free as in smokescreen

The web is full of headlines today like this one from MacRumors: “MPEG LA Declares H.264 Standard Permanently Royalty-Free”. It would be great if they were accurate, but unfortunately they very much are not.

What MPEG-LA announced is that their current moratorium on charging fees for the transmission of H.264 content, previously extended through 2015 for uses that don’t charge users, is now permanent. You still have to pay for a license for H.264 if you want to make things that create it, consume it, or your business model for distributing it is direct rather than indirect.

What they’ve made permanently free is distribution of content that people have already licensed to encode, and will need a license to decode. This is similar to Nikon announcing that they will not charge you if you put your pictures up on Flickr, or HP promising that they will never charge you additionally if you photocopy something that you printed on a LaserJet. (Nikon and HP are used in the preceding examples without their consent, and to my knowledge have never tried anything as ridiculous as trying to set license terms on what people create with their products.)

H.264 has not become materially more free in the past days. The promise made by the MPEG-LA was already in force until 2015, has no effect on those consuming or producing H.264 content, and is predicated on the notion that they should be controlling mere copying of bits at all! Unfortunately, H.264 is no more suitable as a foundational technology for the open web than it was last year. Perhaps it will become such in the future — Mozilla would very much welcome a real royalty-free promise for H.264 — but only the MPEG-LA can make that happen.

11 comments to “free as in smokescreen”

  1. entered 27 August 2010 @ 4:16 pm

    And even better, they can revoke the license at any time!

  2. Josh
    entered 27 August 2010 @ 4:38 pm

    Sigh. There’s always a catch. And what’s wrong with WebM, anyway?

  3. entered 28 August 2010 @ 12:54 pm

    Have to say most of the sites I read got the news right.

    @ Josh: It is still not clear if all parts of WebM are really license free.

  4. Mike
    entered 28 August 2010 @ 2:44 pm

    @Josh nothing wrong with WebM, even MPEGLA wants to make money from it OOH! /diceclay

    BTW nice title there.

  5. entered 29 August 2010 @ 1:32 am

    [...] je ale někde trochu jinde. Jak komentoval Mike Shaver z Mozilla Corporation, nezměnilo se vlastně nic. Jak například uvedl pro The Register, aktuálně se již řeší [...]

  6. entered 31 August 2010 @ 12:48 am

    [...] d'utiliser H.264, ce n'est pas du tout l'avis de Mike Shaver ingénieur haut gradé chez Mozilla et qui rappelle que les logiciels permettant de produire ou de consommer ces vidéos devront eux toujours [...]

  7. entered 2 September 2010 @ 11:09 am

    What if I publish with a different codec but H.264 gets used along the way such as for the original recording? (I am SO buying a Scarlet when (if) it’s released!)

  8. entered 3 September 2010 @ 7:57 pm

    Great post, thanks.

    Recently it’s really hit me how much MPEG-LA screws artists. MPEG-LA doesn’t just collect royalties for implementations of their technology (normal patent licensing), they also collect royalties from artists for the art the artists create… simply because their content touched H.264 at some point. There’s a profound difference, but it’s hard to explain (probably because software is so intangible). So I went searching for a way to explain it, and came up with this:

    BASH-EM owns patents for a new, improved hammer. Various hammer manufacturers license these patents, and BASH-EM collects a royalty from the manufacturers for each hammer sold. BASH-EM also collects a royalty from professional carpenters for each house sold whenever the house was built (in part) using patented BASH-EM hammers, unless the house is given away for free (possibly with an ad painted on the outside), in which case no royalty is collected from the carpenters.

    I blogged about it here:

  9. entered 7 September 2010 @ 3:31 pm

    [...] for free to give their video away. Of course, if you want to get something encoded to H.264, you still need to have a license to encode it in the first place. And, if you are selling videos (not giving them away for free), [...]

  10. entered 13 September 2010 @ 6:47 am

    There is a similar scam with some software compiler makers (I’d like to name them but JIC I won’t) and a good reason to avoid these parasites. It was a good thing our use of their compiler was all in house, so those fees were far more ‘reasonable’ and manageable.

    Why not use another encoder. Besides if someone else made your work touch that parasites patent, they shall be the one to suffer not you.

  11. entered 11 January 2011 @ 5:52 pm

    Why does Google drop H.264 but keep Adobe Flash?…

    “That does not mean that H.264 is royalty-free for all users. In particular, encoders (like the one that processes video uploaded to YouTube) and decoders (like the one included in the Google Chrome browser) are still subject to licensing fees.” see:…

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