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Thomson: MP3 Licensing Same As It Ever Was 312

Posted by timothy
from the gosh-all-we-changed-was-some-words-and-stuff dept.
Thomson Multimedia is downplaying the recently reported change in the licensing of patented MP3 technology as nothing more than a trivial, semantic change. In a NewsForge report today, Robin ("roblimo") Miller quotes a spokesman who denies that any change in the licensing terms has taken place, "that Thomson laid down its licensing terms long ago, and that if Thomson's terms are not compatible with the GPL today, then they never were." The patent encumbrance of MP3 codecs has worried Free software enthusiasts for a long time; if the recent wording change represents no change in policy, it seems that they really have been right all along. (NewsForge, like Slashdot, is part of the sinister OSDN keiretsu.)
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Thomson: MP3 Licensing Same As It Ever Was

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  • Interesting. I wonder if they'll now ask for backpayment of all decoders issued?
  • by MaxVlast (103795) <maxim@sl a . to> on Thursday August 29, 2002 @02:03PM (#4164894) Homepage
    I'm intrigued that people are all about OSS not being opposed to business or profit, as long as it's done in a reasonable, open way.

    At the same time, though, we see the "Red Hat = Microsoft?" articles and the subtle opposition to anything that is 'tainted' by capitalism (sinister OSDN [not that it isn't a keiretsu], etc.) I've since decided that open source people are simply disinclined toward business and there will always be a bulk of people who can't fathom that things can be both commercial and open and will make a fuss about it as a result, despite whatever benefits the continue to enjoy.
    • by FreeUser (11483) on Thursday August 29, 2002 @02:17PM (#4165015)
      At the same time, though, we see the "Red Hat = Microsoft?" articles and the subtle opposition to anything that is 'tainted' by capitalism (sinister OSDN [not that it isn't a keiretsu], etc.) I've since decided that open source people are simply disinclined toward business

      That would be an erroneous conclusion.

      A more accurate (though not necessarilly 100% correct, since it is difficult to know what 100% correct is in the context of so many diverse people) conclusion would be that

      OSS (and Free Software) enthusiasts are a diverse bunch of people, and among them are included some few who dislike any 'taint' of commericalism.

      I am very inclined toward business (and quite good at it, if the last few years' tax returns are to be believed), and that doesn't stop me from being accused of zealotry or anti-commercial sentiments when, in fact, my sentiments are anti-monopoly, not anti-business, as are the sentiments of anyone who understands how a free market and competition are supposed to work.

      Since copyright grants a 95 year (or life+75 year) government enforced monopoly, this means I come down firmly on the side of Free Software, both philosophically and, based on a great deal of bad experience with proprietary software, practically. But this has more to do with the problems inherent in having a vendor with authority over aspects of your business, and the power to coerce one's business into taking actions not in your best interests (but theirs instead), and having that power over you backed by a government gun, that it does with any "anti-commerical" sentiment.

      There are others, quite likely the majority of Open Source and Free Software enthusiasts, who are much deeper in the pro-business camp than I, so I suspect your characterization really describes only a tiny, if outspoken, minority of people who use and advocate free software and open source.
    • I've since decided that open source people are simply disinclined toward business and there will always be a bulk of people who can't fathom that things can be both commercial and open and will make a fuss about it as a result, despite whatever benefits the continue to enjoy.

      I never claimed not to be "disinclined toward business." In fact, my disinclination is why I use open source products to begin with in many cases. Maybe some people are on the fence, but I think anyone who visits Slashdot and reads the comments will understand: Open Source is, purely and simply, a way to try to provide technology for all, unencumbered by the flaws, restrictions and elitism created by the pairing of big business and technology.

      Is this such a difficult thing to grasp? I doubt you'll find any real hardcore enterpreneurs latching on to OSS as their way to make a millions, buy a Bentley, and retire at 26. If you do find any such people, they are sadly misinformed.

      At best, there is a willingness to tolerate business interests in OSS so long as they don't begin to interfere with the technology or with the access.

      Yes, it's a kind of utopian ideal. Is that so wrong? Why are people so opposed to trying to create something without greed? It seems that some people are infinitely threatened by the though that their greed may someday get them nothing but disdain from others.
      • Just a clarification: what you're describing is the "Free Software" crowd, not "Open Source." (This is the kind of rhetoric you hear from RMS, and he's as down on the OSS movement as you can get.) I identify myself with OSS, and I'm quite pro-business. (As long as their actions aren't evil; of course there are a few cases where they are.) I don't think that your characterization of slashdotters as anti-business is correct; the proportion is probably more like 50-50. (Admittedly the 'gloom and doom' flavor of anti-business posts do tend to catch more moderation points, and are thus more visible.)
    • The problem is very simple, the "This is what free/OS software advocates are supposed to think and say" pamphlet hasn't been handed out to everybody that it should have, and these stubborn people continue to have individual opinions. Very bad taste, really.
    • So what you're saying is that you've "simply decided" to make sweeping generalizations based on the vocal, sensationalized opinions of the few.

