Why don't Linux distros make legal codecs easier to find?

Why don't Linux distros make legal codecs easier to find?

Summary: A few weeks ago I took a look at how Ubuntu 7.04 handled proprietary file formats such as MP3, WMA and QuickTime movies. Overall the support was good (although I couldn't get QuickTime 7 movie support working) but it seriously bothered me that I had to resort to downloading and making use of codecs which are, well, to be blunt, illegal to use.

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TOPICS: Linux, Open Source
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A few weeks ago I took a look at how Ubuntu 7.04 handled proprietary file formats such as MP3, WMA and QuickTime movies.  Overall the support was good (although I couldn't get QuickTime 7 movie support working) but it seriously bothered me that I had to resort to downloading and making use of codecs which are, well, to be blunt, illegal to use.

It's pretty easy to get access to these illegal, or as Linux calls them, "restricted software," codecs.  To get MP3 support you click on any MP3 file which brings up Totem Movie Player and tries to play the file.  When it fails to play the file the system asks for permission to go off and search for a suitable codec.  After a quick search the appropriate codecs are found.  So far, so good.

Now things become dodgy.  Choosing to install the codec then brings up a message which is stuffed with legal mumbo jumbo that makes me want to talk to a lawyer.  Here's the message:

Restricted Software The use of some of the software may be restricted in some countries.  You must verify that one of the following is true: 1. These restrictions do not apply in your country of legal residence. 2. You have permission to use the software (for example, a patent license). 3. You are using this software for research purposes only.

Illegal codecs Note: Full image gallery available here.

If you're the kind of person that's happy to indulge in file swapping or installing pirate software, this kind of warning is not going to mean anything, but if you try your best to stay on the right side of the law (no matter whether you agree with the law or not), this is likely to stop you in your tracks.

But there is an alternative.  There are legal codecs available for purchase as long as you know where to look for them.  Fluendo has a fully legal codec pack available for purchase which costs €28 (around $40).  This pack gives you GStreamer plugins for the following:

  • Windows Media Audio Decoder
  • Windows Media Video Decoder
  • Windows Media ASF Demuxer
  • Windows Media MMS Networking
  • MPEG2 Video Decoder
  • MPEG4 Video Decoder
  • MPEG2 Program Stream and Transport Stream demuxer
  • MPEG4 ISO Demuxer
  • MP3 Audio Decoder
  • AC3 Audio Decoder

If you don't want the entire codec bundle, you can buy them separately. 

OK, so there's perfectly legal codecs available for Linux - so why am I being offered illegal codecs?  Why don't I just get a link to the Fluendo website and told that if support for certain file formats if going to cost me?  Failing that, what's wrong with adding a few words to the legal mumbo jumbo dialog box about the paid for codecs?  It would be handy for people to have a $40 escape route to avoid having to wade through the legalese.

I know what some of you are going to say - these codecs are legal in some countries so why shouldn't they be offered?  Yes, fine, good point.  But in that case make more information available so that individuals have access to the information they need to come to an informed decision. As it stands, the current situation just seems like a convenient way to make Linux seem like a completely free solution and offload the legal burden onto the end user.

The bottom line is that no matter how the Free Software Foundation  try to spin it, some things will never be free.

Thoughts?

Topics: Linux, Open Source

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99 comments
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  • Also hinders desktop adoption...

    The lack of compatibility with services like Sirius radio and MLB.TV make the lack of Codecs for Linux a true issue for people who can use a Linux PC for work but miss the functionality of these entertainment services. The lack of true WMA compatibility is a problem, although vendors such as MLB and Sirius should know better than to lock down their services to this degree due to their choice of Codec.
    Mike Cox
    • Mike, Mike ---

      Check your login, boy. You're damaging the brand.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
    • is it the medicine or you've change your employer?

      If it's the latter, you've made the right choice!
      Linux Geek
    • who are you and where have you hidden Mike!!??

      nt
      mdsmedia
    • Twice in a week?

