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Re: [Gnash] gstreamer plugin

From: Daniel James
Subject: Re: [Gnash] gstreamer plugin
Date: Wed, 26 Jul 2006 10:21:48 +0100
User-agent: Debian Thunderbird 1.0.7 (X11/20051019)

Hi John,

I thought MP3 *de*coders got a royalty-free patent license (to encourage
use of the format) while MP3 *en*coders got soaked for a fee.

I think that's a common misperception, since the the patent holders do charge for decoders also. More like they don't enforce the decoder royalties as much as the encoder royalties, because they know that MP3 can't survive as a de-facto standard without the decoders remaining ubiquitous. If they had a mass crack-down on unlicensed decoders then all those Chinese-made gadgets might switch to supporting royalty-free formats, such as Vorbis and FLAC.

> Is there
a definitive place where the MP3 patent situation vis-a-vis free and open
software is authoritatively described?

This is quite a good summary:

This email response from the folks at Thompson says
that "We do allow non-commercial use of our patents.  However, the GPL
and LGPL software allow onward distribution that can easily be

Thus if your distribution or use of MP3 code is non-commercial, it's
apparently not a problem

That's not how I read that email. These are the lines I take issue with:

"Without the patents, there would be no GPL or LGPL mp3 software."

This implies that any free software developer who has written MP3-related software must have been aware of the patents and have examined them closely.

"We are not prepared to issue and irrevocable, free patent license to GPL and LGPL software using our patents."

This means MP3 will never be free software compatible.

"We do allow non-commercial use of our patents. However, the GPL and LGPL software allow onward distribution that can easily be non-commercial."

In other words, the minute we interpret your free software project as commercial, we'll take legal action.

This isn't a licence, its a vague suggestion that you might get away with it as long as they don't think you have any money. Practically, it's an impossible situation for free software, because it always passes through the hands of a commercial organisation at some point.

For example, the Linux magazine that I edit has a free DVD or CD on the cover each month. Clearly, the cover disc is part of the value of the magazine for readers - so is that commercial distribution?

> You can get a fully paid up
license for PC software for an MP3 decoder for US$60,000 and no per-unit
royalties.  So if some GPL'd software product like Gnash or Gstreamer
wanted to buy such a license, both non-commercial and commercial use
of the software would be paid for.

But then you'd be infringing the GPL, because the patent licence almost certainly won't be GPL compatible. This is why Fluendo have signed the MP3 deal, then based their system around an LGPL media player (Totem) and binary plugins.

MP3PRO is a superset of MP3; it supposedly decodes ordinary MP3 files
to produce identical output compared to an MP3 player.

Therefore the patent holders believe it is covered by the same patents as MP3, plus a few more maybe.

The only long-term solution is to lobby Macromedia to include Vorbis support into a future open Flash standard. It's in their commercial and technical interest to do so, as Vorbis is royalty free, and sounds better than MP3 at low bitrates.



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