The H.264 Debacle: We’re Complaining to the Wrong People

A lot of articles lately have been focused on why Apple and Microsoft are the bad guys by supporting H.264 and not Theora. Well, yes, they are bad guys, but there really is not much point whining to them. It will in all likelihood fall on deaf ears, simply because they are acting in their own best interests–as MPEG stakeholders and commercial, DRM-encouraging, royalty-loving, proprietary-operating-system-hawking corporations. But that could all change–if the HTML5 spec didn’t allow H.264.

Think about it. We can spend our time whining on and on to these commercial vendors, or we can cut to the chase and try to get the HTML5 spec fixed–in which case the commercial vendors would have to fix their implementations in order to be considered compliant. And the thing is, it is actually a lot easier to make a case to the W3C than it is to Apple or MS, because they are actually supposed to have the interests of the open web at heart.

The fact is, the W3C is violating its own principles by allowing H.264 to infiltrate its way into the next HTML spec.

Let’s take a look at just how deep the hypocrisy goes. Here are some quotes from the W3C’s “Mission” page:

Web for All:
The social value of the Web is that it enables human communication, commerce, and opportunities to share knowledge. One of W3C’s primary goals is to make these benefits available to all people, whatever their hardware, software, network infrastructure, native language, culture, geographical location, or physical or mental ability.”

Hmm, whatever their software, eh? Even if the users refuse to use royalty-encumbered software (i.e., they use open source software, like Firefox)?

Web of Consumers and Authors:
The Web was invented as a communications tool intended to allow anyone, anywhere to share information. For many years, the Web was a “read-only” tool for many. Blogs and wikis brought more authors to the Web, and social networking emerged from the flourishing market for content and personalized Web experiences. W3C standards have supported this evolution thanks to strong architecture and design principles.”

Allow anyone, anywhere to share video information, really? Because it sure doesn’t seem like that is a primary goal, when the specification allows such patent-encumbered formats that most authors can’t figure out for themselves whether they are violating the licensing or not, and when the authors are at the mercy of the MPEG-LA as to whether they might be hit up for cash down the road.

I think I’ve made it pretty clear: by supporting H.264, the W3C is acting in the most hypocritical way possible. They say they are for a web that is browser and OS-agnostic, yet support a format that is hostile to open-source software. They say they are for a read-write web, yet support a format with licensing terms that raise the costs of and complicate the process of publishing videos.

The HTML specification, like the rest of the specifications that make up the web, is supposed to be royalty-free. Why then, is a key part of it not? Let’s speak up and let the W3C know that we aren’t going to tolerate its indecisive stance any longer. It needs to stand up for its principles and remove H.264 from the HTML5 spec once and for all.

87 Comments

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