      You are incorrect. The people you are basing your generalization on aren't people who truly believe in "open source" as a concept. These people are simply looking for free "As in beer" as people like to say. The don't care about what "open source" means or what "free software" is, they just don't want to spend any money. Just because these people spout on about "open source" doesn't mean that they have anything to do with it other then having downloaded and run some programs, either for kicks or because they came with no charge.

      There is a difference between "open source people" and people who just want something for nothing. One of those groups is interested in superior technology, and the other wants to "stick it to the man" or something similar. Please don't get us confused just because the second group thinks they represent the first.

      --

      This post made possible by ASCII character 0x22
      • Very well put! Only problem I see is that there are considerably more people in your 2nd. group than in your first.

        The "stick it to the man!" group, as you put it, tends to be a pretty influential bunch of younger adults and teens who are the "up and coming" systems administrators, middle management, PC consultants, and technicians out there.

        The true "open source people" you refer to tend to be software developers/programmers who believe in investing some of their time and energy on projects that they stand no chance of profiting from financially. Not only are there far fewer programmers out there than computer users - but subtract from them the programmers only doing Microsoft development, only programming "for hire", only programming for Apple Macintosh, etc., etc.

        Granted, there are *some* of us "non-programmers" out there who really believe in the "open source" concept for what it's supposed to be; an alternative way to develop code without restrictions and by co-operation of anyone interested in joining in. We just happen to be quite a minority, and our voices easily get lost in the hype about "Free software! Save yourself *tons* of money on licensing!"
    • At the same time, though, we see the "Red Hat = Microsoft?" articles and the subtle opposition to anything that is 'tainted' by capitalism

      Go back and look at the discussion on that article. Nearly everything that was posted expressed support for Red Hat. Even though many of us personally use different distros, most of us have no problem with the Red Hat company. Some of us even admire them.

      So in general, no, even though a vocal minority of free software advocates are anti-capitalism, it's not true for the whole. As Richard Stallman says, "Selling Free Software can be okay" [gnu.org].

  • So it turns out that we don't have to pay royalties. How long before they come under new management or are bought and we are forced to pay to create and listen to mp3's? This could still turn into another compuserve .gif patent fight very easily. We should not make ourselves be at the whim of a company like that. We really should all use ogg. We know that it will always be free and open source, and the quality of ogg sound files rock.
    • I would say that the danger of Thomson being bought up is pretty low, since they are the ones doing all the buying at the moment. In case you care, Thomson owns Philips and RCA, as well as several smaller companies, including Grass Valley Group, which is where I'm currently contracting. From the logos on the company store website Thomson is also affiliated with GE, although exactly what the relationship is I can't say. If you recall, Philips is the company that owns the Audio CD patent and says that copy-protected CDs can't be labeled as Audio CDs, so perhaps we shouldn't immediately jump to the conclusion that Thomson is an evil corporation.

      That said, I think you've misread the article. Nowhere did it say that there are no royalties on mp3 decoders, quite the contrary; there have always been royalties on mp3 decoders, and Thompson has merely changed the wording of their licensing in such a way that made it more obvious. The licensing fees are exactly the same as they have always been.

      Now, as long as Thomson's enforcement remains the same also, we're OK. Patent royalties can be selectively enforced, and I suspect that Thomson will continue to collect royalties from Hardware vendors and pretty much ignore software since that's the business model they're used to and it is serving them well.

      It is always possible that Thomson will suddenly need a new revenue stream or someone high up will get greedy and decide they need to collect back royalties from all the Free mp3 developers, but I think those chances are pretty slim.

      I, for one, am not concerned about this news affecting the future of mp3.

      However, I think it's a bit preemptive to say that ogg will always be Free, unless of course you have read every patent pertaining to audio compression and are able to prove that none of those can possibly cover any aspect of ogg.

      • Thomson's doesn't own Philips, Philips is an independant public company with many shareholders. Thomson might own a small part of Philips, but not the whole company. Also, Thomson's isn't that big (market cap is 5 billion), and most large companies could buy them if they so desired. Even Apple could pay cash for the whole company. Its more likely, by valuation, that Philips would buy Thomson's.
        • Thomson does indeed own Philips, or at least enough of it to have control over what gets produced where.

          I work for Thomson at Grass Valley Group on a product which was origionally developed by Alamar, which was bought by Philips, and which is now being moved to Grass Valley as Thomson consolidates its various video production divisions at Grass Valley. My trainer is a Feild Service tech who works for Philips.

          You'll pardon me if I trust the evidence available to me at work every day over your speculation based on stock listings.

  • No looking back (Score:2, Informative)

    by vex24 (126288)
    This is a no-brainer... Ogg works great; support it, use it, and push it on the hardware player manufacturers. They have a good business case for supporting it.

    Digital music is dead. Long live digital music!
  • by exhilaration (587191) on Thursday August 29, 2002 @02:04PM (#4164910)
    It's difficult to really fault the company - in the end it is their product (no one debates that) and they have every right to charge what they wish.

