Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 30th Oct 2013 23:33 UTC, submitted by drcoldfoot
Multimedia, AV

Remember the whole H.264 thing? Cisco just solved it for us - more or less.

The industry has been divided on the choice of a common video codec for some time, namely because the industry standard - H.264 - requires royalty payments to MPEG LA. Today, I am pleased to announce Cisco is making a bold move to take concerns about these payments off the table.

We plan to open-source our H.264 codec, and to provide it as a binary module that can be downloaded for free from the Internet. Cisco will not pass on our MPEG LA licensing costs for this module, and based on the current licensing environment, this will effectively make H.264 free for use in WebRTC.

Cisco will release the code of its H.264 codec under the BSD license, and will also make binaries available for just about every possible platform. Cisco will pay all the licensing costs - over the coming decade, this will cost them a whopping $65 million, illustrating just how expensive H.264 is, and how unrealistic it was to expect it to become a standard without a free implementation being available for everyone to use. It has to be noted that both end users and developers can make use of this.

Mozilla has already announced it will implement this codec into Firefox. All this is great, but it doesn't really address the issue in the long term - the next generation of codecs is coming, and once they arrive, this whole process starts all over again. Will another sugar daddy step up by that time?

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Open source with caveats
by Alfman on Thu 31st Oct 2013 16:32 UTC
Alfman
Member since:
2011-01-28

Nathan – We will select licensing terms that allow for this code to be used in commercial products as well as open source projects. In order for Cisco to be responsible for the MPEG LA licensing royalties for the module, Cisco must provide the packaging and distribution of this code in a binary module format (think of it like a plug-in, but not using the same APIs as existing plugins), in addition to several other constraints. This gives the community the best of all worlds – a team can choose to use the source code, in which case the team is responsible for paying all applicable license fees, or the team can use the binary module distributed by Cisco, in which case Cisco will cover the MPEG LA licensing fees. Hope that answers the first part of your question – Nadee, Cisco PR


I think this is a positive development considering how detrimental our patent system is. However it's still a problem that ONLY Cisco's binary blobs will be licensed, any works derived from their open source code would still be subject to royalties according to Cisco itself.

On the one hand, it's no worse than today, independent open source H264 implementations will still be legally subjected to licenses just like before. On the other hand it seems to place pure open source projects at an artificial disadvantage as everyone makes a dash for the binary blobs in the interests of attaining relief from the patent system.

If we're not very careful, this "solution" could creep up in all levels of software development. We might set into motion the events that lead all developers working on all kinds of projects to feel pressured into using binary blobs instead of open source code, and that would be a travesty.

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