No such thing as an unemcumbered codec

Summary:Digital content is a patent minefield, and each country has its own set of mines.

Open source activist Florian "Floyd" Mueller has riffed on a recent piece of mine concerning Google's open sourcing of its VP8 codec.

(The art is by Roland Heath and is called "My consciousness bouncing around the light." Thumbnail reproduced with permission of the artist.)

His point -- there is no such thing as a multimedia format unemcumbered by patents.

Multimedia (audio/video) data formats and codecs are one of the worst patent minefields of all. One has to tread carefully, and some of those mines go off all the time.

Google may face legal challenges to open sourcing VP8, he writes. Apple says there is patent uncertainty regarding Ogg Theora.

Floyd cites MP3, which German police have been actively policing at trade shows like CeBIT. They're not really acting as patent police. They're looking for pirated content, and the means to reproduce it. But patent claims give them the power to go after everyone, even if they're using FOSS software to encode their stuff.

I think there's a difference between how seriously police take patent claims at a trade show and how they take calls from Hollywood to seize stuff. Patents in this case are just an excuse to enforce copyright.

But I take Floyd's point. Digital content is a patent minefield, and each country has its own set of mines.

This still does not render the success of VLC or Google's move with VP8 meaningless. Despite all the policing in the world the trend is toward more open audio and video formats, to less DRM, and to complex files being given the same rights in the online world as simple files like this one.

Agree or disagree?

Topics: Open Source

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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