    Frankly, it's our fault for making MP3 a standard - but I guess it was best technology available a few years back.

    I agree with other posters - hardware manufacturers will pay the cost and raise their prices by a buck or two. But as for software decoders, only companies like MS will be able to afford the licensing fees. This spells the end of GPL MP3 decoders.

    It's time to start moving to OGG, and it's time to start putting pressure on hardware manufacturers to support it. OGG is the future.

    • by Jucius Maximus (229128) <zyrbmf5j4xNO@SPAMsnkmail.com> on Thursday August 29, 2002 @02:14PM (#4164993) Homepage Journal
      "I agree with other posters - hardware manufacturers will pay the cost and raise their prices by a buck or two. But as for software decoders, only companies like MS will be able to afford the licensing fees. This spells the end of GPL MP3 decoders."

      In true /. style, you have not read the article:

      Arland says Thomson not only allows but encourages the use of MP3 technology in free client-side players, that "it is in our best interest to have as many freely distributed MP3 players as possible" available to users, because this helps keep MP3 popular. He also says Thomson has no plans to start charging royalties to producers of freely-distributed MP3 player software, and that "it would not be in our best interests to do so." But, he says several times -- using slightly different words each time -- the second you sell software or hardware that contains Thomson's patented technology, the company wants money, and this is not negotiable, GPL or no GPL.
      • by mj01nir (153067)
        ...But, he says several times -- using slightly different words each time -- the second you sell software or hardware that contains Thomson's patented technology, the company wants money, and this is not negotiable, GPL or no GPL...

        While this won't spell the end for xmms, etc. directly, what happens when (your distro here) bundles a GPLed MP3 player, then sells you the distro? It sounds to me like each distro-maker would need to have a license to sell a product that includes a MP3 player, even if the player is GPLed (or BSDed, or Artistic Licensed, ...).
      • Exchange "GIF" for "MP3" and "UNISYS" for "Thomson". Then step back six or seven years. Hmm... Looks familiar, doesn't it?

        I wouldn't trust these guys at all. Especially since the line that was removed is what garunteed what this spokesman seems to be claiming is still garunteed.

      • This is intersting:

        GPL: You can use it however you want, even charge $$$ for it, but you must release the source.

        Thompson's License: You can use it however you want, even not release the source, but you can't charge $$$ for it (without paying the license fee anyway)

        Personally, I don't think it's a big deal. If you don't like their licensing, don't use MP3. Until Ogg gets supported in hardware players though (pry my iPod from my cold, dead hands and what not), you won't see me switch.

    • It's difficult to really fault the company - in the end it is their product (no one debates that) and they have every right to charge what they wish.

      Bullshit. It doesn't have to be illegal to be a rotten thing to do. You absolutely can fault them for it- they are abusing the idea ownership system by creating an open standard then closing it up.

      Legal != Moral, much less decent.

  • by tps12 (105590) on Thursday August 29, 2002 @02:08PM (#4164938) Homepage Journal
    I know a bunch of people are pissed about MP3 and its licensing and so forth. I think it's a valid complaint. After all, I'm a long-time ex-Windows user, so I know what it's like to get frustrated with the people who make your software.

    But when it comes right down to it, you have to choose the right tool for the right job. A lot of times, at client sites where I'd rather use Linux or BSD/OS, I have to go with Win2k, just because the required featureset (ASP, database connectivity, CGI) demands IIS. I think we need to recognize that MP3 is an established and important technology for digital music. Would it be nice if it were all public domain, or GPLed? Of course. But you can't always get what you want, and in this case we have to settle for MP3 with the knowledge that it is truly the appropriate tool for the job at hand.
    • the required featureset (ASP, database connectivity, CGI) demands IIS

      What?

      If you can't use CGI or connect to a database with a Linux box, I sure don't want you consulting for my company!

    • just because the required featureset (ASP, database connectivity, CGI) demands IIS

      I don't mean to start a Linux vs whatever thing here, I'm just curious (really).

      How are databse connectivity and CGI something that's specific to IIS? (ASP is a bit different, I could see situations where it was in fact a requirement, but I'd imagine usually a server-side scripting language is needed and not specifically ASP).

      I'm just wondering because these things are what I do for a living, and I've never used IIS in my life.

      PS This "right tool for the right job" thing has just been ridden to death - it doesn't even apply here, your main claim is that MP3 is well entrenched, how does that make it the right tool?

    • "Right tool for the job" doesn't mean you ignore the licensing, though. The license is as important as the feature set. A crappy screwdriver that you can use as much as you like is almost always a better tool than a nice one that costs $.05 per rotation to use.

    • "The right tool" for the job of compressing audio files for playback, in my opinion, is the one with the best combination of compression (smaller file size), sound quality, and price.

