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H.264 will remain royalty-free until 2016 for free Internet content [pdf] (mpegla.com)
33 points by jon_dahl 2544 days ago | hide | past | web | 28 comments | favorite



(For the PDF-adverse):

MPEG LA’s AVC License Will Continue Not to Charge Royalties for Internet Video that is Free to End Users

(DENVER, CO, US – 2 February 2010) – MPEG LA announced today that its AVC Patent Portfolio License will continue not to charge royalties for Internet Video that is free to end users (known as Internet Broadcast AVC Video) during the next License term from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2016. Products and services other than Internet Broadcast AVC Video continue to be royalty-bearing, and royalties to apply during the next term will be announced before the end of 2010. MPEG LA's AVC Patent Portfolio License provides access to essential patent rights for the AVC/H.264 (MPEG-4 Part 10) digital video coding standard. In addition to Internet Broadcast AVC Video, MPEG LA’s AVC Patent Portfolio License provides coverage for devices that decode and encode AVC video, AVC video sold to end users for a fee on a title or subscription basis and free television video services. AVC video is used in set-top boxes, media player and other personal computer software, mobile devices including telephones and mobile television receivers, Blu-ray DiscTM players and recorders, Blu-ray video optical discs, game machines, personal media player devices and still and video cameras.

For more information about MPEG LA’s AVC License or to request a copy of the License, please visit http://www.mpegla.com/main/programs/AVC/Pages/Intro.aspx


Does no one remember what happened with GIF? It got so widely adopted that is was impossible to stop using it. The other image format supported by the web was JPEG, which wasn't suitable for non-photographic images because of it's lossy nature and imprecise control over colour.

And then suddenly, Unisys asked for lots of money from everyone producing software which wrote GIFs.

Those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.


How many paid Unisys? (Honest question, I don't remember. But I do remember celebrating GIF Freedom Day when the patent ran out.)


1. Compuserve invented GIF. Not Unisys. 2. Unisys never said "You can use this for free" and then changed their minds.


"Unisys does not require licensing, or fees to be paid, for non-commercial, non-profit GIF-based applications, including those for use on the on-line services. Concerning developers of software for the Internet network, the same principle applies. Unisys will not pursue previous inadvertent infringement by developers producing versions of software products for the Internet prior to 1995. The company does not require licensing, or fees to be paid for non-commercial, non-profit offerings on the Internet, including "Freeware"."

--Unisys 1995 (http://web.archive.org/web/19981203000955/http://lpf.ai.mit....)

"Unisys has frequently been asked whether a Unisys license is required in order to use LZW software obtained by downloading from the Internet or from other sources. The answer is simple. In all cases, a written license agreement or statement signed by an authorized Unisys representative is required from Unisys for all use, sale or distribution of any software (including so-called "freeware") and/or hardware providing LZW conversion capability (for example, downloaded software used for creating/displaying GIF images)."

--Unisys 1999 (http://web.archive.org/web/20021203075728/http://www.unisys....)


Crazy. I knew about the second version of their policy, but didn't realize they actually did say it was free at first.


So no fees until it's firmly entrenched as a part of our daily lives...?


@GrandMasterBirt: Personally, I am not now and never will touch Blu-Ray. I don't trust Sony to have any qualms about screwing everyone over. I also think that, before Blu-Ray gets majority market share, downloadable videos will be widely enough accessible to completely replace my media players for 99% of my viewing. </rant>

This assumes that nothing will come along to challenge or supersede h.264. If nothing else, we can hope that Theora will get more developers, at which point the whole browser-battle will resume, and the same solution will likely arise: further delay in fees, or switching to a free codec (remember, Theora will have improved in the meantime).


When was the last time you watched a YouTube video?


Exactly. However how is that any different than Blue-Ray? Same crap, everyone is moving to BR and sony wants every disk burned to have a license unless its personal use, not to mention a whole lot of restrictions like by 2012 all non-hi-def input won't be supported, and diminished quality for non-hi-def inputs today intentionally even though it is unnecessary.


It would be interesting to calculate how much Mozilla and Google's posturing with Theora and On2 has saved Youtube in fees over the next five years. But since the prices would have been set by an entirely opaque cartel of patent holders, it would be mostly guesswork.


The headline looks a whole lot better than what is promised. Sorry.

Edit: Ah. Submitter is a licensee of the technology in question. :)


This is what's great about HTML 5. While Adobe is looking backwards and trying to claim that HTML 5 is not a viable replacement for itself, HTML 5 is actually rapidly accelerating. The H.264 licensing was a deal breaker for Mozilla, and now (hopefully) it is not. In other words, if FireFox accepts this, the criticism that Adobe published just a couple of days ago is no longer relevant.


