No such thing as an unemcumbered codec

No such thing as an unemcumbered codec

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

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TOPICS: Open Source
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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?

Topic: Open Source

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19 comments
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  • A changing world

    That there are bad laws in a time of great change can be embarrassing and weakening. There was a time when the law was that you had to have a lightman walking ahead of an automobile in urban areas at night.

    Patents on user behavior and DNA show the weakness of the lawgivers.

    It is important GOOG keep pressing the envelope (Dana's WW III - Good thought that!) as others jump in to occupy the space they liberate.
    dickdavies
    • RE: No such thing as an unemcumbered codec

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      gorians
  • Disagree. It's proven false by FLAC.

    There are many others, but just mentioning one is enough to disprove "there are none".
    AzuMao
  • Will stay that way until people understand their rights

    People in general do not seem to be interested
    in
    understanding the problems of DMCA.

    They've been sold on the idea that it is to
    prevent
    piracy, when time and time again it's been used
    to limit
    legitimate user's rights.

    Having patents and copyrights on top of that
    becomes even
    more complex.

    Patents laws and copyright should go back to
    what they
    were meant for. DMCA must be repelled.

    But that won't happen if people do not care.
    rarsa
  • RE: No such thing as an unemcumbered codec

    That's right, there is no such thing as an "unemcumbered"
    codec. That's because they are actually unencumbered.

    I love it when people who write about technology
    don't/won't use a spell-checker.
    aep528
    • The state of edumacation these days ;-)

      N/T
      PacoBell
  • Where there's life there's hope

    [i]"...the trend is toward more open audio & video formats, to less
    DRM..."[/i]

    One can only hope so! I am so sick and tired of having to mess around
    with file conversions and so on, and not being able to play all files on all
    platforms due to DRM. VLC is a major help, but only goes so far.
    rahbm
  • Why not just make it royalty free for life?

    Open source it in 2030 when every patent runs out.
    etheti
    • Because by then it will be obsolete?

      [b] [/b]
      AzuMao
    • Pure software patents are not valid in

      that many countries.
      So it is kind of a question; why does the US ( and a few others) insist on being left with a severe disadvantage.
      Other countries, that is [b]most other countries [/b], does not have this drawback.
      Basically those patents is [b]not running at all [/b] elsewhere.
      hkommedal
      • Except that we coerce them into complying by threatening to call off trade.

        [b] [/b]
        AzuMao
        • The EU is one group of countries that does not

          allow pure software patents.
          Trying to threaten them with trade call off is going to hurt US more than EU (They have a lot more customers that can pay reasonably well).
          Besides; whenever the EU is feeling a bit P--ed off, someone ( usually all of us) will get to suffer one way or another.
          hkommedal
          • ACTA. NT

            [b] [/b]
            AzuMao
          • The text of that was FORCED to be made public.

            And after that it was stated that several point in the proposed treaty negotiations was classed as [b] incompatible[/b] with EU laws and national laws.
            hkommedal
          • Ergo they must change or be shunted from trade with us.

            [b] [/b]
            AzuMao
          • @AzuMao: Or may be the other way around.

            At the moment the US can not afford to lose trade with Europe.
            There are too many well paying customers there and it would get the US trade deficit become a lot worse.
            hkommedal
  • The Flash situation proves the point.

    Because of a "row" brewing between two companies, the ubiquity of Flash is threatened, and any Flash developer knows that they'll not be running on certain Apple devices.
    So, there is a risk with developing for any platform which is controlled by someone else. The best interests of both developers and end users are served by using only prominent, open-source products. Those are OURS.
    peter_erskine@...
  • RE: No such thing as an unemcumbered codec

    The submarine patent issue while always possible is
    more red herring in this discussion.

    I think Adobe , and the H.264 crowd would cite possible submarine patents on a cheese sandwich if they thought such FUD tactics
    would keep set top box , cell phone and other lucrative
    clients from jumping ship.

    The submarine patent FNORD is the backup plan to the argument
    that HTML5 will never make it because of the video CODEC issue.

    Folks might want to make a reservation at the IE6 retirement home
    for it's new guests H.264 and Flash , so they can make room at the watching window and stock up on depends undergarments.

    Unisys tried these stunts with the .gif format and fortunately
    the Internet community dodged that bullet , just as we will doge this one.

    Ya got to remember , the Internet was designed to survive an all out nuke fest , and while these companies are big , they are not nuclear big, despite how many media types they get to carry their water.
    drclue
  • RE: No such thing as an unemcumbered codec

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