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SanDisk MP3 Players Seized in MP3 Licence Dispute 299

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the lawyers-on-speed-dial dept.
MrSteveSD writes "According to the BBC, German officials have seized Sandisk's MP3 players at the IFA show in Berlin. The Italian company Sisvel claims that Sandisk has refused to pay license fees for the MP3 codec. Sisvel President Roberto Dini has said that Sandisk could get an edge over competitors by not paying the fees. How much are proprietary format licensing fees pushing up the cost of consumer goods?"
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SanDisk MP3 Players Seized in MP3 Licence Dispute

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  • ...the obligatory "So why don't they just use .OGG/.FLAC" comment? Oops.
    • by rf0 (159958)
      I just don't think I could bring myself to go into a shop and ask for an OGG player without sounding like a caveman. Also what about all the existing MP3's? Converting from one lossy format to another just doesn't do anyone any good
      • by xtracto (837672)
        just don't think I could bring myself to go into a shop and ask for an OGG player without sounding like a caveman.

        You could just ask for a Vorbis player, which is the actual Audio format within the OGG container.

        And about all those MP3, you would only have to re-rip and encode them from your original CD source (you DO have the original CD no?), or tell your preffered e music store to offer them as OGG instead of MP3 (some music stores already do that [allofmp3.com]).
  • hell yeah (Score:4, Insightful)

    by illuminatedwax (537131) <stdrange@alumn i . u c h i c a go.edu> on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @01:05AM (#16042390) Journal
    I'm actually really glad I purchased a SanDisk MP3 player now!
    • Damn right (Score:2, Insightful)

      by PopeRatzo (965947)
      I've used Sandisk players now for several years and they are the most versatile player for the best price on the market. I just bought their new 8 gig flash memory model that plays video for myself and my daughter. They rock and I don't have to treat them like eggs when I ride my bike. I have had it with the misinterpretation of intellectual property killing innovation. It's time for more people to ignore stupid applications of IP. And NO COPYRIGHT OR PATENT AFTER THE INNOVATOR DIES. Period.
  • by twitter (104583) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @01:06AM (#16042396) Homepage Journal

    IFA Show [google.com]? IFA is the world's largest Consumer Electronics trade fair, the most important international exhibition for electronic entertainment, communications and ...

    From the article:

    SanDisk's IFA stall was left almost empty ... Giustino de Sanctis, head of Sisvel's US-based subsidiary Audio MPEG, SanDisk's refusal to purchase an MP3 licence leaves them out of step with some 600 other manufacturers and software developers. ... "We have 600 licensees and we have to protect their rights, and the rights of the patent holders,"

    Protect their "right" to pay you for an audio compression algorithm by embarrassing a competitor at the show? That's some kind of protection [wikipedia.org] alright.

    Just use ogg.

    • It's fine on a desktop with a high powered general purpose processor, but less so in a hardware implementation.
      • It's [ogg] fine on a desktop with a high powered general purpose processor, but less so in a hardware implementation.

        I've heard that before, but not seen it. What exactly is the trade off? How do people like this [trekstor.de] do it? How does ogg compare to AAC or AAC with unFairPlay [slashdot.org]? How is it that my dinky ARM Zaurus plays ogg without a problem, just like the 233 MHz PII it's roughly equivalent to? Why don't I see the difference between ogg and mp3 on any of the devices I use besides the one cheap player I own

        • by Rix (54095)
          Well, partly there's the fact that hardware mp3 decoders are very much a commodity. Its a very well understood and solved problem, where as ogg is not. Whether its worth the licensing fees or not is a moot point; an ogg only player would not be profitable to produce. Any ARM chip is going to be vastly larger than any dedicated mp3 decoder.

          The real question is, is ogg support worth the extra hardware cost? The answer is no, unless you were already going to put more generalized hardware in anyway, to support
          • The Tremor codec is a BSD-licensed Vorbis decoder which uses fixed-point arithmetic (no FPU needed). It is fast enough to run on the processors found in most audio players.
        • by MadJo (674225)
          I have an media-player (a cheap Korean 'Tekmax I-one-it') that also supports OGG, and I love it.

          And sometimes I encounter mp3s I simply can't play with it (funny thing, incompatibility within 1 single format, some software players are also incapable of playing those mp3s)
          But when I transcode those faulty mp3s to ogg, there is no problem whatsoever.

          I have yet to find a single .ogg file that I cannot play with the device.
  • exploitation (Score:2, Informative)

    by Aqws (932918)
    Why should they have to be paid in order for us to get to content we already own? I couldn't care less about what few megabytes were shaved of the size of a song, if it means that the software needed to decode them can't be distributed freely. They should not be payed because paying them is the only way to get to your music, but for getting the music down to a small size at little loss of content.
  • The cost (Score:5, Informative)

    by zoeblade (600058) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @01:18AM (#16042451) Homepage

    How much are proprietary format licensing fees pushing up the cost of consumer goods?

