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[Ring] Patent-encumbered or proprietary codecs?

From: J.B. Nicholson
Subject: [Ring] Patent-encumbered or proprietary codecs?
Date: Fri, 4 Aug 2017 22:18:43 -0500
User-agent: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64; rv:52.0) Gecko/20100101 Thunderbird/52.2.1

Thomas Daede wrote:
(plus, as you may have guessed by now, I'm really not a huge fan of a
GNU project endorsing or supporting proprietary codecs)

Are the codecs you identified (H.264, H.263, and MPEG-4 ASP) proprietary or patent-encumbered?

Proprietary software is software that doesn't respect a user's software freedom. Typically only the proprietor has the complete source code to the software so users other than the proprietor who have a copy of that program have a copy under a license that doesn't let them run, inspect, share, and modify the program at any time for any reason.

Patent-encumbered software doesn't necessarily restrict all users the same way. Patent-encumbered codecs can be implemented as free software because not all users are under the same patent regime; a program that is patent-encumbered can prevent some users from using the program in freedom but not other users.

For example, there were MP3 encoders and decoders that were free software for some users during the time Fraunhofer and Thompson held patents that covered MP3s. Users in the US, for instance, couldn't use MP3 in freedom because of software idea patents that covered MP3. But that wasn't a problem for all users. I understand that those patents have expired[1] and that allows US users to encode and decode MP3s in freedom (which means the language in https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/words-to-avoid.html#MP3Player needs to change).

[1] Fraunhofer's language on MP3 has shifted from endorsing usage to discouraging usage in favor of AAC, which I take it is patent-encumbered by Fraunhofer. https://xiphmont.dreamwidth.org/76442.html summarizes the situation: "We can finally welcome MP3 into the family of truly Free codecs!".

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