      Ogg yields smaller, better-quality files than mp3, and is free. The only thing MP3 has going for it is that people are used to using it. If you have a client who can better accomplish what they want to on their web site using PHP, but they INSIST on using ASP because that's what they're used to, well, fine then... but it's their own foot they're shooting, and has nothing to do with what's the best tool.
  • ...I have to ask: does anyone know of standalone (meaning not a PDA) MP3 players that handle the OGG format as an alternative to MP3? That's the only thing holding me back from using exclusively OGG from now on. My Creative Nomad IIMG only has firmware to play WAV, MP3 and WMA. I suppose I could always use OGG and convert my files to WMA when I want to use them on the player, but that's really a pain. If anyone knows of a different firmware that can play OGG on the Nomad, that'd be even more appreciated.
  • Red Hat still was contacted by Thomson to remove mp3 players from their "product" (Red Hat Linux) since it is sold. So while the terms may not have changed, kiss mp3 players in your distros goodbye.

    While everyone has lots of mp3s still, please only share out your OGGs on P2P networks to encourage use of the format.
  • by renard (94190) on Thursday August 29, 2002 @02:18PM (#4165030)
    A couple of points that seem to be escaping some:
    1. Thomson is not going after anyone who writes/releases a free (as in beer) MP3 decoder (well, not yet anyway);
    2. However the patent license granted to free (as in beer) MP3 decoders does not allow redistribution for $$;
    3. Hence, the patent license for free (as in beer) MP3 decoders is not compatible with the GPL;
    4. Hence, any GPL'd MP3 decoder is in violation of the patent license.
    It's hard to see Thomson as the bad guys here. Rather, the fault lies with those who slapped a GPL on top of their MP3 player-programs, without considering the legal restrictions (vis, that they were violating MP3 patents thereby).

    -Renard

    • 3. Hence, the patent license for free (as in beer) MP3 decoders is not compatible with the GPL;

      If John Q. Hacker makes a GPL'd MP3 encoder / decoder .... it's ok .. as long as he doesn't charge for it. The patent license is compatable with some (but not all) uses of the GPL.

      RedHat could refrain from distributing the software, but still make an easily accesable link available so a user could get it from the author's site.
    • by FreeUser (11483) on Thursday August 29, 2002 @03:03PM (#4165374)
      3. Hence, the patent license for free (as in beer) MP3 decoders is not compatible with the GPL;

      The GPL has a specific clause that deals with patents, which basically says the GPL makes no warranty with respect to patents and it is up to the user to know and adhere to any patents valid within the jurisdiction where they are using or distributing the code. If the code is in violation of a patent and cannot be distributed within the terms of the GPL, then you cannot distribute the code within the jurisdicition where the patent is granted.


      7. If, as a consequence of a court judgment or allegation of patent infringement or for any other reason (not limited to patent issues), conditions are imposed on you (whether by court order, agreement or otherwise) that contradict the conditions of this License, they do not excuse you from the conditions of this License. If you cannot distribute so as to satisfy simultaneously your obligations under this License and any other pertinent obligations, then as a consequence you may not distribute the Program at all. For example, if a patent license would not permit royalty-free redistribution of the Program by all those who receive copies directly or indirectly through you, then the only way you could satisfy both it and this License would be to refrain entirely from distribution of the Program.

      In the case of a software, or mathetmatical, patent like mp3, the GPL is likely to hold, and be valid, for all of the code including the mp3 algorithm itself throughout most of the world.

      Only in the United States, and perhaps some portions of Europe, will commercial use of the code that would otherwise be within the limits set by the GPL be incompatible, so most of the world is free to use the code within the constraints of the GPL.

      OTOH the GPL doesn't require one to charge for the software, so I'm not certain it is incompatible even in those less fortunate parts of the world where software and business-method patents have insinuated themselves into the law, though I agree it certainly might be.

      It's hard to see Thomson as the bad guys here. Rather, the fault lies with those who slapped a GPL on top of their MP3 player-programs, without considering the legal restrictions

      The fault lies with Frauenhofer for changing the licensing terms, in effect, changing the rules of the game midstream. It is a sleazy thing for them to do, no matter how anyone spins it.

      However, I agree with you that a large portion of the blame falls squarely on those who promote and use MP3 instead of unencumbered alternatives like OggVorbis. We knew from the history of GIF and others that this is the sort of behavior one can expect from the kind of people who would seek to patent and restrict knowledge to begin with, so it should really come as no surprise that they have remained true to their nature and done this, and anyone who was surprised, or caught flat-footed by it, has demonstrated an incredible lack of vision and foresight (not to mention understanding of recent historical events a la' the GIF LZW patent).
      • a large portion of the blame falls squarely on those who promote and use MP3 instead of unencumbered alternatives like OggVorbis.

        Yeah, go tell that to Justin Frankel of Nullsoft/WinAMP fame, years before Vorbis was even publically announced.

        It was only within the last several months that Ogg/Vorbis came out of beta and the bitstream format was fixed (even though the current libs apparantly don't use all the defined features, so it's debatable if you could call it "mature"). ISO 11172 by contrast, the MPEG1 standard, was published by the International Standard Organization in 1988 and revised in 1993. That's 9 to 14 years ago, depending on how you count.