    In this case, 75 cents per hardware MP3 decoder, with a minumum of $15,000 per year [mp3licensing.com]. Personally, I'm more worried about royalty payments' inherent incompatability with free software, seeing as you can't keep track of who's copied it to who by its very nature.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Znork (31774)
      As IP licensing fees are pretty much comparable to actual outright taxes on the economy, it's time to get them reported as such and accounted for, just like VAT or any other product tax.

      Once the actual cost of the IP systems is accounted for in state budgets instead of hidden away, it would be far easier to get a rational discussion about the cost and benefits of the systems.
  • The day would come (Score:3, Informative)

    by NaCh0 (6124) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @01:23AM (#16042475)
    I hate to say it but Red Hat was right to strip mp3 from their distros precisely because of this issue. The community pressure against RH was monumental. I'm surprised that they didn't cave. (even though it's easy to get 3rd party rpms) Yet, I can't tell if the huge sigh coming from the RH offices is relief or disgust from another patent mess.

    --
    Arizona Web Design [initusdesign.com]

    • You use Red Hat as the company here, but it can pretty much be replaced with any other binary distributionl. Ubuntu and Debian are the ones I know that don't do mp3's out of the box, and I'm very sure that almost every other distro is the same.
  • fees (Score:2, Funny)

    by csplinter (734017)
    "How much are proprietary format licensing fees pushing up the cost of consumer goods?"

    14 dollars.
  • by MrNaz (730548) * on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @01:39AM (#16042533) Homepage
    Given the ubiquity of MP3, moving to OGG is probably not going to happen. 4 years is nowhere near as long as it would take an entire technogeneration to migrate away from MP3, and as MP3 becomes public domain in 4 years, just wait until then and MP3 will be just as or more "free" than OGG (public domain is "more free" than GPL, sort of).

    MP3 quality is fine, and with flash memory prices in freefall, squeezing an extra 13.8% off the track size at a given quality level is going to be moot very soon, if it is not already.

    Yours sincerely,
    Mr. Reality Check.
    • I won't be changing any time soon though. Mainly because
      • MP3 does not correctly handle gapless playback by design
      • Applying Replaygain to MP3s sets the information into APEv2, which Rockbox currently doesn't understand

      Yours sincerely,
      fanboi
    • by ozmanjusri (601766) <aussie_bob@hotmail.cOPENBSDom minus bsd> on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @02:27AM (#16042697) Journal
      just wait until then and MP3 will be just as or more "free" than OGG (public domain is "more free" than GPL, sort of).

      No, it won't be more free. The Ogg format is already as free and open as it is possible to get. From Vorbis.com:

      What licensing applies to the Ogg Vorbis format?

      The Ogg Vorbis specification is in the public domain. It is completely free for commercial or noncommercial use. That means that commercial developers may independently write Ogg Vorbis software which is compatible with the specification for no charge and without restrictions of any kind. However, the software packages we have developed are available under various free/open-source software licenses with varying allowances and restrictions.

      There is some reference software suppied by Vorbis

      What licensing applies to the included Ogg Vorbis software?

      Most (but not all) of our utility software is released under the terms of the GNU GPL. The libraries and SDKs are released under our BSD-like license.

      So MP3 may become AS free as Ogg, but Ogg is already available under the most liberal conditions possible. Licensing restrictions are not an excuse for not using it.
      • by Tim C (15259)
        So MP3 may become AS free as Ogg, but Ogg is already available under the most liberal conditions possible. Licensing restrictions are not an excuse for not using it.

        No, they're not - but for me, 16+GB of music in mp3 format and ~300MB in ogg is an excuse. I have a player capable of playing both, but simply don't have the time or the inclination to convert my library from mp3 to ogg.
      • So MP3 may become AS free as Ogg, but Ogg is already available under the most liberal conditions possible.

        No they're not. Public domain is more liberal than BSD; you don't even need to include attribution with public domain.

        Of course, while the patents will expire on MP3 decoders in 2010, the copyright on the decoder source will last for another 55 years or so. If anyone is using MP3 in 2065, I reserve the right to slap them.

        • by Leto-II (1509)
          Did you not read the grandparent post? He specifically said that Ogg Vorbis (as a specification) is public domain already. So when MP3 becomes public domain, it will be as open as Vorbis. As you said yourself, MP3 encoder/decoder implementations themselves will remain copyrighted. The spec will become public domain, as Vorbis already is.
      • by MrNaz (730548) *
        Look up there. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's my point, flying far above your head.
    • just wait until then and MP3 will be just as or more "free" than OGG (public domain is "more free" than GPL, sort of).

