.
    • by BitZtream (692029)

      The patentability of software is basically flawed and has no place in any knowledge driven economy

      Without patents, there is no knowledge driven economy. Knowledge is only power if no one else has access to it. As soon as you release software (or hardware for that matter) into the while, its no longer a secret and without patents, you have no power.

      • by Arlet (29997)

        Most software is distributed in binary form, which is hard enough to reverse engineer that patent protection doesn't really add that much benefit.

    • by bk2204 (310841)

      There's already a legal term for this. It's called the doctrine of laches. Basically, if you sit on your rights, you lose the right to enforce them. This is designed explicitly to avoid harming others that relied on your inaction.

  • The battle between h.264 and Theora has existed for over a year and this article doesn't add any new insight to the table. The OP is full of name dropping and was submitted by someone at IT World but doesn't even throw in a "full disclosure" statement. We get it, Brian Proffitt wrote a stale article for you and your buddy Soulskill hooked you up again...

    • Frankly, I agree. What is here to talk about? It's just a rehash of the same old and tired discussion.

  • Sigh... I'm not very optimistic about the software patent situation. The only bright spot is the very long view. Companies are patenting absolutely anything they can get away with right now. While this poses a problem for short term software development, I wonder if this will have ramifications for long term development. That is... once all the "core technology" patents have expired, they'll be free to use henceforth.

    There are likely natural limitations to how much audio or video data can be compressed

    • by russotto (537200)

      While this poses a problem for short term software development, I wonder if this will have ramifications for long term development. That is... once all the "core technology" patents have expired, they'll be free to use henceforth.

      Wrong; they'll just patent them again with slightly different wording or "...on the latest shiny toy". Sure such patents are crap, but no one has the resources to fight them all.

  • According to the HTML5 test page, Safari (on OS X) supports WebM as well as H.264.

    This may be different on iOS of course, due to decoding issues.

  • by smash (1351)
    So given all my media is already in h.264 when it comes off the device, what's the rationale behind getting it in webM/vp8 without any proprietary license? Never mind that h.264 is technically superior and has hardware support in all my devices, and webM is open to being shafted due to patent infringement...

Help me, I'm a prisoner in a Fortune cookie file!

Working...