        Clearly today's royalty mess is largely the fault of people who implemented and used MP3 encoding many years before Ogg/Vorbis even existed. If they all just would have had enough forsight to forsee this coming, and instead of MP3, use nothing at all and wait for Ogg/Vorbis, then we all woulda been better off.

        It is unfortunate, and Thompson/FgH are truely slimey bastards for tweaking a critically important clause and then lying through their teeth that nothing has been changed. So maybe it is their fault, but don't go laying the blame on anyone using MP3 back in the 90's, when the only alternative to using a patented codec was silence.

        BTW, it still remains to be seen if ogg/vorbis truely does not violate any patents.

    • Your analysis is missing a few steps. It's the granting of patents that's at fault here. Thompson was getting annoyed at Red Hat, I'm sure (Red Hat could use the "we're not selling mp3 decoders, we're selling service and packaging" thing, but I dunno if that would work) among others (Linux and BSD vendors mostly) for selling software that was not licensed. I'm not blaming them. I'm blaming the process that put this power in their hands.

      My solution for the USPTO and those who follow the US lead in patent laws: restrict patents to individuals, not corporations; make patents non-transferable; require software patents to be MUCH more specific and approve software patents in under 1 year or reject it. None of this re-submit 3 times and get the patent 6 years later crap. That's what's killing us.

      If the above changes are made, individuals, not companies will have the burdon of concience (could you keep working for Thompson if they were doing this with your patent?) It also means that patents would no longer be viable as a corporate tool of war. Yes, you can bully me now, but if your key patent-holder leaves the company, you're going to have to eat some of that crow.

      Patents are an incentive, not a right. Companies should not be allowed to harm the common good by applying for patents. That breaks the entire purpose of them.
      • It would be very difficult to assign patents to [i]an[/i] individual. What happens if more than one person works together on developing something? Who gets to hold the patent? How does the company who created the "work for hire" decide whose name the patent goes into... the person who did most of the work, or the guy who owns most of the stock?

        I agree that something needs to be done about all our IP law (patents, trademarks, and copyright, oh my!) but assigning an individual the patent rights won't necessarily do it. I do agree with the idea of non-transferability; I think that should be the case for any protected IP. It's one thing to protect an entity's right to make money off of their work, but if it's not them anymore, just doesn't make much sense.
    • The GPL gives you permission to copy the software, provided certain conditions are met, namely the redistribution of source.

      The patent imposes separate restrictions on the algorithms used. Specifically you may not charge for the software if you want to redistribute royalty free.

      You are able to fufil the terms of both agreements simultaneously.

      If the patent licence prevents you from releasing source code, or from allowing others to redistribute it there might be a conflict, but there is no such clause it is a non issue.

      Of course you could just move to a country in which Thomson does not own the patent.
  • by Newer Guy (520108) on Thursday August 29, 2002 @02:20PM (#4165045)
    "The controversy was created by the removal of this line in the old MP3 royalty licensing page from the current version: "No license fee is expected for desktop software mp3 decoders/players that are distributed free-of-charge via the Internet for personal use of end-users." Hmmm..let me remove a few more lines (removed ones in brackets[ ]).... Please [Remember to give Mr. Jones his heart pills] before feeding Mr. Jones any food. Make sure his bib is on. When opening the transmitter door [Make sure the high voltage is off]. Remember to discharge the capacitor with a clip lead. [Oncoming traffic during rush hour in] Express lane. Point made Thomson?
  • by Laven (102436) on Thursday August 29, 2002 @02:21PM (#4165049)
    Because the GPL (General Public License) allows all software licensed under it to be sold, this may mean that "freely distributable" MP3 players cannot be licensed under the GPL. Arland says he is not familiar with the GPL; that Thomson laid down its licensing terms long ago, and that if Thomson's terms are not compatible with the GPL today, then they never were.

    Arland says Thomson not only allows but encourages the use of MP3 technology in free client-side players, that "it is in our best interest to have as many freely distributed MP3 players as possible" available to users, because this helps keep MP3 popular. He also says Thomson has no plans to start charging royalties to producers of freely-distributed MP3 player software, and that "it would not be in our best interests to do so." But, he says several times -- using slightly different words each time -- the second you sell software or hardware that contains Thomson's patented technology, the company wants money, and this is not negotiable, GPL or no GPL.

    IANAL, but it appears that a BSD licensed equivalent of mpg321 and XMMS plugin would have no legal problems with distribution from a 3rd party non-profit site?

    The Open Source community should check on this possibility. If this is found to be legal, then it may be fairly simple for a single non-profit site to have downloads of MP3 capable software taylored for each popular Linux distribution. Sure, that isn't perfect, but better than nothing.

    • RedHat doesn't include MP3 support by default in the distribution.

      But at install, asks, "Would you like to download free MP3 support for XMMS?"

      They've sold the distribution with a media player - But the MP3 capability is then distributed seperately, still by RedHat, but for free. (i.e. it is NEVER placed in their boxed distros)
    • BSD wouldn't do it either, because BSD allows the program to be sold, too. What you need is one of those non-free shareware licenses: "You may do whatever you want non-commercially" or "you may not sell this."

