Eyes Above The Waves

Robert O'Callahan. Christian. Repatriate Kiwi. Hacker.

Monday 8 January 2018

The Fight For Patent-Unencumbered Media Codecs Is Nearly Won

Apple joining the Alliance for Open Media is a really big deal. Now all the most powerful tech companies — Google, Microsoft, Apple, Mozilla, Facebook, Amazon, Intel, AMD, ARM, Nvidia — plus content providers like Netflix and Hulu are on board. I guess there's still no guarantee Apple products will support AV1, but it would seem pointless for Apple to join AOM if they're not going to use it: apparently AOM membership obliges Apple to provide a royalty-free license to any "essential patents" it holds for AV1 usage.

It seems that the only thing that can stop AOM and AV1 eclipsing patent-encumbered codecs like HEVC is patent-infringement lawsuits (probably from HEVC-associated entities). However, the AOM Patent License makes that difficult. Under that license, the AOM members and contributors grant rights to use their patents royalty-free to anyone using an AV1 implementation — but your rights terminate if you sue anyone else for patent infringement for using AV1. (It's a little more complicated than that — read the license — but that's the idea.) It's safe to assume AOM members do hold some essential patents covering AV1, so every company has to choose between being able to use AV1, and suing AV1 users. They won't be able to do both. Assuming AV1 is broadly adopted, in practice that will mean choosing between making products that work with video, or being a patent troll. No doubt some companies will try the latter path, but the AOM members have deep pockets and every incentive to crush the trolls.

Opus (audio) has been around for a while now, uses a similar license, and AFAIK no patent attacks are hanging over it.

Xiph, Mozilla, Google and others have been fighting against patent-encumbered media for a long time. Mozilla joined the fight about 11 years ago, and lately it has not been a cause célèbre, being eclipsed by other issues. Regardless, this is still an important victory. Thanks to everyone who worked so hard for it for so long, and special thanks to the HEVC patent holders, whose greed gave free-codec proponents a huge boost.


Hi Robert. FYI, this post has been shared at least on reddit/r/linux and reddit/r/opensource if you feel like participating in the conversation going on there.
I'm sure Robert is smart enough not to join any conversations on reddit.
When I saw (with great surprise) the progress being made with AV1 and how it eclipses the latest HEVC, I just thought: well, the end it near for proprietary codecs. Finally no more messing about with being unable to play video everywhere simply because the patent says no.
herr ernst
> Finally no more messing about with being unable to play video everywhere simply because the patent says no. Except that more and more websites are adding DRM to their media via EME, so now you have to install those proprietary DRM plugins (which are mostly only available for Win/Mac x86/64).
Josh Cogliati
And for what it is worth, MP3 is now a patent-unencumbered, but Firefox doesn't seem to play it: https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=1267603
Firefox does play MP3 in general. The bug you reference looks like a collection of individual file-specific bugs.