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

Henri Sivonen hsivonen at iki.fi
Tue Apr 3 16:05:57 PDT 2007

On Apr 3, 2007, at 21:52, Dave Singer wrote:

> OK, I am not a lawyer and I do not represent the patent holders,  
> and it is not my job to help build their business.  I have enough  
> trouble building ours.  However, there are both reference and open- 
> source implementations of MPEG codecs (e.g. x264);  generally my  
> (possibly flawed) perception is that it is their use that is  
> subject to license, not their mere existence.

I am not a lawyer, either. However, one can observe that
  * The developers of Open Source implementations of MPEG-4 family  
encoders and decoders generally live and work in Europe. With the  
exception of the France-based VLC project, the people and projects  
usually aren't based in the worst EPO countries.
  * Some implementation projects only distribute source, presumably  
to mitigate the patent litigation risk by not shipping a directly  
runnable product.
  * No Linux distributor that has business in the United States ships  
binaries of Open Source implementations of MPEG-4 family codecs.
  * In fact, it appears that no notable U.S.-based company  
distributes GPL-licensed implementations of the MPEG-4 family codecs.  
(Google runs x264 privately within the company. It does not  
distribute it. Hence, the distribution provisions of the GPL do not  
apply. And Google does pay money to MPEG-LA.)
  * The FAQs of some of these projects suggest that there is  
precedent of companies getting in trouble with MPEG-LA for trying to  
embed Open Source implementations of MPEG-4 family codecs in  
commercial products.
  * It appears that so far MPEG-LA has not gone after American  
individuals who obtain implementation from Europe for private use.

The conclusion I draw is that MPEG-4 family codecs are unacceptable  
for Open Source projects that have an overt presence in the United  
States and that distribute software there. This includes Open Source  
Web browsers. U.S.-based companies that run Open Source encoders on  
their servers may be able to do so provided that they pay MPEG-LA and  
do not distribute the software that they run.

> The most prevalent codecs *today* are those in cell phones;  heck,  
> Nokia has shipped more digital cameras than anyone else (really).   
> In those phones, H.263 and AMR are almost universal (even 3GPP2,  
> which uses a different voice codec, mandates AMR for MMS  
> interoperability, I believe).  I think ogg/theora support in the  
> mobile world (as a specification mandate) is unlikely, so I would  
> disagree that they are the only chance we have of  
> interoperability;  the best chance is probably getting as close as  
> possible to the mobile world.

Stuff that a casual Web author would want to encode for the real Web  
(not "Mobile Web") most likely won't Just Work on today's mobile  
devices. The ISMA stuff is just unacceptably limited for content that  
needs to looks like being this year's content on desktops.

It wouldn't be unreasonable to expect next-generation devices to work  
better, though. So much better that they could decode YouTube-quality  
Theora by the time HTML5 implementations reach mobile devices.

Henri Sivonen
hsivonen at iki.fi

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