      This would relegate mpg321, XMMS mp3 input plugin, etc to the non-free section of Debian; as the author (and maintainer within Debian) of mpg321, I'd rather it be removed altogether than relegated to non-free.

      I understand that Thompson wants to make money, but their licensing practices wrt free software leave much to be desired. I'm now faced with the possibility of discontinuing development on mpg321 because of their licensing practices; it may be possible to change it to work with Ogg Vorbis, and use mp3 as a seperate input plug-in, but this is dependent upon Rob Leslie's work on an integer-only Ogg Vorbis decoder.

      • BSD wouldn't do it either, because BSD allows the program to be sold, too. What you need is one of those non-free shareware licenses: "You may do whatever you want non-commercially" or "you may not sell this."
        A BSD style licence is ok from your point of view as it doesn't restrict what somebody else can do with the code and you don't have to give that guarentee.

        I understand that Thompson wants to make money, but their licensing practices wrt free software leave much to be desired.
        Free software is now in the same position as MS. MS is currently bitching about governments requiring source code so they can check it and how this is incompatible with their business model. This is the same deal with Open Source.
    • IANAL, but it appears that a BSD licensed equivalent of mpg321 and XMMS plugin would have no legal problems with distribution from a 3rd party non-profit site?

      Well, that would make the app compliant with the MP3 patent & license. But it still could not be distributed with a GPL or BSD license, because those suggest that the item can be sold later. SO: you make an MP3 player, and you put it online for free download. That's okay. But then you add a BSD or GPL license to that free download, and you're in trouble -- the license will allow someone who downloads it to sell it later in a CD or something, but the MP3 license prohibits that. See? The GPL and BSD licenses are passing along rights that cannot be passed along. The GPL has it right in its patent clause: if a patent/license limits redistribution, then the product simply cannot be distributed with the GPL. All these programmers who have built MP3 players need to take their licenses, strike out the text that allows others to redistribute it for ANY amount of money, and then get back to work.

    • For the original release. If somebody then sells it as part of another product they have to pay the royalty. It's consistant from an original release point of view (which mp3 encoders/decoders released under GPL aren't) and whoever sells it has to pay for selling it. Unfortunately this doesn't help Red Hat.
  • by Chuckaluphagus (111487) on Thursday August 29, 2002 @02:22PM (#4165060)
    The licensing scheme is not the same as it always was, and there is documentation of this fact at The Internet Archive [archive.org].

    The recorded page from August of 2000 stated that:

    "No license fee is expected for desktop software mp3 decoders/players that are distributed free-of-charge via the Internet for personal use of end-users."

    The page from the same date for third-party encoders [archive.org] is pretty much the same as they said, though- so LAME, blade, etc., seem to have been afoul of this for a while. Which is pretty awful, since they're great software.

    The record at the Archive [archive.org] was brought up in a previous article, so I'll give credit to that individual whose name I don't have on hand. And Flarelock, for the "1984" post above, that's a nice touch.
  • keiretsu
    • (n) series; system; grouping of enterprises; order succession; (P)
    keiretsugaisha
    • affiliate company
    keiretsuka
    • (n,vs) putting in order; systemize

    looted directly from Jeffrey's JapaneseEnglish Dictionary Server [solon.org]

  • Sweet Jeebus. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by American AC in Paris (230456) on Thursday August 29, 2002 @02:24PM (#4165078) Homepage
    The patent encumbrance of MP3 codecs has worried Free software enthusiasts for a long time; if the recent wording change represents no change in policy, it seems that they really have been right all along.

    ...and yet, Free software enthusiasts have used MP3 for a long time, knowing full well that it was a proprietary format.

    In all honesty, was it not perfectly apparent from the outset that MP3 was very much a proprietary, owned format? Did anyone with brains enough to write MP3 code ever think that MP3 = Free Software/OSS?

    MP3 is a proprietary format. MP3 has always been a proprietary format. Did you think that a bunch of geeks wishing really, really hard and writing lots of really cool Free apps would somehow change this fact? Are you really just coming to this startling realization?

    • Did you think that a bunch of geeks wishing really, really hard and writing lots of really cool Free apps would somehow change this fact?

      Honestly: yes. Is it so difficult to see a parallel with how uncontested squatting transforms ownership of land, or to imagine that there might be some legal burden on a patent holder to defend their patent to some degree or by default relenquish it to the commons? Whether this is actually the law or not is beside this particular point; the fact is, without being intimately familiar with the highly tangled collection of IP laws, it's not so outlandish to have hoped for exactly what you describe.

      .

