[whatwg] Google's use of FFmpeg in Chromium and Chrome

Gregory Maxwell gmaxwell at gmail.com
Sun Jun 7 19:43:17 PDT 2009

On Sun, Jun 7, 2009 at 10:03 PM, Peter Kasting <pkasting at google.com> wrote:
> In the end I personally view hostility towards patent-encumbered video
> formats the same way I view hostility toward non-GPL "free software"
> licenses: a stance I understand, but not one I agree with.

I don't think the particular parallel you've drawn there is the appropriate one.

Non-GPL free software licenses do not have the same properties as the
GPL, but at least they still permit unlimited royalty free use and
redistribution, modification, etc. There may be practical issues that
come about due to license compatibility or a failure to advance the
long term objectives of particular parties but it's all still free

The unencumbered format issue manages to gather a lot of passion for a
number of reasons. One of them is that compatibility has been *the*
historic problem with web video: Many believe that the fragmented
video marketplace created by competing commercial interests is
entirely what allowed flash to gain such dominance in an area that is
really outside of its core competence. (Although the new and
impressive uses of video can't really be accomplished with embedded
opaque objects, all of what flash video is used for can be.)

The other is simply the vicious cycle: One of the most significant
advantages of any unencumbered formats is that you don't have to pay
royalties. This is true no matter if you're talking about JPEG or
Theora. Both browser developer and content distributors both feel the
heavy pressure of compatibility... Beyond all other factors
compatibility is key.  If the existing installed base demands format
X, you'll be compelled to offer it. If X requires royalty payments,
you've just lost a major advantage of the unencumbered format and now
the other costs (binary size, code complexity, etc) may outweigh the
remaining benefits of including an unencumbered alternative.  As a
result the availability of the unencumbered alternative is poor,
sometimes the support provided is little more than a hardly working
token, and those who want to use the formats (and avoid format
royalties) find themselves realistically unable.

Many people have hopes that HTML5 video would make it possible for
them to use royalty free formats without unreasonable compromises.
But every vendor that supports an encumbered format makes that outcome
a little less likely, and a lot less likely if they only support
encumbered options. Every distributor that distributes encumbered
formats enables vendors to ignore the other options, and distributors
who offer only encumbered media (such as Youtube) significantly
contribute to a negative outcome for those who care about this issue.

Parties far above the licensing ceiling or with patent assets
substantial enough to allow individual cross-licensing (and avoid the
fees entirely) don't feel the same pain on this subject that smaller
participants feel. Yet the big parties have by far the greatest power
to drive adoption.

So we have people who feel that they are forced to act against their
best interests by forces outside of their control, and that the
parties with the greatest influence are somewhat insensitive to the
wider implications of their decisions.

So while the angst might be partially misplaced, it's not completely misplaced.
None of us live in isolation and that is, after all, why standards exist.

I am very grateful that Chrome is shipping Ogg/Theora today,
regardless of what else it ships: While Google is missing an
opportunity to advance a public benefit they are at least not actively
obstructing the work of others.   It's unfortunate that the Theora
support in chrome is reportedly buggy and slow, but thats a subject
for another list. :)

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