      Mike what has happened? Or are you just baiting the hook for some fresh fish?
      shallow_diver
  • Why doesn't Windows do the same

    Windows is Codec hell. I don't know about Linux to say if it better or worse. I just HATE getting some clip sent to me via email only to find I don't have the codec. Then try and find out which ones you do have and what could be missing. It usually take several months after a new install to get things so that 90% of the video clips will work right.
    voska
    • MS makes it easy in fact...

      In fact, just last week I got an error saying I needed a codec in WMP. I Clicked on "more information" and it took me to a website that lists a ton of codec vendors who have codecs for windows.

      Easy stuff.
      BFD
      • Not for me

        I click that and get diddly or the wrong codec. Then I get a nice sound clip but no picture.
        voska
        • Well gee...

          Do you want a world where MS makes and distributes all the codecs, where you can't install a codec they didn't approve?

          Clue, you can NOT hold MS responsible for allowing you to use your PC as you wish.
          No_Ax_to_Grind
          • Absolutely brilliant......

            > "Clue, you can NOT hold MS responsible for allowing you to use your PC as you wish." <

            I guess you are looking to replace Mike Cox?
            (Who appears recently, not to be the same)
            LazLong
          • Nice dodge, but you didn't even think

            abotu what I said. Do you want a world where only MS approved codecs can be installed?
            No_Ax_to_Grind
          • Given your arguments...

            that seems to be what the author of this story wants from Linux. I guess you were too busy thinking about what's for lunch to catch that.
            jasonp@...
          • I know No_Ax couldn't have just said that...

            "<i>Clue, you can NOT hold MS responsible for allowing you to use your PC as you wish.</i>"<br><br>I know this didn't just come outta No_Ax's keyboard! Your talking Windows?...the one by Microsoft?...the one everyone agrees doesn't give you the right to use your computer anyway you see fit? Wow did they recently release their license under the GPL? Last time I read their EULA it was telling me all the things I couldn't do with my computer when running Windows....hence my PC no longer runs Windows ;-)
            devlin_X
  • Why pay

    Just use Automatix for Ubuntu and you will get all the codec you need.
    DarthRidiculous
    • Avoid Automatix: it messes up the installation

      Please don't use Automatix. It corrupts the installation of Ubuntu and can cause no end of troubles, especially after kernel updates. I know what I'm talking about, as an active helper on the Dutch Ubuntu forum (over 4.000 posts).

      Please use the other, easy ways of installing the missing multimedia batteries, as described by Adrian or here, at PCWorld:
      http://www.pcworld.com/article/id,134288-page,1/article.html

      Greetz, Pjotr.
      pjotr123
      • Bull

        I've use Automatix for some time now and have no problems, even after upgrading from dapper to fiesty.
        DarthRidiculous
        • not bull

          Then you were lucky....
          Read this:
          http://pimpyourlinux.com/linux-feature-review/automatix-can-break-your-linux-ubuntu-install/

          So, better stick to this safe and easy alternative method:
          http://www.pcworld.com/article/id,134288-page,1/article.html

          Greetz, Pjotr.
          pjotr123
          • Automatix

            I had to clean my hard drive and start over because of Automatix. Rhe quick and easy manual method of copying and pasting command lines is really easy and burns bery little time.
            bobsherrill@...
    • Why pay...

      Because it's the right thing to do. I run Linux, I don't run Linux because I'm cheap I run it because it is more secure and doesn't intrude on my ability to use my computer in the way I so choose. To me personally its just better. I'd pony up the $40.00usd and consider it a cost of my OS. Hmmmm.... exellence at 40.00 or insecure and unstable at 400.00.......
      devlin_X
  • Open source is the solution, not the problem. Generally , if it is a free

    and open standard, it is extremely simple for all parties to distribute and OS with a working codec. On top of that, there are plenty of very good completely free and open codecs with open source implementations. The problem you see, is people like Microsoft trying to turn this into a circus with their proprietary standards that are not needed, and just cause problems.

    Microsoft (and others) BENEFIT from the compatibility problems, and are hell bent on maintaining them.
    DonnieBoy