      "Ogg" is public domain. All the specifications are in the public domain. libogg is BSD licenced, but anyone who wants to write an EULA ogg decoder can do. The GPL stuff is just the end user tools.

      Either way; there are advantages of the xiph stuff over and above quality. There are issues with the small little weird things mp3 does. Gapless playback. Limited bitrates. Sometimes it
    • by RAMMS+EIN (578166)
      Others have already pointed out that Ogg (and Vorbis, which is what you probably meant to refer to) is already in the public domain. So I'm going to take issue with the other things in your post.

      ``4 years is nowhere near as long as it would take an entire technogeneration to migrate away from MP3''

      It depends how compelling it is. Switching away from MP3 is not that difficult. People I know have done it in a couple of days. Not that I think switching will be compelling enough in the foreseeable future.

      ``Give
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Hope this is a good lesson for all stupids blindly embracing and promoting low quality MP3 is the way to listen quality music. The MP3 is a marketing hype, it is the armature's music format. SanDisk, take revenge! Just say sorry and switch to Ogg and FLAC.

    This is again reminds all about the advantages of open formats. Open formats are patents free, royalty free and best of the best quality. MP3 max sample rate: 48 kHz, FLAC max sample rate: 1048.57 kHz, MP3 max bit rate: 320 kbit/s, FLAC max bit rate: Infi
    • by Chaffar (670874)
      The MP3 is a marketing hype, it is the armature's music format.
      Don't you mean amateur's? I didn't know what an armature is, but a rigid framework serving as a supporting inner core for clay or other soft sculpting material just doesn't seem right :)
    • by jimicus (737525)
      Obviously I don't know how SanDisk make their business decisions, but I'd imagine that they'd far rather pay a licensing fee, use MP3 and produce an audio player which may have a target market slightly greater than about 1% of the population, than pay no licensing fee and reduce their target market to a few nerds on slashdot.

      ICBW, IANAPD. (I am not a product designer)
  • The article summary asks, "How much are proprietary format licensing fees pushing up the cost of consumer goods?".

    Proprietary format licensing fees are not "pushing up" the cost of consumer goods. Consumer goods will use proprietary formats when the value to the consumer (and thus ultimately to the manufacturer) justifies paying the license fee. Without MP3 support would SanDisk be able to target such a large market? Probably not. They would save $0.75 in licensing and lose millions of dollars in sales over
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by RAMMS+EIN (578166)
      ``Proprietary format licensing fees are not "pushing up" the cost of consumer goods. Consumer goods will use proprietary formats when the value to the consumer (and thus ultimately to the manufacturer) justifies paying the license fee. Without MP3 support would SanDisk be able to target such a large market? Probably not. They would save $0.75 in licensing and lose millions of dollars in sales overall.''

      Very true. However, that's assuming that what consumers want is an _MP3_ player. If you assume they want a
  • The Wheel (Score:3, Insightful)

    by scum-e-bag (211846) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @02:24AM (#16042689) Homepage Journal
    How much would we expect to pay for a car if we had to pay intellectual property fees to the inventors of everything back to the wheel?

    Come to think of it... would technology have been able to advance as quickly as it has if we were forced to pay these taxes on the wheel for the last 10,000 years?
  • by ArsenneLupin (766289) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @02:55AM (#16042794)
    ... were defeated in European Parliament in July 7, 2005:
    Software patent bill thrown out [bbc.co.uk]

    Way to go to ignore the will of the elected representatives of the people!

    • by infolib (618234)
      What was defeated was the move to make software patents explicitly legal. Right now they are (IMHO) illegal under the European Patent Convention, but a rather jumbled mess of case law has built up to allow about 30'000 of them anyway.

      The EPO, patent lawyers and some big companies wanted to make them really legal, but huge protests managed to turn the original proposal around to be rather against software patents. In the end, even the original proponents voted against it, and it was defeated by a wide mar
  • No Case (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ajs318 (655362) <sd_resp2@@@earthshod...co...uk> on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @02:58AM (#16042808)
    So, if I'm getting this right, a bunch of MP3 players (made in the far East where the relevant patents are in all probability null and void) are seized at a trade show in Germany (where the relevant patents are null and void: Germany is a member of the EU where mathematical operations are specifically excluded from patentability) are seized on the orders of an IP firm based in Italy (where the relevant patents are null and void: Italy is a member of the EU where maths is not patentable) on the grounds that they are in violation of patents?

