[whatwg] Removal of Ogg is *preposterous*

Ian Hickson ian at hixie.ch
Tue Dec 11 01:34:24 PST 2007

On Tue, 11 Dec 2007, Manuel Amador (Rudd-O) wrote:
> http://html5.org/tools/web-apps-tracker?from=1142&to=1143
> The recent removal of the mention of Ogg in HTML5 and the subsequent 
> replacement of its paragraph with the weasel-worded paragraph that would 
> make Minitrue bust their collective shirt buttons in pride:
> <p class="big-issue">It would be helpful for interoperability if all+ 
> browsers could support the same codecs. However, there are no known+ 
> codecs that satisfy all the current players: we need a codec that is+ 
> known to not require per-unit or per-distributor licensing, that is+ 
> compatible with the open source development model, that is of+ 
> sufficient quality as to be usable, and that is not an additional+ 
> submarine patent risk for large companies. This is an ongoing issue+ and 
> this section will be updated once more information is+ available.</p>
> is a preposterous and gross mischaracterization of fact (dare I say 
> lie).  At the very least, it's FUD.

It is intended to be exactly truthful, actually. I apologise if you 
believe this to be fear mongering.

> It pains me to state what is and has always been public knowledge, and 
> is being intentionally ignored just to "get the spec published":
> - The Xiph developers were extremely zealous and almost fiduciarily 
> diligent in researching all possible patent threats to Vorbis 
> technology, and for more than a year they found none -- they even did 
> the research *before* beginning to code, explicitly to avoid submarine 
> patents.

While this is very true, and admirable, and impressive, it is sadly not a 
guarantee. Certain companies (Nokia and Apple among them) have reported 
that they still fear that undisclosed patents may exist that cover the 
relevant codecs, as they might exist for other formats like MPEG4/H.264. 
The difference is that while Apple (for example) have already assumed the 
risk of submarine patents with H.264, they currently have taken no risks 
with respect to the aforementioned codecs, and they do not wish to take on 
that risk. Given the extremely large sums of money that are awarded for 
patent violations (cf. Microsoft's recent settlements), it is 
understandable that companies with the high profile of Apple and Nokia 
would not wish to take on such risks.

> I also know that big-name software houses and media players manufacture 
> products with Vorbis technology, and none of them have been sued.  It's 
> been what, seven years now?

MP3 is and old codec as well, yet the threat of submarine patents covering 
MP3 surfaced recently, much to Microsoft's chagrin. Unless the codecs are 
older than the patent lifetime, there is unfortunately no guarentee. 
Patent trolling companies are patient and will wait for bigger targets, as 
has been seen time and time again. (As an example of this, the Eolas 
patent case is still fresh on everyone's minds, I'm sure.)

> - The Theora codec has had its patents practically relinquished by On3 
> with a perpetual royalty-free license.

I do not believe anyone doubts that On3 is acting in good faith. It is not 
On3 that people are worried about.

> - Ogg and its audio/video codec technologies are the ONLY free software 
> media technologies with implementations widely available on all consumer 
> computing platforms -- from WM codecs to Linux DLLs, passing through the 
> entire range of hardware (floating-point and fixed-point) and OSes.

As much as I am personally a supported of the free software development 
model, I cannot let that control the spec's development. I agree, however, 
that any codec selected absolutely must be compatible with free software 
licenses, as is clear in the paragraph that you so rashly called FUD.

> - Without guaranteed Ogg support (whose integration in user agents I 
> think I already established to be sort of a weekend-level junior 
> programmer project at NO COST, due to the ready availability of the 
> technology in all platforms), authors *will be* forced to use 
> patent-encumbered technology.  Remember MP3? Well, with HTML5 it's 1997 
> all over again.

Ogg is not necessarily the only solution that avoids patent encumbrence. 
There are codecs that have been in existence for longer than the patent 
lifetime, for instance. Dave Singer posted a quite thorough analysis of 
this issue recently.

> Ian, revert.  This compromise on basic values is unacceptable, 
> *whatever* the practical reasons you have deemed to compromise for.  If 
> you don't revert, you will be giving us independent authors the shaft.  
> And we will remember it forever.

Apple, Nokia, Microsoft and other large companies have stated that they 
will not support Theora purely based on the requirement in the spec. 
Having or not having this requirement in the spec thus makes no difference 
to independent authors. In the meantime, having this requirement is 
causing difficulties for those of us actually trying to find a true 
solution to the problem. I assure you that your needs are not being 
forgotten. Indeed, the very first requirement now listed in the spec is 
directly related to catering for independent authors.

I hope this explains the reason behind the recent change and that you see 
why the change was necessary and is not a step backwards. I assure you 
that efforts are being made to address this properly.

Ian Hickson               U+1047E                )\._.,--....,'``.    fL
http://ln.hixie.ch/       U+263A                /,   _.. \   _\  ;`._ ,.
Things that are impossible just take longer.   `._.-(,_..'--(,_..'`-.;.'

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