This won't solve Mozilla's self-imposed problem at all. MPEG LA is still charging royalties on all H.264 decoders and encoders, which Mozilla refuses to pay. Also, MPEG LA reserves the right to charge webmasters as much as they want after 2016.


This only applies to the content creators, not the browsers. I think Mozilla will still have to license h.284 if they added support to Firefox as they are a commercial enterprise?

Adobe has poured alot of resources into the Flash platform over the past few years, but most of the enhancements have been around video. Most of us Flash Developers will tell you we feel a little peeved that some areas have been overlooked... I know there has been a bug I've been tracking for over two years with Adobe that stops me using the SoundMixer class in any of my apps. This added competition of HTML5 is only going to be a good thing as it will make Adobe concentrate on all areas of the platform. Thats why I get frustrated that the only discussion is always around the damn video tag!

Apple is part of the group that owns the h.264 patents. They will make money from anyone who licenses it. This is why it is important for them to stop other codecs being available on their devices. If content providers decide to use a app instead of a website to publish their content on the iPhone/iPad Apple could very easily just deduct the licensing costs from the money received from the app store (Free apps are covered as free content).


It's the same bomb with a longer fuse.


Surely in six years, Ogg Theora will be just as good as H264 and computers will have advanced to the point that converting the relevant clips will be quite efficient?

This will force the owners of H264 to either create a fair price for the codec in 2016, or they will become irrelevant like RealPlayer, etc.


Surely in six years, Ogg Theora will be just as good as H264

Theora is a generation older than H.264. There are features in H.264 that help compression that aren't in Theora, plus Theora has a few other problems (e.g. motion vectors no longer than 16 pixels). So a good H.264 encoder is always going to beat a good Theora encoder. Perhaps they'll be able to create a truly excellent Theora encoder that will mitigate the format's deficiencies as much as possible, and outperform the majority of H.264 encoders, but I wouldn't bet on it. The open-source x264 encoder is already very good, and is only going to get better. And the increasing use of H.264 for TV broadcast and Blu-ray surely means that there's going to be strong competition amongst the vendors of commercial H.264 encoders.


The passage of time won't make Theora any better or worse compared to H264. There may be some improvement in the quality of encoders, but the standard itself cannot be changed (at least, not without massive breakage).


Knee-jerk reaction says: Obvious or non-obvious software patents will prevent others from implementing a good alternative in that time-span.

...that said, I think you are right.


Well the whole royalty situation is making Flash video look really good. It solved similar issues when it launched to alleviate us of player hell in Windows Media Player, Real Player and Quicktime all breaking each other and fighting for file extensions. Flash has On2 and can play H.264. If Flash just could get hardware rendering support beyond full screen scaling, then they might have a fighting chance being that there is piles of money people will have to pay to make a content site. The window is closing on the video shakeup and it will cost alot to run one very soon.


Couldn't MPEG LA easily amend the H264 licensing terms to make users of Flash liable for royalties? It doesn't seem to me like Flash lets you avoid anything with the exception of a decoder fee (since Adobe pays for that).


Flash FLV is a wrapper for a variety of codecs that are mainly proprietary (and some standard like MPEG, H.264, H.263). On2 VP6 and Sorenson Video Codec to name a few (which Adobe pays for), but Adobe could be extremely ruthless and work in Theora/Ogg into their FLV wrapper as well without a huge standards battle. So in terms of agility to change to avoid excessive fees, Flash might actually be better situated.

Really all Flash has to do is hardware accelerate their video (easier said than done - and not just for full screen) and it will alleviate the poor performance perception as it is all software decoding right now.

Still though, content creators that don't want to pay fees should really pay attention to this situation. Video could get very expensive online shortly if we are all on the H.264 html5 <video> will save us bandwagon. It would really suck to have to go with proprietary video just to stay cheap.


When do the patents on H.264 expire?


Googling gives 2028, which means that any short term royalty-free license is just bait and switch.


Far in the future, and by that time we'll be discussing H.265 whose patents will expire even later.


Everyone is talking about Theora vs. H.264. What about Dirac (a.k.a. Scrödinger)? It was developed by the BBC, and has a free license. It's only disadvantage is a lack of defensive patents (they had some applications, but let them lapse).


Dirac suffers from the same problem as Theora, in that approximately nobody uses it. Theora at least already has several browser implementations and Wikipedia.




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