    The fact that the patents in question are null and void will hardly escape the attention of the courts. I don't know whether to expect some good arse-on-plate-handing action, or just a swift "Ting! Next, please!"
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by infolib (618234)
      Germany is a member of the EU where mathematical operations are specifically excluded from patentability

      That would indeed seem to be the reasonable interpretation of the European Patent Convention which prohibits patenting of "programs for computers". In practice, several countries have built case law where you can patent, not "a program doing X" but "a computer running a program doing X" which very much amounts to the same thing in other words. (In the same way you can't patent business models "Persons
      • Re:No Case (Score:4, Interesting)

        by ajs318 (655362) <sd_resp2@@@earthshod...co...uk> on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @05:55AM (#16043344)
        European law says very clearly: Mathematics is not patentable. And MP3 decoding is pure mathematics -- an autistic kid probably could do the calculations in his* head fast enough to imagine the sounds in real time. Anyone is allowed to do the calculations done by the patented device without paying anything to anyone. Any patents must cover a specific device -- one means to a given end, and not the end in itself. Sandisk's implementation is likely to differ so much from the reference implementation as not to constitute a breach of patent.

        Sandisk should move for an annulment, since it's clear that the patents should never have been granted in the first place. And then every manufacturer who has ever paid the bogus licence fee should get together and sue the licencing authority.


        *Not intending to be sexist, I just never heard of a girl diagnosed with autism .....
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by infolib (618234)
          European law says very clearly: Mathematics is not patentable. And MP3 decoding is pure mathematics

          Well, I agree with you. But how sure can Sandisk be that the judge will buy it? Case law has a rather tricky history in this area, and EPC art. 52(2) hasn't been very well respected. Besides, Sandisk is in it for the money, not for fairness, respect for the law or the greater common good.

          But yes, if this goes all the way it could be a very interesting test case. There's both a hope and a danger there.
        • I'd be happy to introduce you to one: my sister.

          Although autism is generally more prevalent in males (and there seems to be a biological reason for this) females can develop it - and typically when the do, it's BAD.

          My sister's case is quite bad.

          Oh - and not all autistic people are savants, either; most are completely without function.
  • by ashwinds (743227)
    Seems to me that I am paying for the same patent too many times - when I buy a mobile, an ipod, car stereo, audio system, OS......instead of all that, if I could just buy a license can I use it on all these devices. What I mean to say is that too many OEMs are buying the same license on my behalf for each of their devices. That seems like a bad deal.
  • I'm tagging this one "itoldyouso".

    The writing has been on the wall for years now, and it's not going to get any better for mp3 users. Fraunhofer/Thomson have fully disclosed since day one that they hold the patents (unethical as the patent system that permitted them may be) and intend to pursue licence "breakers". Not that it matters, since much better codecs exist that aren't so encumbered.

    In this day and age there's no good reason for anyone to still be using mp3.

  • bashing Ogg (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Onymous Coward (97719) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @02:09PM (#16046722) Homepage
    Obviously many people like to bash Ogg. Here are some ideas why this is the case:

    • previous appreciation of MP3 causes self-identification with MP3
    • investment in personal MP3 infrastructure demands that other answers be wrong
    • worry at being "wrong" increases bitter backlash against I-told-you-so's


    If you find any one of these things to be true, maybe take a moment to analyze your stance? If you find your first reaction to positive comments on Ogg to be one of anger, maybe do that analysis?

    If there's anyone out there who dislikes Ogg and who isn't attached to MP3, it would be good to get your perspective. Please speak out.

    It doesn't help that advocates of Ogg often have strong opinions about the values of using Ogg. But don't let another person's attitude deflect you from really thinking through Ogg's value for yourself. Having a chip-on-your-shoulder reaction is the essence of fanboyism.

    The quality is comparable. The hardware/processing footprint is comparable. There are no technical downsides. (Don't correct me to tell me how Ogg is much better -- I'm understating the point for a reason.) Ogg detractors often get these points wrong. Unapologetically unresearched inaccuracy is another sign of fanboyism.

    Adding Ogg to your hardware is easy enough -- there are over 100 models of portable player listed on just this page [xiph.org]. So if you want to use Ogg, either as a manufacturer or a consumer, there's no problem. (If you want to keep using your old MP3s -- go ahead. Just file your new Ogg files alongside them.)

    Unlike MP3, however, Ogg is public domain.

    So, all things even, Ogg beats out MP3. So, even if Ogg weren't quite as good as MP3, it should be supported for the (lack of) licensing. You won't get shenanigans like what this article's about. You can implement your own software. You can build your own hardware without incrementing its cost by the royalties + insurance against litigation. (Well, likely you'll still be paying those for the other formats your player supports.) You can improve the format. You can distribute, sell, or stream Ogg files without liability.

    The manufacturers support it and there are many communities using it. There is no reason to encode another MP3.

    Ogg: highly recommended.

    (Disclaimer: I personally don't use Ogg Vorbis much. My music's all lossless.)

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