  • Since when did a 'semantic change' mean a change with no effect on the meaning?
  • by Mulletproof (513805) on Thursday August 29, 2002 @02:28PM (#4165098) Homepage Journal
    You know that story about how aliens were going to take over the world, mass panic ensused and people died, right? But there was the darndest thing-- Not one damn person saw an alien. Then you feel insanely stupid because it was merely radio fiction the entire time. Welcome to the MP3 taxation story on Slashdot. You weren't getting charged for MP3s before even though similar (if not higher priced) charges existed in the past. You won't get now even though they changed the price. Too many alternatives to Mr. Frokenfilmhiegnmierbozel's codec exist to ever effectively tax anyone. His position is too weak to even give it a second thought. Move along, nothing to see here and try not to kill anybody in the ensuing hysteria.
  • There's an interesting distinction that I haven't browsed upon yet in the comments (though, I'm not looking very hard). GPL allows you to sell the software, but why would anyone want to do that? Anyone could just as easily download it from the net for free. That's one of the founding principles of GPL software and the Free Software movement.

    Let's apply this knowledge. For example, Red Hat doesn't necessarily sell software. It distributes the software and charges for the distribution. The software is otherwise freely available for download in source code or binary format. Customers are buying service and convenience, not software. This may be walking a thin line legally, but thin lines have been known to be found in favor of defendants more often than procecutors.


  • I'd switch on the spot.
  • This story has obviously been overhyped, as it will not mean the end to free (as in free beer) mp3 players (and some encoders, most likely). It will, though, mean the end to mp3 encoders/decoders in GPL'd software, in other words the vast majority of open source software. It will also mean no default mp3 support in your favorite GNU/Linux distro, most likely.

    This is unfortunate for the open source community, but it will help to promote newer open standards with no patent or licensing problems to worry about. It will most likely not affect the general public, who will still be able to download winamp [winamp.com] for free.

    It suprises me that nobody in the open source community noticed this discrepancy before, as it has been listed on the licensing page [mp3licensing.com] for quite some time. As the Thomson lawyer said, it has been incompatible with the GPL [gnu.org] for some time now. I suppose from now on people will be more careful before building patented proprietary technology into open source software, despite the fact that this type of patent makes no sense and hurts innovation by creating a closed standard.

  • by Junta (36770)
    I love ogg, but now have a MacOSX system, and was wondering if anyone could recommend any players? I tried the Quicktime component only to see it do nothing and even if it did work I understand the framework will make it sound worse. Anyone have suggestions?

    BTW, if anyone also happens to know some resources about bulding a vpn configuration that plays nice with Windows, Linux, and OSX, let me know. I know PPTP as a possibility, but I would prefer standard ipsec..
  • OK, the licensing hasn't changed...that's all well and good, as far as that goes. Too bad that it's been "clarified" in such a manner, but that's life.

    It doesn't surprise me that the mp3 format's patent-holders were initially supportive of allowing their decoding algorithm to be widely distributed in a royalty-unencumbered fashion...especially given that most users at the time didn't seem to believe that there was anything other than .wav available. You need to get mindshare and start moving product before you can generate enough traffic to make a decent profit. Still, the "clarification" that seems to no longer omit the license fee for non-commerical software created for personal use is alarming.

    Let's turn this around, however, and suppose that, instead of merely patenting their algorithms, they also created a reference library for those algorighms, licensed under the LGPL. Anyone building a free (as in beer) application could use /adapt/modify their code...just follow the rules of the copyright, and you'll be OK. *Instant* mind-share! Any commercial firms who did NOT wish to distribute source code could talk to the patent-holders about royalties. Which, as I understand it, is pretty much what happened in mp3's case, anyway.

    Seems like a win:win:win (patent holders get mind share, companies get a proven product with a large user base, and end-users can't ever get screwed by delayed patent enforcement).

    What am I missing here?

    And...isn't this sort of what Ogg is trying to do?
  • Have we all forgotten that there is a COMPLETELY FREE alternative, free as air, that anyone can use, which produces better quality, smaller output?

    Please, don't support MP3 when you can support Ogg Vorbis [vorbis.com] and benefit everyone, while benefitting no single person or company.

  • If their policy hasn't changed, then why did they change the wording on that Web page? Sounds fishy to me.
  • if Thomson's terms are not compatible with the GPL today, then they never were.

    Why does it have to be compatable with the GPL? I am hereing this to often today "Its not compatable with the gpl, its not licensed under the gpl" and usually with no good reason. If people dont want to give you rights to their src code, then that is entirely up to them.

    If anyone has a problem with that, they go write or help develop a alternative, in this case Ogg, instead of wasting your energy. Thats what the GPL is about, learning and helping each other! People should learn that the GPL is a single license, and other people may not feel so highly of it (I myself dislike licensing my code under the GPL, i much prefere the BSD license as i dont see why i should impose the restriction of public code for people using code i let them use freely).

    Again it comes down to perceived rights, and a lot of people see a non gpl license as wrong, again with no good reason other than they cant get to use the code, they have to figure it out for themselves, or spend time coding a alternative to that point, but again this isa desicion made by the origional code or group, and i dont see why this should be a negative.
  • "that Thomson laid down its licensing terms long ago, and that if Thomson's terms are not compatible with the GPL today, then they never were."

