Posted by: commonsresource | August 27, 2010

A Tangled Web? – patents, H.264, & WebM open source codec

It has been interesting to watch the buzz surrounding the recent MPEG-LA announcement on H.264 that I first read about yesterday in Eric Slivka’s  MPEG LA Declares H.264 Standard Permanently Royalty-Free post on MacRumors.  Having explored this area in my Party On – WebM & patents series of posts, I fully endorse the caution on Sean Hollister’s MPEG-LA makes H.264 video royalty-free forever, as long as it’s freely distributed Engadget post  that  “patent licensing is complicated stuff”!

So let’s start with Eric’s assessment that “Today’s announcement also paves the way for H.264 to become the standard video format for HTML5”.  For a more nuanced analysis of Eric’s perspective, let’s turn to Dana Bankenhorn’s excellent MPEG LA tries free as in beer against WebM | ZDNet post on ZDNet’s Linux and Open Source blog.  I believe that Dana would only agree that “Today’s announcement also paves the way for H.264 to become a standard video format for HTML5″ given his statements that “The current HTML5 standards document includes support code for H.264”  which is now “royalty free, and defended by a moat of lawyers”.

The more interesting question is whether HTML.5 will end up specifying the standard video format – the open standard starring role that WebM has been auditioning for.  As Dana notes, “WebM was created as a project that could be specified, being complete and free as in freedom.”  Since I agree with Dana’s assessment that the MPEG-LA announcement could result in decreased interest in the  WebM open source software project, I now see WebM as a bit of an underdog in that process.  Given Google’s dogged determination, only time will tell whether “free as in freedom” can trump “free as in beer”!


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