MPEG LA: H.264 Streaming Will Be Free Forever

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MPEG LA is announcing today that it will continue to offer a royalty-free license for the H.264 video codec for video sites that offer free video streams to consumers “during the entire life of this (l)icense.” In other words: Web sites like YouTube will be free to use H.264 for its streams without having to fear they’re eventually going to have to pay massive royalties to MPEG LA.

The company, which has assembled a patent pool for H.264 patents, had previously said that it would offer H.264 streaming for free until 2016. That announcement was met with skepticism, with Mozilla CEO John Lilly at the time tweeting that this was “like 5 more years of free to lock you in 4ever.”

Mozilla has refused to add H.264 to the codecs supported by Firefox’ HTML5 video streaming capabilities, and today’s announcement isn’t likely to change this. Open-source and open-video advocates take issue with the fact that MPEG LA is still charging for H.264 encoders and decoders, as well as for the use of H.264 in a number of other areas, including paid video streams and downloads.

Firefox has since thrown its support behind WebM, the video format that was open-sourced by Google in May. WebM is completely license royalty free, and it’s backed by a number of hardware vendors as well as three of the five major browser makers. However, MPEG LA has threatened to assemble a patent pool that could be used to force companies using WebM to pay up.

Still, one has to wonder whether MPEG LA’s decision wasn’t in part also motivated by the growing support for WebM. Both Chrome and Firefox recently added WebM support to their beta versions, and a YouTube spokesperson told us earlier this month that the site already has “millions of videos available in the WebM format.”

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Jesslee Cuizon.

Related content on NewTeeVee: The NewTeeVee Guide to Playing WebM Video

Related content on GigaOM Pro: What Does the Future Hold For Browsers? (subscription required)

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