    We have always been at war with Eurasia.
  • Can Thomson actually show me the patent which covers the MP3 decoding process? As far as I can tell, their patents only claim a method of encoding, but I'm not a patent lawyer, and I haven't read every patent they own. Anyone?
  • by Locutus (9039) on Thursday August 29, 2002 @03:28PM (#4165579)
    This would be a good place for MS to now enable their DRM system to stop unlicensed MP3 DEcoders from running..

    Will they take this "opportunity" to try out their new EUL? It would be a very 'Microsoft' thing to do. IMHO.

    LoB
  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday August 29, 2002 @04:00PM (#4165813) Homepage
    This is funny. Because what's happening here is that the people who take free software, box it up, and sell it for money are getting hit by a patent license.

    Thompson's license is stronger on freedom than the GPL. The software that uses it has to stay free; it can't be imprisoned in a box with a pricetag.

    Yes, this impacts Red Hat's "revenue model" of taking the work of others and reselling it. Tough.

  • by Dannon (142147) on Thursday August 29, 2002 @04:41PM (#4166119) Journal
    Someone please tell me I'm not the only one here with that '70s song 'Water Flowing Underground' stuck in his head after reading this article title.

    Same as it ever was...
    Same as it ever was...
    Same as it ever was...
    Same as it ever was!


    And no, I don't have an MP3 of it!
    • Re:All right... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by krmt (91422)
      It's by the Talking Heads, and the song is called "Once in a Lifetime", on the "Remain in Light" album. And it's not from the 70's, it's from the 80's.

      And somehow, I get the feeling, that they were deliberately referencing it. I know I've seen the editors use the phrase before.

      Oh, and I don't have an MP3 of the song either, but I did rip the whole album to ogg when I first got it ;-)
  • Just In Case (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Herkum01 (592704)

    After a major posting in regards to a change in MP3 licensing terms and everyone freaked out about it, it turns out to not be true.

    However, it seems to me to still be a possibility, really what is the chance that they may change their mind next year? Are we going to go back to the hysteria of the previous post or are people going to seriously look at other options and do something RIGHT NOW!

    Do we always got to wait until there is an emergency situation before someone actually does something?

  • If you GPL a MP3-player program, which includes the patented MP3 technology, and offer the program free of charge, there is no issue for you. You are not in violation of the patent.

    It is also not your concern, regarding the royalties on any copies sold. That is the concern of the person who decides to alter your GPL'ed program and sell it for money under the GPL.

    Also, remember that this patent is not applicable in every nation. So offer the program from a nation where this patent is not granted, or which does not recognize the patent. Then the conflict is a non-issue.

    Furthermore, lets remember that this will be a non-issue in a few years anyways (remember, patents exist for some 20 years). I believe that the patent on MP3-technology is due to run out soon.

    Another solution for people who want to release code under the GPL -- keep the patented technology "at an arms length" from the GPL'ed code. Offer it as one package, but your MP3 program "call" the patented MP3-software. Create a separate licence for the patent software, identical to the GPL, except having terms requiring that redistribution be free of charge. Simple.

    That is not to absolve Thompson of any responsibility. He and Fraunhofer allowed the public to be deceived, and waited until the format was popular to speak publicly about its patents and enforce them. This was a clearly designed plan -- once they saw MP3 becoming popular -- to trap people. They realized it was getting popular, but decided to refrain from enforcing or mentioning its patent terms; this way, it would become more and more popular without any inhibitions. Then when it was popular and ubiquitous, many MP3-players depending on it, they decided to close the trap. Had they enforced and publicized the patent issue from the beginning, MP3 never would have become popular, and a format like OGG-VORBIS would have been developed a long time ago as a replacement.

    There should be some requirement by the government that if companies don't enforce their patents, they lose them, similarly to trademarks. Otherwise, companies just wait for many people to be in violation of their IP, then sue.
  • We have always been at war with Eurasia
  • The statement made by Thomson relating to Slashdot's post can be read here [heise.de] as well. Replying directly to the Slashdot post, Thomson makes it clear that "Thomson has never charged a per unit royalty for freely distributed software decoders."

  • by g4dget (579145) on Friday August 30, 2002 @12:57AM (#4168209)
    I don't see a GPL incompatibility. The author of the GPL'ed software gives you certain rights to the software. There may be lots of other restrictions on uses or distribution of GPL'ed software--you may, for example, not print it out and hit somebody over the head with it, or you may not export it because of export restrictions. Ultimately, you have to know what is legal and contractually permitted, and that depends on who you are, where you live, and where you got the software.

    In any case, Thompson isn't even giving you a license to use the MP3 patents, they merely state their intentions. And their patents are valid in only a few countries anyway so that even if there were a conflict in the US and the GPL self-terminated in that case, there can still be lots of GPL'ed MP3 players (just like there are MP3 encoders available over the Internet from countries where the MP3 patents aren't valid). So, I really don't see what possible connection there could be between a software author putting a GPL on a piece of code and some statement of intent by Thompson on their web site.

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