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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 (s goog) 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 (s GOOG) 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)

33 Responses to “MPEG LA: H.264 Streaming Will Be Free Forever”

    • RichardL

      Read the article:
      “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.”

      MPEG-LA’s announcement changes nothing with respect to the obstacles facing universal codec support for HTML5 video.

  1. I read MPEG-LA’s wording such that “free” would be extended to videos that don’t have ads, which would have a different effect on YouTube’s biz model.

    Also, Opera already has a WebM-enabled version released, and it’s weird to see it play videos. Just set “Ondemand-plugins-ON” via opera:config.

    Amazing how much faster the web is, w/o flash ads..loading only when you click on them. ;)

    • I wouldn’t be so sure about the “free” aspect of WebM. The threat of a patent violation is extremely real.
      “VP8′s intra prediction is basically ripped off wholesale from H.264: the “subblock” prediction modes are almost exactly identical (they even have the same names!) to H.264′s i4x4 mode, and the whole block prediction mode is basically identical to i16x16. Chroma prediction modes are practically identical as well”

      • I read that article too. However, just because it might potentially violate patents now (those patents have to be proven to be valid before a violation of said patents can be assessed) doesn’t mean it will in the next year or two after others have submitted patches.

        In fact I’m almost positive that since that article was written (which was back in May when the WebM source was released) all the potential issues pointed out by that article have been addressed. Most of the algorithms in WebM were older algorithms anyway, and were in severe need of updating.

        Because WebM is open source, the chances of it actually violating an existing patent quickly diminish the more potential issues are brought to light.

        Remember Microsoft and SCO’s argument that “Linux violates our patents” and the response from the community was “show us where it infringes, and we’ll fix it” neither time was anyone ever able to prove patent violation.

      • kwyjibo

        I wouldn’t put too much credence into x264’s report in regards to patents.

        You don’t think Google/On2 spotted this? They clearly believe that they’ve worked around the patents at stake. If you read x264’s report, you’ll see that he criticises parts of webM for being out of date, or inferior to H.264. That’s because they’ve had to avoid patents.

        Anyway, enough with the patent FUD. Microsoft et al use this FUDDY crap all the time to extract patent licensing payments for open source software without having to disclose what those patents are. See the HTC-Android thing.

        At least WebM will force these patents into the open where they can be challenged. At least WebM has coerced H264’s into extending their royalty free streaming.

    • Irrespective of whether WebM is open source and the licensing of the code thereunder, Google grants a royalty-free patent license to use their WebM implementation in any manner you like, commercial or non-commercial. That would including delivering free-to-end-user video over the internet (the only right being offered royalty-free by MPEG-LA for H.264). There’s a huge difference between the WebM patent grant and what MPEG-LA is offering.