Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 31st Jan 2010 14:20 UTC, submitted by lemur2
Internet & Networking Despite the recent interest in adopting HTML5's video tag, there is still one major problem: there is no mandated standard video codec for the video tag. The two main contestants are the proprietary and patended h264, and the open and free Theora. In a comment on an article about this problematic situation, LWN reader Trelane posted an email exchange he had with MPEG-LA, which should further cement Theora as the obvious choice.
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RE: Correction
by ba1l on Sun 31st Jan 2010 17:05 UTC in reply to "Correction"
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Technical matters are not really the issue here.

The issue is that h.264 is entirely unsuitable for web video, because of the way it's licensed.

The issue in question is the requirement that anyone who distributes an h.264 decoder is required to pay a royalty to the MPEG-LA (currently, up to US$0.20 per unit).

Since this requires the ability to monitor distribution, and to restrict redistribution (otherwise, you could get one copy from Mozilla and give it to thousands of end-users), this is entirely incompatible with any free software.

The license is not transferrable. If Mozilla had a license, it would only cover copies distributed by Mozilla. Linux distributors could not include Firefox. Developers of other software that uses Gecko could not distribute Gecko without getting their own license. OEMs could not include Firefox on a machine (PCs, netbooks, phones, whatever) without getting their own license. No forking. No modified versions. No developing new software based on it. No incorporating it into something else.

The h.264 decoder licenses would also seem to limit distribution of source code, which makes matters even worse. Notice that Chrome has an h.264 decoder, but Chromium (the open-source version) does not.

Opera has a similar problem as Mozilla - they couldn't include a licensed h.264 decoder in their free desktop browser for the same reasons that Mozilla can't include one in Firefox. They also won't, because it's too expensive.

That's not even getting into licenses for encoders (same as the decoders, plus the possibility that you may have to pay $2,500 directly to the MPEG-LA for each copy you use for distributing video). Or worse - royalty payments for streaming video. Unless the MPEG-LA are willing to forgo those royalty payments until 2015, they'll start charging those royalties in 2011.

Basically, using h.264 prices everyone except the really big players right out of the market.

Safari or Google could build a browser that supports h.264, because they have lots of money to spend on it, and can control the distribution of their browser. Nobody else can. Worse - you wouldn't even be able to build one of these web browsers into another application, or into some piece of hardware, without paying royalties to the MPEG-LA.

The likes of YouTube can afford the royalty payments on video encoders, and on the videos themselves, but could a smaller site? Could YouTube itself have been able to afford it before they were bought by Google? Would YouTube have even existed if they had to pay those royalties back when it was three guys in a garage?

How about the current trend to try to use video content to generate ad revenue? Remember that ads are typically pay-per-click, while those royalties on the video are payable for each view. What's the chance that the ad revenue would even come close to covering the royalties?

For that matter, what about all the other uses for web video that nobody's thought of yet?

That guy from Mozilla was right - the web grew up on, and thrives on, royalty free.

The technical problems with Theora are solvable. The licensing problems with h.264 are not solvable. Seems like a simple choice to me.

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