[whatwg] on codecs in a 'video' tag.

Gervase Markham gerv at mozilla.org
Tue Apr 3 05:51:22 PDT 2007

Maciej Stachowiak wrote:
> What I mean is that unlike the case for other browser vendors, it won't 
> cost us anything in patent license fees.

Ah, right. So you want MPEG because it gives Apple (and Microsoft, I 
guess) a financial competitive advantage over other browsers.

>> The problem is not that it's $5 million, it's that the amount is 
>> unknown and unmeasurable. They have no "fixed fee above a certain 
>> number of units" licensing policy. And even if they did, a Mozilla 
>> license wouldn't cover other members of that community.
> Actually, they do have a license cap, and I overestated it. 

Indeed; as noted in my follow-up email. Apologies.

> It's not immediately clear to me that a Mozilla license would not cover 
> redistribution, for instance the license fees paid by OS vendors 
> generally cover redistribution when the OS is bundled with a PC. I think 
> someone would have to look at the legal language of the agreement to see 
> if it covers redistribution.

But the issue is not solely the legality of our mirror network or of 
putting Firefox on a magazine CD. The point is that every free software 
browser, from Firefox to Iceweasel to Konqueror would have to pay the 
$5M because they have no way of counting the number of downloads or 
users. The license is per-enterprise; Mozilla codebase derivatives 
shipped by other people would not be covered.

Let's be clear what we are looking at here - the possibility that, for 
the first time, there would be parts of core web standards covered by 
patents for which royalties needed to be paid. That's a massive shift.

>> Let me add other reasons why Mozilla (for whom, again, I am not 
>> speaking) might want to specify Theora/Dirac:
>> - They have a strong commitment to interoperability
> I don't think Theora (or Dirac) are inherently more interoperable than 
> other codecs. There's only one implementation of each so far, so there's 
> actually less proof of this than for other codecs.

The other meaning of interoperability - the one that means everyone can 
implement it.

GIF encoding was highly interoperable, in the sense that there were lots 
of implementations of it in various proprietary graphics apps. But it 
was not interoperable, in the sense that there was a lot of software 
which was not able to implement it - and so lots of people, using that 
software, who couldn't create or edit GIFs.

>> - They appreciate that there are a wide variety of distribution models;
>>   for browsers, and do not want to choose technologies which work only
>>   for some of those;
> Unfortunately, Ogg does not work for some browsers either.

What is it about the distribution model of Safari that is incompatible 
with shipping Ogg?

Of all of the points you put forward, lots were "why MPEG4 is good for 
us", but only one could be construed as saying "Ogg does not work for 
us" - and that was the submarine patent point. Is this what you are 
referring to, or is there another reason specifying Ogg "doesn't work" 
for Safari?

>> - If they think a royalty-free patent policy for standards is a good
>>   idea in one place (the W3C) then they think it's a good idea
>>   everywhere.
> The problem is that the main standards bodies for video (such as the 
> ISO) do not have the same norms about RF vs. RAND patent licensing as 
> the W3C.

That's entirely beside the point. (I'm not arguing that, for 
consistency, you should be telling the MPEG-LA or the ISO to license 
their patents royalty-free.)

Here's my point. The W3C has a RF patent policy for web standards. Apple 
is a member, and worked on (and so presumably endorses) that policy. So 
either RF is a good idea for web standards, or it isn't. It can't be a 
good idea in the W3C but a bad idea in the WHAT-WG.

It's not as if there are no codecs available where all known patents are 
RF. We do have a choice over what to pick.

>> So, just to be clear: you believe interoperability is best promoted by 
>> having no codec specified in the spec?
> I think if the spec mandates a single codec, that part of the spec will 
> be ignored by at least some parties.

The current proposal is for a SHOULD, not a MUST. Do you object to 
SHOULD as well as to MUST?

Can you please explain how you believe not specifying a codec at all 
promotes interoperability?

>> You and I both know that this would result in dominance for whatever 
>> codecs got shipped by default on major operating systems. Content 
>> producers will not choose codecs for 5 or 10% better quality or 
>> bitrate, they will choose them for user convenience - because if their 
>> site is harder to use than their competitors, they'll fail.
> Isn't this basically admitting that Ogg Theora would fail in the market 
> if not legislated in the spec? 

You assume that, absent legislation in the spec, all of the world's 
codecs would be competing on a level playing field. That's clearly not 
the case.

Also, even if Theora did eventually win the marketplace, there would be 
a lot of pain for content authors in the mean time, as they attempted to 
support the different codecs implemented by different browsers.

>> I'm sure that any help Apple would be able to give in this area would 
>> be much appreciated. How do you suggest we begin?
> One good first step might be for someone to obtain a copy of the 
> existing license terms and determine how they would apply to a freely 
> redistributable product.

I think that's already been done in this thread, unless you think the 
analysis is flawed.

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that different terms would be 
required in order for MPEG4 to be implementable in free software. Is 
Apple offering to help approach the MPEG-LA?

>> You again assume that only recalcitrance prevents some parties 
>> implementing any particular codec stack. As I understand the 
>> situation, Firefox would have to stop being free software in order to 
>> ship an MPEG4 implementation.
> I don't think that is true, but it would depend on the details of the 
> MPEG-LA license agreement. 

For an MPEG4 implementation in Firefox to be free software, anyone would 
have to be able to take it and put it in their device - effectively 
ending the ability for the MPEG-LA to charge licensing fees. I somehow 
suspect their current license agreement does not permit this.

> Also, at most the MPEG4 implementation would 
> not be free software, this would not have to affect the rest of Firefox.

That's like saying "if I chain your arm to this pipe, you can still move 
the rest of yourself around, so it's not so bad". If one bit of Firefox 
has restrictions, that puts restrictions on the whole thing.

Konqueror, for example, is under the GPL, and so can't link with 
non-free code. Some projects take the Firefox code under the GPL option, 
and are so in the same position.

And, as someone else pointed out, that's without considering the MPEG 
audio codec also, which would add further cost and problems.


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